Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Healing the Wounded Child Within

It has certainly been an interesting month. Working with depression has been quite the journey. Depending on the therapist I speak with, I either have a depressive mood disorder or full on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Either way, anxiety and depression play a major roll in my mental health. I've been on medications to help regulate my moods, as I can seem fine one moment and then next I'll be in a fit of tears not wanting to live anymore. I have bouts of insomnia where I am lucky I can get an hour of sleep in a night. I've blacked out and found myself on the floor of my kitchen not really knowing how I got there. This has certainly inspired me to take an introspective journey to see what I can find to heal myself. This has resulted in my quitting my job, moving away from the city, and learning to live a less rushed life. I honestly feel like the most selfish person in the whole world at the moment, but I was told by a hospital therapist that being consciously selfish and self-centered is good when we know it is to help ourselves heal and be whole again. This therapist also gave me great insight into myself, into a source of distress and anxiety.

At the time, it was labeled abuse. I had endured verbal, emotional, psychological, physical, and sexual abuse from those closest and not so close to me. This came to me as a great shock at the time because as most abuse-takers, I felt I deserved everything I had received. It has been a year since that revelation and I have made some good insight into my source of depression and anxiety. (Actually, more like my anxiety followed by depression.) A lot of it comes from the wounded child within me.

I have read a lot of self-help books that speak on the wounded child. I just know for certain there is a wounded child in me. I began realizing this child through meditation and mindfulness. Through meditation, I could consciously make space and call upon my wounded child to talk. I'll admit, it felt pretty silly in the beginning because it felt like I was just making stuff up and pretending. But after some time, I began recognizing this child, not only through the emotions it carried but its self-image. When I would speak to the teenager, I could see she felt herself physically grown (I mean I had boobs by then!) but still not emotionally strong enough to stand up for herself. When I would speak with the nine year-old, I could see she thought herself physically small and unable to defend herself. One time, I could recall what it was like being two or younger and feeling my vulnerability to the adults who handled me. I could recall the pressure on my rib cage as they picked me up and how a hard squeeze could crush them. Here I found my distrust of my caretakers and the world beginning. In these meditation journeys, I would listen to them and hear their stories.

Sometimes they would call out to me and I had to bring my mindfulness to the situation to decipher between their voice and my current voice. A flashing memory from my childhood would pop into my mind and I would just burst into tears, or I would wake up in the middle of the night with a feeling a gasping for breath with an unbearable dread of everything. In these moments I had to first sooth myself, saying things like "It's ok. You're ok. It's 2015 and I'm [age]. You're not alone, I'm here." Then with time I can either get a clear picture of the memory that flashed so quickly before my eyes, or begin understanding where the emotion came from. This acknowledgment helped sooth fears and has made sleeping at night a bit more restful, but I had to go one step further and honor the feelings they sent me. For instance, I had to acknowledge and honor the anxiety I felt at the thought of spending time alone with someone who had abused me in the past -- and would have to consciously make the decision not to hangout with them alone, regardless of their insistence or feelings. I have to remind myself that their reactions are their own and I am not responsible for their choice to feel the emotions they take on.

This is never easy, especially for me, as guilt and withholding love has always been a source of manipulation growing up. So, by not agreeing to do what the other person wanted me to do they would begin withholding their attention and affection from me. Or they would make a large dramatic show of how bad they felt because of me and my selfish, asshole behavior. This caused me to have such weak boundaries, I would find myself repeatedly hanging out with people I didn't much care for or pretending to like something I didn't want to do from the beginning. I didn't really acknowledge its impact until I heard a voice cry out "Why can't you just love me?" when confronted with these situations. Of course I had to ask who because I don't think I was talking about my co-worker who was trying to get me to do an extra set of planks. A conversation with my siblings helped me recall who I was talking about and of course it was my mother. Bum bum bum! Mommy issues! Who didn't see that one coming? Anyone? No one? Well, dang! It blindsided me as I thought I was always well loved by my mom, but there was always that withdrawal I feared of and would do anything to make her continue loving me. I guess you could say I grew up with the notion that there was only conditional love, that as long as you gave the other person what they wanted they will love you.

I can't honestly say if this is a true statement, at least not a universally true statement. But the wounded child within me was aching for this unconditional love. I found with this conditional love belief, I applied it to myself. I would be mean to myself when I wouldn't achieve my goals and stop loving myself despite my mistakes or shortcomings. So I posed the question unto myself, "Why can't I love myself unconditionally?" Let everyone else put conditions on how and when and why they love me, but I will be my own source of unconditional love. So I turned to my wounded child within and said, "I will love you unconditionally." She was pleased to hear that. Like all children, she then settled down and began playing again. Perhaps that is all the wounded children of the world are looking for, a source of unconditional love, at least that is what my wounded child was looking for. I'm not perfect, I'm still practicing this idea on a daily basis. There are days my old habits take over and I begin abusing myself and withholding affection, but through mindfulness and meditation I can return back to that loving kindness that everyone deserves.

So, I have found a way to help heal my wounded child and learn to love everyone unconditionally, even those who have abused me in the past. This does not make me a doormat, as I will still honor my feelings and boundaries -- and not intintially put myself in harms way for the sake of pleasing someone else.  As Elizabeth Gilbert said quoting a monk she studied with,
"We are obligated to love everybody in the world. But some people we must love from a safe distance."