Listed at the bottom are 26 examples of adverse experiences you may have diminished in order to cope and survive. I’ve also included a short video to add further context.
There’s a saying: “Love is a place we go when we no longer wish to hide.” The same is true with healing. Because healing is seeing and feeling something for what it is, without diminishment, which is an act of self-love.
Healing occurs when we no longer diminish our childhood adversity — both what happened (verbal and physical abuse, for example) and what didn’t happen that we desperately needed (affection, for example). It occurs when we own the magnitude of the environmental failures endured.
We own the stark reality that our older brother beat us, while our parents minimized it. We own the truth that our uncle crossed boundaries with touch, and we couldn’t safely speak to what felt wrong inside. We own that our parent’s regular lateness when picking us up at school left us feeling sad and abandoned.
These incidents, so routinely passed as “not so bad”, with the help of healing, become seen for what they are. We wake to truth and self-love.
Truth and love
“If you knew the secret of Life, you too would choose no other companion but Love.” ~ Rumi
In many ways, truth and love are synonymous. On a spiritual level, they represent who we are at our deepest essence — love as truth; truth as love.
Spiritual teacher Byron Katie writes, “We are Love, and there is nothing we can do about that.” American writer Thaddeus Golas reminds us to, “Go beyond reason to love. It is safe. It is the only safety.” For millennia, artists, sages and saints have spoken about love, of it being our ultimate reality, where we come from, what we seek, where we return. In love, we find truth, in truth there is love.
“You look beyond the veil of form and separation.
This is the realization of oneness.
This is love.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
And yet both love and truth are also associated with hurt; hence, “love hurts”, as spoken of in so many of our novels and lyrics. In truth, though, it’s the absence of love that hurts, which then creates a denial of truth — the truth of who we are.
To survive love’s absence when young we deny who we are, namely our feelings of fear, sadness, anger, shame, disgust and joy. We adapt by becoming who our parents want us to be and who we need to be in order to feel safe and receive approval. I write about this extensively in this article here — how we sacrifice authenticity for the existing conditions of the relationship with our primary attachment figures.
In short, as love fades, so too must we. This is diminishment’s genesis, a survival response resulting from attachment disruptions.
The pain of love lost is particularly real when young and vulnerable — when our brain is developing so quickly; when biologically we need connection for our developing nervous system, for our survival; when we so deeply depend on the love of our primary caregivers to build our sense of self. Young and tender, it indeed hurts to realize the devastating truth that our parents cannot meet our need for love, safety and connection.
It’s painful to deny who we are both in childhood and beyond. Through healing, however, we love ourselves enough to bring the light of awareness to the dark corners of our psychophysiology—to no longer hide from the truth, painful as it is.
Diminishment inside and out
“All emotions, even those that are suppressed and unexpressed, have physical effects. Unexpressed emotions tend to stay in the body like small ticking time bombs—they are illnesses in incubation.” ~ Marilyn Van M. Derbur
“Diseases are compensation strategies.” ~ Dr. Thomas Cowan
Diminishing adversity is a means of diminishing emotional pain. Too young to handle our emotions, and without any loving caregiver to safely hold us in our pain, we must tuck it away into the shadows. We must make what is BIG — the truth of our adversity — small in our mind and body.
“My parent’s fighting isn’t so bad.” “My mother’s depression is no big deal”. Done mostly unconsciously, we create these narratives to not feel so bad.
Yet, when diminishment continues long term, not only does it keep trauma locked in place internally, thereby causing a whole host of health problems, it also perpetuates a collective mindset that normalizes — diminishes — longstanding, ancestral cycles of abuse and neglect in our lineage and society as a whole. Blind to personal early life struggles — to bad — the collective mindset fails to sensitize to a child’s struggles at school, their emotional needs at home, their turbulence arising from birth trauma. It cannot see truth inside and out. The truth of bad.
Ending the perennial cycle of harm that makes up so much of the collective story of trauma is, therefore, dependent on self-honesty; and with that honesty, it depends on being with the emotional pain and trauma suppressed in the body. Owning the truth, we feel the pain underneath the truth that mom’s depression was frightening and dad’s spanking was destructive. “It wasn’t that bad / big a deal” is seen for what it is — small is recognized as BIG, not so bad as bad.
Over time, the rise above – keep it together – be strong – stay busy self-preservation strategies we’ve depended on weaken and the body finally shakes, cries, and releases what diminishment kept locked away. Sensitivity to our early life adversity sensitizes us to the subtle (and not so subtle) cues of pain and struggle in children, our communities, and Mother nature as a whole. With this newfound awareness and empathetic attunement it then becomes more difficult, if not impossible, to treat children, animals and Mother Nature as we have. It becomes more difficult, if not impossible, to continue working in, or giving our energy to, institutions that perpetuate diminishment.
Truth makes blindness less and less an option.
Simply put, owning truth cognitively and feeling truth in the body go hand-in-hand. Recognizing the stark reality of what happened and feeling its repercussions co-arise together; for, both the mental and physiological truths got suppressed together.
As it goes in, it comes out. As it comes out, a new world is born.
A courageous journey
“It takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a soldier to fight on a battlefield.” ~ W. B. Yeats
It can be hard to see and feel the truth. My clients, having worked hard to build a healthier relationship with their parents, and having seen their father soften and mother wisen with age, suddenly find themselves conflicted in their healing journey — I feel closer to my parents, but I’m now confronted with the truth of their failures and the impact they had on me.
It’s natural to want to diminish (forgive and forget) what happened so as to not lay blame on two people my clients have learned to love a little more. It’s natural to want to “let it go” when it’s understood that their parents likely did their best, given their upbringing which was, in all probability, much harder than my clients’. Despite this growing closeness and understanding, however, as author Bessel van der Kolk writes, ultimately, the body keeps the score. Cognitively my clients may find a level of forgiveness, but somatically there still exists wells of untouched, unprocessed anger, rage, fear, hatred, shame and grief.
And so there is conflict — a pull to simply accept what happened without accepting the natural process the body must go through to heal.
Though it would be easier if possible, healing does not happen purely at the cognitive level — through understanding, as traditional psychoanalytical models would have us believe. Instead, healing must run the course through all levels of the brain and physiology — cortex, limbic and reptilian; thought, emotion, sensation; nervous system and musculature. Explicit memories must be reconciled and sometimes implicit memories unearthed. Emotions must be felt, as well as sensations such as tightness in the throat, tingling in the chest.
Indeed, healing is a full-bodied affair, one that takes time and courageous effort.
With time, as one heals, the growing connection with parents can deepen. Forgiveness organically arises from felt-sense, rather than from surface experiences of thought disconnected from trauma. We can heal our relationships, but first we must heal the relationship with ourself.
It goes without saying: The path of truth-telling, healing and self-love is not for the faint of heart. It’s not easy to come out from decades of hiding, especially in a world where diminishment is the norm. It’s not easy to learn to love ourselves and others, particularly those who once let us down. As the beautiful words of poet Rainer Maria Rilke so poignantly state, “For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.”
This work, this most difficult of tasks that is the path of love, is indeed our real work here. And so I say to you that healing is necessary, for healing returns us to love inside and out, a healing and love for self, your lineage, your descendants, all of humanity, and all of life.
We heal and love for the new emerging world that is upon us now.
For more information on healing, I invite you to look at my Healing With Starlight page.
26 experiences to no longer diminish
When reading the following list, keep reminding yourself that for children small is BIG — that for you, small was BIG. A menacing look from one’s father is far more frightening at age 4 than 14. Imagine how shocking being circumcised is (and without anesthetic for many of us); or immediately being incubated at birth for weeks without touch when touch is essential for developing the growing infant’s capacity for self-regulation.
Where possible, try to recall how it felt to experience the situations mentioned below. I don’t recommend going deep into the feelings, as reviewing this list can bring up old forgotten memories and emotion. Rather, I invite you to consider that maybe, at that young, tender age, these situations could have affected you more than you think.
For further support, please look at the ACEs Too High website (ACE – Adverse Childhood Experiences). I also suggest you research the negative psychobiological impacts of such adverse experiences as spanking and birth traumas that are increasingly being documented.
- How stressed was your mother when you were in utero? Consider what your mother’s relationship was like with your father during pregnancy and how much support she received.
- Were there any birth traumas? Were forceps used? Were you incubated without touch and under a glaring light?
- Were you circumcised? With or without anaesthetic?
- Were you breastfed? I encourage you to research its impact on mental, emotional and physical health.
- How often did your parents give you verbal affection—say, “I love you?”
- How often did your parents give you physical affection—cuddles and kisses?
- How emotionally present was your father? Your mother? Were they able to meet you with heart-felt empathy (versus advice / fixing)?
- How physically present were your parents? How often was your father working or away on business? How busy was your mother with tasks such as household duties or personal studies?
- Did any of your primary attachment figures suffer from addiction, depression, or anxiety?
- How safe did you feel around your parents? Did your father or mother have a menacing look? Did you have to walk around on eggshells—vigilant? If so, how much?
- Did your parents threaten you with verbal or physical violence? “Just wait till your dad gets home…”
- Did your parents spank/beat you? Did you witness your siblings being abused?
- Did your mother or father stand up for you and protect you from harm caused by the other parent, a sibling, school bullies, or others?
- Did you suffer any losses, such as the death of a parent, grandparent or sibling through miscarriage? Did the loss lead to a depressive episode in a primary caregiver?
- How much did you get your physical needs met like food, clothes, etc?
- Were your parents late picking you up from school, practice, etc? How reliable were they?
- Was there any inappropriate touching? Any sexual violations? Did you witness your siblings being sexually abused?
- Did you experience any adverse experiences with other family members or caregivers such as babysitters, step-parents, camp workers or parents of friends?
- What was your parent’s relationship like? How often did they fight? How well did they hide their tension?
- What was the overall mood of the home(s) you grew up in?
- Did your parents separate? What was the separation like? What was it like leading up to it? What was it like to exist with parents living in two locations?
- How often did you move from one home/location to another? How did this impact your ability to connect with friends?
- What was your relationship like with your sibling(s)? Were you bullied or beaten? How much protection did you get from your primary caregivers?
- Were you adopted? How stressed was your mother when she chose to give you away? How was your adoption handled over the years in your new family?
- How comfortable did you feel at school? Did you feel safe and accepted? Were you bullied, ostracized, in any way? Did you feel safe to ask for help? Were you met with help?
- How safe and connected were you with your school teachers? Were any of them emotionally or physically threatening/violent towards you?
Check out Vince’s book: Wild Empty Spaces ~ Poems for the Opening Heart
For more of Vince’s writing, subscribe to his free e-newsletter.