When we are young and go through deep feelings of being abandoned, being left alone or are traumatised by big feelings of others or left without sufficient mirroring and empathy for our feelings we develop a deficit in our capacity to make sense of these feelings as well as express them. Our feelings are still held deep inside and stored in our bodies but at the same time we form defences against feeling them and the pain or liberation that may bring.
We also live in a shame bound society and feeling wounded culture that so often fails to identify and acknowledge certain feelings, most especially painful ones such as sadness, anger, shame and fear. Therefore the shame component of repressed, invalidated feelings grows huge for many of us. John Bradshaw in his excellent book Healing the Shame That Binds You explains in great detail how and why feelings we are taught to repress or meet with difficulty in being expressed or felt in dysfunctional families get shame bound. This means that as we evolve we develop an arrested feeling self. In this state of shame biding even the threat or whiff off feeling a certain feeling brings up the most intense shame or inward self criticism.
We cover this shame over or react to the emergence of shame bound feelings with defences in our mind, most of which form the inner critic who then attacks the feelings as well as us for having them, telling us all kinds of lies and untruths about what a bad or damaged person we are when the deeper truth is that we are really out of relationship with a most vital and alive part of ourselves.
When we begin the difficult emotional uncovery work of feeling our feelings in therapy, sobriety or healing this is when the inner critic will step in and try to protect us from feeling them in some way. To the inner critic who formed to keep us safe in unsafe family or social environments the emergence of repressed feeling is cause for major panic and alarm, all the critic can see is that we are breaking out of a safe holding space.
The critic often forms in childhood to keep us safe from the parent or a world we have come to believe would be hostile to our true expression of feeling. Add to this that if we haven’t matured psychologically through being able to process, understand and feel our past traumatic feelings and imprints when they do emerge in us as adults they can feel unmanageable in their ferocity. Suddenly we find we have age regressed to feel about 2 years old in some cases and to the critic that is another cause for attack, aren’t we supposed to an adult now? Someone who is in control and shouldn’t have to ride this huge roller coaster? But this intense period of hyper feeling is actually a good thing if we can stop the shame spiral, pause and spend time connecting with what is being triggered. Here is where group wound and individual therapy or 12 step recovery work can help.
A large part of our healing process is coming to understand when we have age regressed to an earlier time of trauma which was very painful for us. I wrote about age regression some time last year in a number of posts which I will include at the bottom of this one. Age regression or reversion to an earlier experience of trauma or deep feeling which will emerge when we are triggered, most especially in therapy, group work or relationships is a God given opportunity for us to grow in awareness of feelings and needs we may have repressed and learned to bind in shame.
Feeling the shame associated to the feeling, sharing about it, bringing it out of hiding with affirmative and validating others is most essential to our healing process and will help us grow in awareness. While others cannot feel our feelings for us (though they may do this through the healing power of empathy) doing so will not take our feelings away but if they have gone through their own healing process or are qualified therapeutically, help to hold the space for us while we have our process and feelings this kind of holding can help us begin to make a relationship with what we formerly could not feel and may dull the voice of our inner critic.
We need this kind of support, being designed and wired as humans to be connected and to form attachments, attachments we may have failed to form with emotionally unavailable or inconsistent parents in childhood we do need, at some point, to have our feelings in relationship. Thus the need at certain stages of recovery to have some who can consistently mirror us while helping us to develop our own capacity to hold, process and make sense of feelings.
Being left alone with our feelings is difficult, when we cannot make sense of them, feel ashamed or feel they are mixed up, intense and overwhelming. We need to feel them for ourselves in order to liberate them and reach understandings of why we blocked them in the first place. Doing so was a survival mechanism we learned at that time to keep us safe, but it may take a lot of time and help if our feelings have been repressed or shamed. Not being able to have, feel and understand our true feelings in the present, judging them, over intensifying them due to shame, keeps us imprisoned in a false self and leaves our true feelings buried under layers of defences. Developing deeper insight into the nature of such defences and compassion for ourselves in the midst of them is such important work as we go through the process of learning to liberate, understand and feel our true feelings. As we do we will be restored to our true selves.
At the same time we must do work on what Pete Walker calls Shrinking The Inner Critic. We can turn the criticism on ourselves or outwards on others, in either case we are not really acknowledging the truth depth of our plight and such criticism in keeping us locked in shame may deeply hamper both our progress and our healing process.