WRITTEN BY Kathleen Choe
Our current world is confusing, conflicted, and chaotic, to say the least. Images of peaceful protests marred by violence, looting, and clashes with police, continued uncertainty about the true nature and dangers of COVID, economic worries, and a myriad of other accompanying concerns have left us exhausted, overwhelmed, and emotionally devastated. We are feeling the collective strain of too many traumatic stressors coming at once, exceeding our window of tolerance and capacity to cope with our existing strategies.
In the absence of clear leadership and guidance on how to respond to these crises, many of us are experiencing the phenomenon therapists refer to as “regression,” or the emergence of the inner child we all carry within us. Even an essentially stable, relatively healthy childhood involves numerous hurts and rejections common to growing up (think: middle school) and leaves us with some wounded younger parts that we carry into adulthood. Childhood trauma can leave us with younger parts that are literally frozen in pain and fear. These tender selves are activated during times when our adult selves feel helpless, hopeless, confused, insecure, or lost.
They essentially need to be “re-parented” with acceptance, kindness, grace, and patience and integrated into our adult self through this healing process. This happens in the context of healthy, predictable, safe, connected relationships with others, where younger parts are assured they will not be abandoned or abused as they were in the past.
New neural pathways for security and trust are built when we experience a different and positive outcome in a relational context, such as being understood and accepted instead of shamed and rejected when we share a struggle or hurt with another person. Relational safety allows our younger parts to heal and “grow up” into psychological maturity. An important element of the therapeutic process is creating a safe and stable alliance between the therapist and client (and horse in EAP) so that these wounded parts can progress through the developmental stages that were missed due to the survival strategies we get stuck in when growing up in unsafe environments.
The “life jackets” we don in childhood can become the “straitjackets” of our adulthood.
If you are struggling with feeling lost about what to say or how to feel or act in the current polarized climate, try to notice that feeling without judging, minimizing, avoiding, or acting on it. Make some space for the discomfort, the uncertainty, the distress. Notice if any of these feelings connect with territory familiar to your childhood, to see if your younger parts are being triggered.
Our deepest desire is to be fully known and fully accepted, and our greatest fear is that if we are fully known, we will not be accepted. We all have “shadow sides” that we are afraid to acknowledge. Many of us struggle to give voice to our wounded younger parts. I struggle alongside you to find the right way forward during these confusing times. No matter what the color of our skin, the same heart beats underneath. We all need to be accepted, valued, and loved.
To learn more about Inner Child Work sign up for our conference Interconnected 2020 and attend the following workshops: