I am very grateful to the books of David Richo, a psychotherapist whose work I came across 10 years ago in an English bookstore. At the moment I am re-reading When the Past is Present : Healing the Emotional Wounds That Sabotage Our Relationships. He has written many books but this one has a lot of great information about how to work through deep wounds to the Inner Child and Inner Self we can carry into adulthood.
One of the central ideas that David repeats in many of his books is that in order to recover a good relationship with our true inner self we need to be shown or learn how to show ourselves the Five ‘A’s that we needed in childhood in order to grow and blossom but so often did not get. The Five ‘A’s are as follows
The sixth ‘A’ I might add is affection.
David explains how we can use these five ways of being receptive to the whole of us, even our dark side, in order to work through all of our feelings surrounding losses, disappointments, regrets, grief and other wounds.
Today I found myself deep in old regret. The following paragraphs helped me to find ways to deal with the feelings I was having rather than just run away. I am sharing his ideas here in the hope they may help others.
Both regret and disappointment are forms of grief. We can learn to greet them with an unconditional ‘Yes’. Then our acceptance leads to handling them so they don’t impinge too long upon our happiness.
Regret is repeated grief. Regrets become helpful when we cease trying to rid ourselves of them. Instead we make a place for them in the context of the five ‘A’s. We notice them, we accept them, appreciate what they mean, still love ourselves as we are, and allow ourselves to go on with life without being held back by them.
In regret, as in guilt, we feel bad about feeling bad. When regret comes to mind, as we recall our past mistakes and poor judgements, we can acknowledge them as passports to humility, ego deflation and useful learning. When they are experienced in the context of acceptance of the given that we all err, they are not so hard to take. We can say yes to them and thereby to our ever falling, ever rising selves. If we and the world had been meant to be perfect, our central human archetype would not be the heroic journey and our world would not be based on evolution.
The third century Christian theologian Origen proposed the beautiful concept of apocatastasis, that all beings will be converted and saved at the end of time, even the damned, even the demons. For him, hell is not eternal; only divine love is. So all that happens can be redeemed, ultimately used for our good. This can be a metaphor for all the things we have done that we are ashamed of and now regret, They can all be “saved”, that is, included in our positive image of ourselves as errant beings who keep finding ways to get back on track.
These words have a softening effect, don’t they? I feel soothed myself just reading them. And on one level even while typing is I was aware that mistakes themselves might not even be only mistakes, but learning experiences. WE may in the words of songster Seal “need to get things wrong, to get them right”.
In the next paragraph David Richo makes the important point that if in childhood we lacked a positive or adequate hold environment we would have learned better how to be less critical and judgement of ourselves and of others.
In childhood caring parents noticed our disappointments with them and the world and they helped us name them. They held us in a warm embrace as we wept. They did not criticise us for what we felt, but listened to us and accepted our experience. They appreciated and valued us enough to love us just as we were. We seek relationships now that offer all that. We no longer need a mother when we are adults, but we always need motherly moments and fatherly moments, too. What are such moments? They are the times when we are held in the five ‘A’s. These are also the very moments in which we learn to give the five ‘A’s to others. The result is intimacy with all its comfort and challenge.
Is anyone out there triggered by the above into grief, knowing that is the very thing you did not get often in childhood? I know I am. If I blame myself now isn’t it just a re-enactment of the way I was blamed or criticised or shamed in childhood. Isn’t my inability to hold myself adequately now, just a reflection of what I did not learn? It now appears to me that in order to grow I need to learn most how to self soothe in this way. I now need to learn to hold and comfort my own sore spots and look for those who can and will do the same.