On Immaturity and showing empathy to the Inner Child of self and others

I am getting more insight into when my inner child with her host of unresolved hopes and fears and pain is running the show lately.  My abandonment wound has been triggered a lot in the past few days and it was easier to give away my power or alternatively become the ‘bad’ one again who is ‘withholding’ than to recognise that due to discomfort I am scrambling again for attention and love when contact is cut due to someone being upset with me because I am justifiably struggling with something.

I just know when I act from my inner adult I feel a greater sense of strength and solidity within myself and that requires recognising the far younger more vulnerable part that lies hidden or covered by defences.  It can be painful when abandonment anxiety and depression strike as both create in my body and psyche so often a potent chemical cocktail that at times pushes me to the brink of available resources to contain.

Pete Walker addresses the issue of the ‘abandonment depression’  a lot in his own work and book on Complex PTSD.  Much as all as it can feel hard to be left ‘all alone’, I have heard it said that in adulthood we cannot be abandoned by someone, only left.  That said I do think there are times our emotions need to be empathised with and understood by friends, family and partners otherwise if we are judged for certain things and not empathised with, on one level we are abandoned on an emotional level.

It’s an issue Alain de Botton addresses in his wonderful book The Course of Love which tells the story of a mythical couple Rabih and Kirsten in which he delves into the host of insecurities and psychological defences that can plague a couple’s intimate relationships as it develops over a course of years.  In the book the tale of the relationship iw told in normal type face is interspersed with sections in italics in which de Botton highlights the underground issues affecting the couple.  I particularly enjoyed the following paragraphs.

We would ideally remain able to laugh, in the gentlest way, when we are made the special target of a sulker’s fury.  We would recognise the touching paradox.  The sulker may be six foot one and holding down adult employment, but the real message is poignantly retrogressive : ‘Deep inside, I remain an infant, and right now I need you to be my parent.  I need you to correctly guess what is ailing me, as people did (or rather failed to do) when I was a baby, when my ideas of love first formed.

We do our sulking lovers the greatest possible favour when we are able to regard their tantrums as we would those of an infant.  We are so alive to the idea that it’s patronising to be thought of as younger than we are, we forget that it is also, at times, the greatest privilege for someone to look beyond our adult self in order to engage with – and forgive – the disappointed, furious, inarticulate child within.

In a more evolved world, one a little more alive to the Greek ideal of love, we would perhaps know how to be a bit less clumsy, scared and aggressive when wanting to point something out, and rather less combative and sensitive when receiving feedback.  The concept of education within a relationship would then lose some of its unnecessarily eerie and negative connotations.  We would accept that in responsible hands, both projects, teaching and being taught (in love), calling attention to another’s faults and letting ourselves be critiqued – might after all be loyal to the true purpose of love.

There is something about love and vulnerability and hidden need that can cause us to age regress and be taken back to that painful time we stood all alone longing for the attention and love that was not available due to the absence, withdrawal or inattention of others, so much needed for us to feel hold, loved, contained and seen.   Learning to hold ourselves in this state takes some considerable time for those of us with anxious and/or avoidant attachment issues.   Its a work in progress being honest with ourselves, learning to extend ourselves in empathy into another hidden world and letting the unhealed child that so longs for attention or consideration been seen, held, accepted, nurtured and loved.

The dark place of abandonment

Being made to believe we are not okay as we are and certainly not deserving of someone’s love and relationship does affect us so very deeply.  I am revisiting the work of abandonment therapist Susan Anderson lately.  I was lucky to be guided towards her book From Abandonment to Healing just over 13 years ago when my marriage ended and I found myself in a very dark place.

This was not the first time as abandonment has been a pretty much constant theme for me starting with my older much loved sister leaving home when I was only 3 to marry and start her own family and live overseas.  My Mum wasn’t emotionally available to me at all, she worked all the time and when she was home we had to duck and weave around her compulsive cleaning, there was never a place to rest and my Dad also vacated through his own addictions (minor ones) when he was around he wasn’t really there.  Later in life after I nearly lost my life at the tender age of 17 in a motor vehicle smash up he was hard line forcing me to go to secretarial college in the painful aftermath of my older sister’s breakdown and cerebral bleed.  Later I saw her abandoned too at her most vulnerable time and was back at home when she tried to take her life in 1982 when I was only 20 years old.

Dad ended up dying when I was only 23 and that was followed by my then partner (who I had two terminations of pregancy to), ringing me at 4 am in the morning just a few days after my father died to tell me not to bother joining him overseas as he didn’t love me any more and had found someone else.  Do you believe that later when our paths crossed in Greece I slept with him only to come home one night and find him in bed with someone else only to be accused of being ‘mad’ when I reacted to it poorly?  Luckily at that time I was with other friends in Greece and the owner of our B and B deplored my ex’s behaviour.  Never the less I internalised the abandonment seeing it as due to a flaw in me.

I won’t go into the pain of three more similar ‘leavings’ of exs over a period of 18 more years, often on the back of being told there was something wrong with me.  What that ‘something’ I now know was terror and fear pure and simple and Susan Andersons’ newer book which I just bought Taming The Outer Child : Overcoming Self Sabotage and Healing from Abandonment explains how very real changes in our neurochemistry involving the amygdala leave us with an over active fear, flight and fight response which is automatically triggered in any new relationship or prospective interaction  (and not only with new potential partners, from my experience).  This reactive pattern she gives the name Outer Child and it can sabotage and lay to waste new connections but not only that leaves us with cumulative Post Traumatic Stress as a result of our abandonment trauma or ‘schemas’.


As I sat with my sister yesterday after she tried on the clothes I bought for her and saw how much of her self love had been decimated I thought it is criminal what people are telling her, I know her fixation on clothes and looking good are symptoms of her abandonment but its not only that, the roulette wheel of psychiatrists and medications has left her depleted, she went down the exercise route but withouth any psycho dynamic therapy and no emotional recovery buddies.  She is not able to express and read as I am and that works against her.   I know new clothes will not fix that deeper wound to her self esteem but I think it doesn’t hurt to be there to try as it’s getting so much colder here and she has no warm jumpers and when people tell her ‘its all in her head as she has lots of clothes’, that to my mind is pretty invalidating and harsh.

I seem to have gone a little off track here but what I am trying to address in this post is how our abandonment at another’s hands can leave us questioning our own use, meaning, value, beauty and goodness and how healing involves not internalising those feelings from someone else.  In her earlier book Anderson uses the acronym S.W.I.R.L. to describe the process of working through a recent abandonment which may trigger far earlier ones.  (Shattering, Withdrawal, Internalisation, Rage, Lifting).

The true abandonment as adults is then self abandonment which occurs as we internalise false beliefs about our value and worth and fail to understand or validate reactions to abandonment and its deeper triggers. For sure we may not be perfect and have wounds and scars and reaction patterns we need to understand and work with : the process Anderson outlines in the second book, but we are not worthless because we have been abandoned or gone through loss and all our feelings and reactions make complete sense once we understand their roots and work to understand our own history and self sabotaging behaviours.

From this position we should be showing compassion to those who have suffered emotional abandonment not be taking out a big stick to hit them over the head with.   For healing involves compassion, wisdom and tenderness both to others and to our inner child that bleed from very real wounds in earlier life.

The deprived child within

It can take a long time to get in touch with the inner child of our past that lives inside of us with all his or her unresolved longing and needs that we lost touch with so very long ago.  Needs that were not met and which we were not allowed or able to recognise can dog as far into adulthood and play out in our attraction to certain relationships. Our wounds, emptiness and emotional deficits are the thing that attract us and replay in the present now, past patterns that we may not be fully aware of.  They are also the generators of our depression which contains within it confusion, sadness, grief, anger, pain and self blame.

It is for this reason that pain and difficult emotions are actually in some way to be welcomed once we have decided to launch on a journey of consciousness, awareness and healing.  For the pain we suffer in the now will inform us of pain of the past that may have been buried and will show us where our wounds lay.  Healing at some point requires that we actually accept that we were hurt, damaged or wounded in some way.   Accepting that we were does not condone the abuse or neglect but it helps us to separate from it to a degree and understand that its power and impact was actually outside of our control in childhood.

As adults we have to take responsibility which means accepting the fact that we are responding in some way due to a wound and the buck stops with us to learn why and how to stop repeating that pattern as adults.  And for us that means starting to connect present reactions and listening to the inner child that may be acting out his or her pain with a loving presence inside not endlessly being held hostage by the damaging inner critic which we had to form in the absence of parental love, attention and containment.

Abandonment trauma expert, Susan Anderson has called the acting out of our inner child’s pain the state of being driven by an ‘outer child’.   The inner child becomes an outer child when there is no inner parent there to help our inner child make sense of her pain and wounds, no objective, loving, non-judgemental presence there to act as a witness and container for the suffering.

Many of us with inner child injuries will need to find an advocate outside or ourselves in the early stages of our work of healing, as we may be overly critical of ourselves and blame ourselves for our own injuries.  This mirrors and echoes the fact that we are often blamed by parents who fail to take responsibility for the way they have re-enacted their own wounding patterns upon us in childhood.

I was discussing this afternoon with my therapist something I read this week in Jonice Webb’s book on childhood emotional neglectThat a voracious inner critic does not always come from being criticised by parents in childhood, but instead forms in the vacancy or empty space left by the emotionally absent parent who could not contain sufficiently our nascent developing feelings and thoughts.

Growing up we need a more adult mature mind to contain our mind, to help to mirror back to us our emotions, to help us from words and mind concepts for emotional feelings, a mind that can help us make sense of ourselves as we really truly are.  Lacking this we develop a heap of confusion, self blame and criticism. We founder alone on high seas.

I was actually sharing this afternoon an image I had with my therapist of how it felt as a latch key child to be home alone for hours after school.  I had the image of childhood and adolescent me afloat in an ocean, swimming by and bobbing about were packets of cigarettes, a television, Tim Tam biscuits and the bean bag I used to sit on in the afternoon’s while home alone.  I felt myself to me in an empty place, my father was a long way out at sea in another boat and of course my mother was nowhere to be seen.  I became some one who learned to get lost and to then also revolve myself around others in some attempt to connect.  I had no boundaries or filters with others or within myself to discipline myself in healthy ways since this was also missing in my childhood.  Despite this I was not a total failure.  I did well in school and managed to work but I did not learn to connect to myself emotionally in any way.  I did not either learn good strategies for self soothing.  So even now my inner child can look for things and substances to  fill inner emotional needs that need to be  met in different ways.

I am beginning to realise how much work of inner self parenting I now need to do.  Lately I have become ever more aware of the inner critic that wants to beat me up at times and also tries to sabotage my best efforts.   I am aware too that the inner critic is not always negative, sometimes its  trying to tell me things that would be best for my own self in order to function more successfully.    For so many years I was so unaware that deep down inside me I had a deeply deprived inner child who did not know how to connect emotionally or practice good self care.  Pain has taught me this is so.  I am aware more and more of my deficits and don’t praise myself for my small achievements.    I need to learn to move away from deprived child and find the inner champion who will care for my inner child in ways that her true beauty can shine forth.

I have also become aware through therapy and my own healing work and insight lately that both of my parents had deeply deprived inner children too. They did the best with what they had but passed down real scars, wounds and injuries which have effected me well into adulthood.  The positive now is that in seeing all of this I am in a far better place to be realistic and to change old patterns born of a deprivation punitive excessively harsh inner critic mentality that does not serve me well.


Lancing a boil, cleaning out the wound

We are currently in the midst of a conjunction or meeting together of the planet of communications, perceptions, early relationships and siblings (Mercury) with the planet that deals with subconscious intense experiences which lead us either to a negotiation with deeply buried pain. We can deal with this pain through ongoing resentment or find a transformation of perspective (Pluto) through facing the dark and painful reactions we meet through the experience most especially through accepting and grieving the wound.  I  touched on this subject in an earlier post.

When I read about this conjunction the other day it made sense of the deep pain I went through between Friday and Sunday.  Today I feel I have come out into a clearing where I can see the deep, deep resentment, pain and anger I have always carried at a deeply subconscious level as a result of repeated abandonments, many of which took place at this time of year.   The abandonments go way, way back to my earliest childhood and I see the repetitive theme as it has played out over at least 50 or more years.  The intensity of the pain on Friday and Saturday felt for me almost too powerful to contain. Certain avenues of support were pulled back due to the rage that came out of me and other avenues of support opening up (thankfully) as I am not sure I could have contained the experience on my own, without both validation and an awareness of others who could help me raise my own perspective.

I guess that our psyche in some strange way arranges for us, experiences in which we get to discover our wounds.  There are wound awakeners around us who catalyse old pain in intense ways.  Through this experience we get to learn more about ourselves and the unconscious impact of our past on us, through them we get set up for an encounter with our wounded self or inner child.

According to abandonment expert, Susan Anderson the way we deal with our abandonment which may be largely unconscious is to act out in outer child behaviours.  In this state we are age regressed, emotionally hijacked, no longer in our adult mind at all.  We are just overcome powerfully by an intense experience of pain, rage, discomfort, disappointment, anger, anxiety, emptiness or dread.

Susan uses the acronym of S.W.I.R.L. for how the abandonment depression affects.  First we feel Shattered, blown into a million pieces, dissociated or numb, secondly we Withdrawour energy into ourselves like a wounded animal with a painful splinter lodged in its paw, thirdly we Internalise the pain in our body and suffer from depression, loss of energy, heartache and interned helplessness and anger, fourthly we encounter Rage at the abandonment or loss, we rail against the injustice, we may go on binges of eating, drinking or sexing, and through our rage we can touch base with old pain and grief which we can then feel once we begin to let go of the powerful hold that rage can have on us.

Finally once we have negotiated all of the four stages we have the chance Lifting  out of the abandonment experience but only if we can get help and development of working through the initial stages.  I would refer readers to Susan’s book The Journey from Abandonment to Healing for a more detailed exploration of the stages of S.W.I.R.L.

Suffice to say for the purposes of this blog I know I have negotiated all stages since my marriage ended 12 years ago and then worked out more with the second relationship gone wrong 5 years ago.  Lately I have experienced times of lifting out of the abandonment depression but I was retriggered into it most intensely last week by a friend letting me down and then my therapist having trouble containing me on Friday.  Luckily for me I have another therapist I could turn to today.  I was able to be put back in my adult mind and self by talking through everything with her today.  We worked on some strategies to use when I felt over come.  I then talked it over with my mother and sister and they offered me empathy, validation and support but not the connection back to my childhood, that is and has been my work.

This afternoon I feel in a stronger place.  I know tomorrow when I meet my therapist I will be able to express my pain and disappointment not from the regressed outer child but from my adult and inner child.  I will be able to apologise but I also think that for now I have met the end of the road with Katina for a little while.  Mercury goes retrograde soon and that is a time to put the stops on too much outer activity and time to reflect deeply on past issues.  I want to spend some quiet time with myself and my inner child over the net few weeks.

Today I also bought Louise Hays’ book The Power is Within You.  I want to use her advice to get in touch with my best self and begin to make real efforts to demonstrate and practice self love and unconditional acceptance towards myself.  I no longer want the rage or negativity to dominate my life and relationships. I know facing my deep rage and anger has been necessary, now I need to put things in place to set good boundaries for my outer child.  I am at a critical phase of my healing and Mercury’s meeting with Pluto has lanced a boil that was simmering away inside me and needed to be purged, a wound that needed to burst open so that toxins could come out and healing energy could enter.  I know this most absolutely as a strong conviction within my inner self which I am learning is the true source of all love.

I want to be force for the love and light of this inner self in the world from now on so the wound no longer dominates by keeping me in withdrawal as it has in the past.  I know the withdrawal was a necessary stage, but now I want to re-engage with life and relationships, from a far clearer place than I have previously been able to occupy.