I have picked out some words for Healing the Child Within by Charles L. Whitfield to describe my co-dependent self, borne out of my relationship with my dysfunctional family…false, plans and plots, fearful, envious, critical, idealized, perfectionistic, other-orientated, loves conditionally, hides or denies feelings, rational/logical, childish, pretends always to be strong, distrusting, avoids being nurtured, controlling, self righteous, presents a public self.
This is in direct contrast to the person or true/real self I feel I have become or am becoming in recovery.
Words to describe this real or recovered self would be – authentic genuine, spontaneous, loving, expansive, giving, communicating, loves unconditionally, compassionate, feels feelings (still often with the help of others) assertive, intuitive childlike, (more) playful, vulnerable, more trusting, enjoys being nurtured, surrenders.
I hasten to add that many of these are still works in progress, but I am definitely growing more year by year in the fuller expression of most of these words.
Recovery has continually revealed the real self. There are many other aspects the real me to be uncovered
Recovering means uncovering me in so many ways. The real me lost under the debris of others’ behaviours, words, and resonating memories.
How to spot me in the false self of a co-dependent mode is easy, if you ask me how I am and I answer I am “Just Fine” – just above the victim threshold.
Unreal. Detached from the real me.
My false self can be like my critical parent still barking in my head.
My mother was “fine” on a good day!
Most days she was a martyr and often spent prolonged periods of time, days and days on occasion, in her bed in a stew of self pity and recrimination.
I would care for her. I resented her stupor, sometimes revolted by her behaviour and demeanor.
Slowly, slowly her lack of emotional response to me, her son, would chip away at some indefinable part of me. My heart, chip, chip, I closed my heart off. Became numb. Mainly anyway, I left a piece of my heart alive just in case…
Just in case, she would change, accept me for myself and respond like other mothers did to their loving sons.
Nothing hurts like hope.
Equally part of me internalized that in the absence of love, at least I could get attention if I acted in a similar way to my mother.
At least I could take someone as a prison.
Mum had two main prisoners, serving their time at home, after my sisters had escaped.
My father and I.
I tended to many of my mothers needs, shopping, cooking, making her many cups of tea, trying to resurrect her from her long bouts of depression.
I looked after her needs while submerging many of my own needs.
I denied my needs so that I could idealize my mother’s cause for me, her martyrdom for me. She could have killed herself but did not, she just struggled on, without much word of thanks from her undeserving children, most of whom had left home as soon as they could.
When she did arise from bed it would be in the mid afternoon. Still in her dressing gown. She would stay up until the wee ours of the morning too, praying for us all, me and my sisters. God we needed it. See, we had all, for some reason, let her down. Been the ruin of her.
She struggled on regardless, asking God to forgive us.
My father also acted like my mother’s parent and caregiver. He had also let her down, more so in some ways that her kids.
We were all such a disappointment. After all she had done for us too?
After a long day at work my father would often then cook tea, shop, try and gee up Mum, cajole her from out of her depressive bouts. Just like I did.
Like father like son.
I had other chores too, lighting the fire, vacuuming the floors etc.
I was my mother’s carer in many ways.
How I longed for her to rise from her bed and look after me for a change.
It is heart breaking even writing this. All the days, weeks, months and years I waited and hoped for my mother’s undivided attention, nurturing love and help with some of MY Needs, emotional and otherwise but this rarely happened.
As the years went by I resented her for this, her behaviour disgusted me, made me ashamed. So I tried harder with the same results, so I tried harder still…with the same results.
I thought it I were more perfect then it would turn her around, perhaps if she was really proud about my many achievements then she would get better. I was the best at most things!
But she didn’t and I felt worse.
I kept trying but nothing seemed to work long term anyway. There were a few stirrings of life here and there before a relapse back to old behaviour.
So I worked more at controlling the possible outcomes. Usually with the same results.
Do something enough times and it becomes learnt behaviour, ingrained in the brain. In implicit memory, the memory that persists without you having explicit conscious awareness of it.
Perfectionism. If only I could be more perfect. How unrealistic is that?
This has resulted in a knawing feeling ever since that no matter how hard I try it is never good enough.
It is one aspect of my recovery I can still struggle with, even though I know where this feeling was incubated, still I act on it.
How the past is a puppeteer?
Was it always like this? This unsuccessful meeting of some of my primary needs? It seems this was the case in very early childhood.
Although life would be easier if it was simply black and white, this or that. Mum did love me, I know that. She did not harm me deliberately, I don’t think so anyway.
She was emotionally very ill. And while I watched her in that fog of emotional illness, I stopped listening to me and my needs. I stopped listening to the inner voice and decided that if I wanted to survive without it being so painful I would have to increasingly ignore it.
It only echoed my distress back to me. Gradually I repressed it’s pleading and gradually through time I became deaf to myself and my needs.
I became emotionally mute. Emotionally numb to quote Pink Floyd.
I have often written about how addicted people lose the ability to live with their emotions. My emotions were suppressed so many times that they became so inaudible, muffled out through time, that I lost the ability to hear them, read them, speak them, and hence share them. As a result I could not be be real with other people.
Eventually I could barely differentiate one feeling from another. They all became distressing feelings I ran away from, escaped from or avoided. They were not my friends, they were not helping so I ran way from my internal self to try and find the answer out there.
Outside of my Self.
Recovery has been coming back home to me, to learning to listen again to that almost mute emotional self, encouraging it too speak again. Convincing it that it would be heard and listened to.
That is a huge part of recovery, people like us, listening to our stories.
Being listened to, accepted, respected and loved back to health.
Others listening as we share our past with others helps free ourselves from the past – by examining it honestly, laying the past bare, and by exposing to the light of truth we can vanish it and consign it to our long term memory, where it belongs.
It is undifferentiated emotions which keep these episodes and and memories alive. It is previous emotions that haunt us today and it is these emotions that get healed and find peace.
Anyway I had no intention of writing any of that – stream of consciousness stuff, live!
So how did the child within become so stifled?
Whitfield talks about having our fundamental, primary needs stifled in childhood.
He talks about Survival, safety and security – our need for attention, mirroring and echoing. guidance, being listened to, our need to be real, our need to participate in things in the family home, our needs for acceptance which includes a need to be taken seriously, a freedom to be the real you, a tolerance of your feelings, a validation of yourself. a respect, a belonging and love.
Personally I first had these needs met fully when I went into recovery and into the rooms of 12 step recovery. How many of us come home in recovery?
Whitfield writes of other needs such as the opportunity to grieve loss and to grow, support, loyalty and trust, encouragement to accomplish – to be creative, have a sense of completion, to feel we have made a contribution.
These seem to be more part of this second stage of recovery I have now entered.
When I look at my childhood I am not sure how many of these survival needs were fully met.
They seem to centre on the need to express oneself fully and be nurtured in that pursuit. For me this failure to have these primary needs met led to a stifled nurturing, a stunted growth, a developmental delay, in emotional expression and emotion regulation.
It is via our reciprocal mirroring of emotion control that the areas of the brain that are involved in emotion regulation actually grow. This is why co-dependency, insecure attachment all link to the brain mechanisms of emotion processing and regulation. I never learnt how to deal with my emotional self, hence it became a distressed self which impulsively and then compulsively ran away from itself.
We can shore up what was missing in our development by practicing this reciprocity with people we love now and people in recovery.
We can all come home to ourselves in recovery.