The healing journey asks that we take seriously the confronting truths of our childhood adversity, which is not easy. Owning the raw, uncompromised truth of what happened surfaces unexpected emotions and sensations, such as anger, sadness and pain — feelings we learned were not safe to feel, ones that most people in our disembodied culture have no interest in accommodating.
These are the feelings we had to keep at bay to survive the harsh realities of our childhood. Suppress the feelings and you suppress the truth that mom was neglectful, dad was violent, your sibling was abusive, and no one stood up for you. No one protected you. Suppress the truth and a new story must arise, one that makes what occurred not so bad. If made not so bad in our unconscious, then as children we don’t have to feel how bad it is in our tender little bodies. From that early age, we are already discounting reality in order to survive it.
Owning the raw truth of our childhood adversity means slowly, at a pace we can integrate, recognizing that our primary caregivers weren’t as loving as we once believed; that they enacted failures in love that affected us more than we thought. This may include emotional neglect, physical / sexual abuse, physical abandonment, not taking us seriously, and not protecting us from school bullies, abrasive family members or terrifying siblings.
For a list of 26 adverse childhood experiences, please click here.
Coming to terms with the realities of what happened can create an unsettling change of heart in how we feel about our parents today. If we have, over the years, rebuilt a relationship with our parents away from estrangement and tension towards newfound acceptance and harmony, it can be quite conflicting to, through our healing, suddenly realize that our parents were responsible for much of our trauma. As has been the case for many of my new clients, there is a belief that the caregivers have been forgiven, that all is now water under the bridge, with friendly father-son golf trips and dinners with mom a regular occurrence.
But now, seated before me, anger reluctantly surfaces in my client, perhaps rage, powerful emotions they didn’t know existed. Reality comes out from hiding. “I don’t want to blame them”, my clients often say, still protecting their parents. They are protecting the image they had to have of their parents to survive — an image of infallibility; an image that still functions from the unconscious today that prevents them from feeling — feeling the truth, and thus feeling authentic, embodied forgiveness.
Remember how attachment-driven children are, and how they need to believe their parents are there for them. For, their parents are their world. They need the God-like image for their survival. And that image holds true into adulthood, while doing its job of loyally concealing deep pain. Yet now, as reality comes to the psychosomatic surface through their healing journey, that image begins to crack, and eventually, over time, shatters. And that’s when things go topsy-turvy; when the big emotions begin to surface, big anger, or even hatred, followed by immense grief.
If my clients can go through the heroic rigours of healing, with truth revealing itself at both the somatic and cognitive levels, they then move from protecting their parents to protecting their inner child.
Projection and the inner parent
In my own healing journey, especially while working with sacred plant medicines in shamanic healing ceremonies, I had to confront many truths about my past I had resistance to. While I was deep in a ceremonial trance state, a strong voice inside me would say, “Own it! Own what happened.” (I never speak like that to my clients, but Spirit was often quite strong and direct with me.) The truth indeed did and does hurt. Sometimes I wanted to dance around the startling memories surfacing, to make them “not so bad”; to brush them off so I could keep my survival paradigm in place. But inevitably I circled back and accepted what often felt unbearable.
It’s good to restate and remember that we deny reality and blame ourselves as children to survive, to cope with the severity of our circumstances. We diminish or dismiss the facticity of our adversity, partly by believing “It’s my fault”, to survive the truth that we cannot depend on our caregivers and to deal with the overwhelm in our system. And we continue this pattern of minimizing and self-shame/blame unconsciously later in life. We do so not only by discounting ourselves as adults and discounting the pains of early life, but also in how we treat our own (external) children, which I’ll get to.
It takes time and awareness to realize the extent that we do not take a stand for our inner child. Limited self-empathy, being hard on ourselves, and narratives of “It wasn’t so bad” and “It was no big deal”, are key signs we have yet to take seriously what happened and have abandoned our inner child. Projected outwards, we lack sensitivity to and empathy for others, are hard on them, and make “no big deal” what is actually a very big deal.
For a child, small is BIG!
Consider how much external children have endured this, and how much they have suffered because of it. How much we have abandoned them not only physically, but emotionally, as well. How much we have raised them to be little adults because we haven’t attuned to what they are not saying and what they are feeling — because we continue to ignore pains past. It’s one reason why so many of my clients when giving voice to their inner child say, “I just want to be seen and heard”. The child wants to be met in her painful reality, not have it diminished or completely dismissed.
Without compassion for our inner child and a sincere desire to recognize the painful truth of what happened, the loving inner parent remains largely inactive. There is not enough of the inner parent “online” to offer the empathetic ear, loving reassurance, and fierce protection the scared little one inside needs. We struggle to be the parent within who communicates I believe you, I’m with you and I’ve got you — words most long to hear, both as children and adults. In variegated unconscious ways, we repeat the patterns of how our parents treated us, but towards our inner child.
Parents struggle to give their external children what they have yet to give the child within. Not always, and not always to the same degree from one parent to another. But in general terms, if a parent has turned towards her inner child through a dedicated journey of healing, learned to take what happened to her seriously, and cleared sufficient traumatic imprints, it’s safe to say that the parent will have more love and compassion, more resources and inner calm, to give to her own external child. She’ll have more ability to take seriously and respond empathetically to what her little bundle of light is going through.
Historic patterns of abuse, diminishment and dismissal
I genuinely respect and have compassion for how hard this was for our parents and ancestors — to offer that level of love and attunement. Healing was not as possible as it is today. There weren’t many (if any) shamans and therapists, osteopaths and energy workers around for our ancestors to visit. Their doctor was the “shaman” and could do very little. Instead of healing, for our ancestors it was about enduring the challenges of their upbringing, which often included severe physical abuse, far worse than today. And they had to endure the challenges of the programmed matrix, such as church doctrine, which inculcated false ideas of how women and men ought to behave, and how the household should be run. (Though that particular viral programming has quelled, the matrix remains.)
Historically, as I’m sure you know, women have generally taken more of a passive role, subservient to men and the man who rules the house. In my thousands of hours of client work it has been mostly the father who was physically abusive, while the mother did her best to be a rational peacemaker, or withdrew altogether. (If the mother is abusive, it tends to be more emotionally-based than physical, such as through neglect. And yes, many mothers have been physically abusive.) The mother was operating within her conditioning of how a woman “should” be — obedient to the man who is the head of the household. She was also often terrified of her husband, and could suffer emotional and/or physical abuse if she tried to interfere with how the father was treating the kids. Or she could suffer abuse if she offered too much comforting to the scared child, because the father didn’t want her to make their children “soft”. It’s common in my clients’ stories that their mothers, who could not suppress their heartfelt need to nurture, gave the reassuring loving touch desperately needed only when the father was out of the house, at safe distance.
I write in past tense, but this pattern still exists today, of course. As do situations where one parent, again, usually the mother, stands up for the child and against the father. Caught in a double bind, she courageously takes the side of the child at the cost of creating tension between her and her husband, and in the home. This was true for me in my early years. My mother generally took the side of us kids. Still today I feel how powerful that was for us, how needed. Because when both parents gang up on children — and I don’t mean in the context of unified efforts of positive discipline — the child’s world falls apart. It’s then that they feel a deep sense of unbearable aloneness. I cannot emphasize enough how devastating that is to a child. Remember that for a young child their world is their parents. And so to have no safe harbour to anchor into only leaves the attachment-driven child adrift, barely hanging on. The core emotion here is terror, because their life is at stake. From then on, their autonomic nervous system is likely wired “high tone” for hyperarousal or hypoarousal — vigilance or shut down. It’s wired for survival.
Another example of neglect is that a parent doesn’t take seriously (or believe) a child’s word. For example, a child comes home and shares that he was harassed by an adult or bullied at school, and the parent responds by making it “no big deal.” They communicate to the child that he needs to tough it out, be strong and get over it. Those words come from a parent who learned to cope as a child by toughing it out, being strong and getting over it — versus going through the difficult emotions with the help of the loving co-regulating presence of a primary attachment figure.
Sometimes a child bravely lets a parent know that a family member, such as a parent, uncle, aunt or grandparent, has touched her. This is a critical moment for my clients in their journey of being wounded — when a parent not only doesn’t take seriously what the child is saying and thus discounts the pain she holds, but also thereafter expects or forces her daughter to interact with that very person (such as sitting on the lap of the uncle who sexually violated her). You can imagine, or know from experience, how incredibly scary that is — scary not just because she has to be in intimate proximity with her abuser, but because she doesn’t have a parent who she can count on to protect her. This, the deep unbearable aloneness.
Parents discount the truth of sexual violence for a number of reasons. They do this from the place of knowing about it, or having no prior reference. In my experience, it’s usually the latter. Nonetheless, reasons for denying the truth of their child’s bold declaration include: the parent is more invested in the dream of a “happy” home and “secure” life than the reality of their hurting child; they do not have the social / emotional capacity to properly respond, perhaps due to mental illness; or they “genuinely” see the abuse as “no big deal”, maybe because they went through the same thing and have “turned out just fine”. Continuing with this last point, the parent may quite literally and coldly say, “Well, that’s just the way it is. Men are like that. My own father was like that with me, and others. You must learn to accept and get over it.” Hard as it may be to believe, this is not uncommon. It occurs in a world where sexual violence against children and chronic denial is far more rampant than we realize.
Further to the point, I believe the parent cannot let the truth of her child’s sexual abuse hit her in the heart, where it needs to hit her, because of her own fear of all that will come if she stands up for her child — her emotional upheaval; her inner and outer worlds falling apart. She may be so highly dependent on the abuser for finances and security that she cannot bear to let it all tumble down into a pile of fear and uncertainty. It’s all just too much to handle. More so, the parent, due to her conditioning of being nice and accommodating, may already be afraid of confronting people in general, and now must confront the abuser. And when you add the fact that in certain cultures and at certain times the admittance of sexual abuse within a family could lead to shame, ostracizing, threats or even death, then this adds even more conflicting pressure on the parent.
I am not in any way condoning any act of diminishment or dismissal. However, I do need to name the underbelly of why it occurs and how far reaching these failures in love are enacted and normalized. And why, in our dysfunctional society, children are not heard, respected and thus protected, and how that informs the ubiquitous dismissal of inner children.
People often carry more resentment and anger towards the one who did not protect them from violence than the one who enacted it. That’s quite telling, isn’t it? The mind can somehow more easily rationalize the insanity of an abuser than the complicit behaviour of one who knows, who supposedly loves them and is supposed to protect them.
To help heal the trauma and the resentment / anger held towards the person who did not protect, I used to facilitate “reenactments” with my clients. (I’ve since closed my counselling practice to heal people with Starlight.) An incredibly powerful intervention, the purpose of reenactments is to give people an experience of what was missing during those traumatic moments.
For example, if a client shared with me a time when she told her father about some form of abuse, say, from a friend’s parent, and her father dismissed her experience, that scenario would be reenacted with me being the father giving the missing experience needed at the time. Together, my client and I would recreate the scene in my office, as it happened (as best as possible given my office space), such as in the kitchen with the father/me leaning against the counter. Like a theatre performance, I would place myself exactly where I needed to be relative to where my client, as a child, would walk in and share her concerns. Once the stage was set, my client would approach me, share what she remembers saying at the time, and I would respond with the compassionate response she dearly needed when young.
In this particular client context, a response I might give is, “Oh Jenny, are you okay?… I’m here for you… I’ll take care of this… You have nothing to worry about… Daddy’s going to make things better.” In other client reenactments, I might directly intervene on some sort of abuse taking place. I’d stand exactly where my client wanted me to be — usually between him and the abuser — and in whatever posture felt most supportive. (My posture is important to exhibit strength and protection.) I’d then assert, often loudly, something like: “Stop it! Back off! You will not touch him again! Do you understand?” In this latter case it’s not necessary that I be someone from their past, but a protective “shield” that gives the missing experience present time.
Though part of you may believe reenactments to be overly fabricated, I cannot overstate how powerful and healing they are. Often huge emotions surface, followed by a deep sense of relief. Finally, someone hears and validates me! Finally someone is there for me! I’m no longer alone! Remember that trauma is the eternally present past. Reenact the present and the neurobiology wired from the past re-organizes from fear, shame and isolation towards safety, trust and connection. The body can then relax and heal to a new level.
Imagine how reenactments create powerful ripples in my client’s life, in how they relate to others, to their children.
In both examples I am being a loving protector. In the first case, gentle, and in the second, fierce. I am being the guardian each child needs that conveys I’ve got you and You are not alone. I invite you to consider how much you felt this sort of guardianship as a child, how much you knew, in your heart, that you could trust your parents, or your primary caregivers such a grandparents, to have your back.
If you have your own children, imagine how different they would be mentally and emotionally if they believed they could not turn to you for protection. Most parents today parent their children with more compassion and gentleness than how they were parented. So it can be hard, or not so hard, and heartbreaking to consider how their own children would develop differently under similar circumstances as they, and their ancestors, had it.
Taking a stand
We are incredibly resilient beings. What we endure — body, mind, soul — as young, vulnerable children, is astounding. You can imagine how many stories of adverse childhood experiences I’ve heard in my many of hours of client work. It really is both deeply heartbreaking and inspiring to see how my clients have persevered and built a life despite carrying so much trauma.
As an advocate for both the wellbeing of children and healing, I offer this article to you to elucidate not only the power and necessity of having a fierce and loving protector when young, but the consequences of not having it — how this configures our survival adaptations of denying our own inner child, diminishing his pain and adverse experiences, as well as how that then translates into how we parent (or educate) children.
Taking a stand for and protecting children really begins in our own heart. It begins with the courageous work of going from seeing our childhood for how we wanted and needed it to be to seeing it for how it really was. Courage is needed because the truth hurts, and because as we transition from our survival perception to reality what was suppressed surfaces to greater degrees. As we accept the failures in love as they truly were, we have to gradually accept, through feeling, the emotions and sensations we could not tolerate, or be with, as young children with underdeveloped self-regulatory capacities.
The courageous healing journey also opens us to unexpected, and often uncomfortable, shifts in cognitive and spiritual worldview that naturally comes with radical transformation — because as reality hits home and we neurologically rewire, how we see and feel life is forever altered, including recognizing more viscerally the extent of human suffering. Things are no longer what they seem. We no longer skim the surface of living. We start to wake up!
With enough objective awareness, self-regulation and maturity through healing, not only can empathy extend to the inner child from the activated inner parent, and to our own children, but it can inspire advocacy for children in our communities and worldwide. Empathy earned through our heroic journey of healing and embodied awareness helps to end the historic suffering of children that has become so normalized. We heal the collective patterns of abuse and neglect by, first, no longer dismissing the child within, and thus by ending the cycle of abuse in our ancestral line; second, by seeing our family of suffering children across the globe with heartfelt eyes; by feeling for them with compassionate tears made available only through acknowledging our own suffering; and, third, by standing up for children with our voice, our writing, our music, videos and other artistic and political endeavours.
Indeed, through healing and awakening to truth, we no longer fear naming the intolerable because we no longer make a life of tolerating what we endured. We are no longer able to see things for how we want them to be, for we’ve learned to accept the truth of what’s been. And now, because of this hard-won journey, we can stand strong for the bright beautiful one within and for all those precious little giants around Mother Earth. This, our sacred duty to ourselves, and all of life.
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Here are a few related short videos I made that may be of support. If you enjoy them, please subscribe to my Youtube channel. And don’t forget to select the notifications bell next to the Subscribe button to ensure you are notified when a new video is published.
Healing & Activation: My invitation to you is to participate in my online healing and activation ceremonies. Drawing upon the power and mystery of Starlight and its many emanations, transformation takes place at the quantum or cellular level, creating radical changes in health and empowerment.
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Check out Vince’s book: Let the Fire Burn ~ Nurturing the Creative Spirit of Children, A Children’s Book for Adults