As I am going deeper and deeper in my therapy I am becoming much more aware of the pain of my inner child and her struggle to bond and connect. A little while ago I was lucky to come across a book called Addiction as An Attachment Disorder, by the psychotherapist Philip J. Flores.
In this book he explains how when we have difficulty attaching as a child to a parent, difficulty in being mirrored, affirmed and understood, we have difficulty connecting later both in our relationship to ourselves and our emotions and as a result in our relationship to other human beings.
In the vacuum that forms we learn to attach to substances, which seem to fill the void left but don’t actually do so, with the result we are left even more hungry and filled with despair on an emotional level. It is easy to see how overconsumption and addictions result when we are this out of tune and don’t know what the hunger and pain is really about.
When we seek sobriety and remove the addiction we are left with the deep hole that emotional neglect has left. We also, at first, find it difficult to make sense of and understand complex needs and feelings we never learned to understand and regulate growing up.
It seems to me that then if we are in 12 step programmes we may come to believe the wrongly that the fault is in us, in a sense it is in that we are reaching for the wrong thing to fill us up now, but on another level we were not responsible for the fact that in being unable to bond with a caregiver, receive validation, comfort, nurturing love and understanding we naturally reached for substances, things and relationships to fill the void that was left and failed to mature.
However we are responsible in sobriety to learn what the wound of emotional neglect, failure to bond and lack of connection to our feelings and to needs and to others is really about. The true nature of our childhood wound needs to be understood and grieved on a real level, rather than medicated with the wrong things.
Healing involves acknowledging what happened, mourning what we missed, longed for and never really received so that that pain becomes the fuel to recover and make healthier choices. It also involves a long journey to become aware of ourselves and our feelings and needs as well as those of others. One legacy of a wounded or damaged inner child is that our capacity to see others as separate may not have developed adequately.
One way we may try to heal a wound of emotional neglect is that we become the parent or the caring one for our emotionally absent parent in an attempt to bond. When we were young if we were emotionally sensitive we probably felt their deep wound any way. I know this was true for me.
Later in life we may try to heal both wounds through caretaking. The truth is our caretaking cannot heal the original wound in either of us. It is a huge wake up call to realise a long way down the track what we may have sacrificed in our own life in order to do this while not being fully conscious.
This is where I find myself today. I found myself mourning so deeply today after a telephone call to my Mum. I was left with the deepest sadness and pain of my inner child over her insensitivity to my own needs that went so far back and I was also full of sadness for her insensitivity to her own feelings. Despite the fact of the anger and pain she has caused me for my own neglect, I still feel sad for my Mum who seems to have no way of expressing the deep grief she holds and has been carrying for years, to the extent now that her legs are all swollen with fluid and she is on all kinds of medications.
It is being pointed out to me in therapy that her sadness is not mine to carry, but still at times I feel powerless in the redeemer role I set for myself.
Today I really sat with my inner child after this conversation with my Mum. I felt anger and hatred towards her at the same time I felt the deep, deep longing for her love. While sitting with myself and allowing all of this pain to rise up I said to my inner child.
“Little Debs, please tell me about your pain growing up, I really want to hear you and be there for you and to know how it was for you. I want to give you comfort.”
Lots of tears came and my child took me back to the times I was in a world of adults wandering around feeling invisible and longing to have my feelings and true needs noticed instead of ignored. It felt like I wandered so very long and was so very lost and confused for so, so long looking for the path home to me, making connections watching them break when my rage came out then understanding the pain underneath. Trying to give love to both sisters in their damage, pursuing finally my own addiction recovery only to discover I was deeply co-dependent myself and had so much work to do to grow.
I was also made aware of the many times I ignored my own true needs and feelings.
“Why won’t you listen to me when I tell you what I need?” my inner child cried.
“I have been in so much pain, I need for you to feel the pain, to hold it in order to gain understanding.”
In contemplating this dialogue and through some of the investigation I have been doing into anger and pain lately I am beginning to realise the difference between acting out pain and holding it consciously in love, working through and processing it, without stuffing it.
Often I have acted out my pain and fear in rage. At the time I did not realise that was what I was doing. I did it in my last relationship where I was hurt deeply by similar behaviours of ignoring and neglect and downright insensitivity that mirrored my child hood. But acting out my rage never served any purpose but to show me where my needs were not being met and it often led to me feeling deeply ashamed. There had been no conscious adult there to hold my child’s rage. For me the healing only came after the acting out when I could realise this, grieve it and act in a healthier way on what I needed to do for me.
I am conscious lately that there is no where to go in my family to get my true feelings acknowledged. The truth is that only I can do that for myself and the curious thing is that often when I stand firm and true in this way and acknowledge my own feelings they sometimes get validation from my family. I do get my feelings acknowledged in therapy and often on and through blogging, reading blogs and sharing. I thank God for those sweet victories.
Coming to know what my true feelings are is so important, understanding that they were not met in childhood and how suppression of that truth led me to addictions has been a long journey in sobriety for me (It has taken over 20 years).
It seems to me that any encounter I have with my family of two (sister and mother) ends up in hurt for me. It has taken me over four years of different hurts occurring to see this. I am the one who sets myself up for it by hoping it will be better next time. At the same time I am realising that asking for intimate connection with people who are not intimately connected to themselves is not realistic. However, the hurt that comes when I see them doing things together taps the old wound that I am on the outside.
As a child I felt on the outside my sister and mother worked together. At one point this sister was a boss to me, a very tough boss. I am on the outside but it doesn’t need to be a lonely place if I am there for me. Even now they are forming an alliance of two, but today when I shared about all of this with my therapist she said “that must feel really painful seeing them do things together but the point is they aren’t really connecting, they are just doing things together.” The truth is I feel most deeply connected when I am in touch with my true needs and feelings with or without them.
After being with my inner child to day it seems to be that for so long my inner child had nowhere to go to get her true feelings heard. In my last relationship silencing of my true feelings was essential to being accepted.
It is now so important that I be there for me. That I listen to my inner child’s pain, that I hold her hand and tell her that her feelings matter. It seems clear to me that the only healing that can come for me now is in being my own parent. Understanding how emotional neglect led to here means also being diligent in taking steps to ensure that such emotional neglect no longer continues from within me.
I also need to find a place for this child in me to grow and to connect with others in a healthy way, that does not involve caretaking. I long to connect to others and don’t always know how for today that is all I can express.
The wound in my child throbbed today, I felt the scars both on the inside and being coughed out too.
For today I just have these realisations, new realisations on a path of recovery that goes on. I am feeling so young today. I am aware that I have not fully matured because for years I seem to have been stuck in pattern of looking outside for mothering and fathering. There is pain in that (and some shame too) and awareness of much more work that need to be done to allow myself to grow in new and healthier directions. And yet I am growing.
Sometimes it is tough work to allow myself to feel this vulnerable but I do know that in allowing the vulnerability to be and to be seen I grow in strength and authenticity.