"What can you do if the people in your life, in particular family, continue to inflict wounds although you keep forgiving? Isn't it better to keep them at arms length ?" - Ruby
Our last post, Are You Drinking Rat Poison?, was Step 4 in our series Ten Steps to Unconditional Love. Some readers thought I was suggesting that you make up with anyone who has hurt you and give them access to your heart again. Absolutely not. You don't want people in your life who inflict wounds. Arms length? Toss them out of your life altogether if you need to!
But don't harden your heart. Instead, let yourself cry and heal. Accept what happened, not because it was okay for even one minute, but because that allows you to grieve, so you can heal yourself and move on. You can't change your past, but you can enlarge your future (as Paul Boese famously said).
So today we have Step 5: Heal your heart, heal your life.
Sometimes, we just can't let go of the past. We're told we "should," but we're still resentful, or even furious. There's a reason for that.
No, I don't mean whatever wrong was done to you. You may well have every reason to be furious, but that doesn't mean you have to be. Nurturing resentment over the years is a prescription for bitterness -- not something any of us would choose. Quite simply, it hardens your heart, and that doesn't serve you. And it keeps you from loving your child -- and even yourself -- with an open heart.
No, the reason we can't move on is that we need our rage. It's a defense against the agony.
Notice that the minute you go near the pain, that wounded child inside you wants to run. To fend off the pain, we go into our story about what happened and whose fault it is. But that's a defense to keep you from feeling the pain from your childhood, which is walled off in a corner of your heart. That made sense when you were a kid. It was the only way to keep the pain at bay so it didn't swamp you, so you could keep growing. Anger makes a great blockade. (You've heard that the best defense is a good offense?) Which would be ok, except that it's hard to love whole-heartedly with only half your heart available.
You may have heard the saying, "It's never too late to have a happy childhood." It means we can always embrace that sad or angry child within us and nurture him or her. The paradox is that to do that, we first have to face the pain that we didn't get the happy childhood we deserved. In fact, we have to give up all hope of ever having a better past. That acceptance is what allows us to grieve. Think of grief as washing away the pain of the past. It's what frees us to move on. To finally give ourselves all that love we were missing.
Ready to heal your heart, so you can heal your life? Believe it or not, all you need is some time and some courage. This isn't easy, but you can do hard things. Give yourself all the support you need, which might mean that you do this with a counselor.
1. Find a photograph of yourself as a child.
2. Light a candle and sit quietly. Breathe deeply. Imagine a place where you feel safe and happy. Wrap yourself in love.
3. Now, reach out to that child inside you who's holding all that hurt. Look at your photo. Embrace that small child within you who's still suffering from your childhood. Let her (him) tell you the whole painful story. Breathe and hold yourself in love. Be the parent you needed then.
4. Resist the urge to trivialize. Don't compare your pain to anyone else's pain. If it hurt, it hurt. Accept that pain. Let yourself feel it. Don't stop your tears, let them flush out the pain. Breathe. Stay in your body and your heart, not your head.
5. Notice the sensations in your body. When we focus on the feelings with words, we get caught in the story. Before we know it, we're all tangled up in the past again. Or we feel overwhelmed and re-traumatized. There's a much better way. Don't replay the story. Instead, summon up all your compassion and embrace yourself. Then, just feel what's going on in your body. The body is the unconscious, so that's where our past is stored. Just notice the sensations. Don't judge, don't try to fix. Tenderly notice that lump in your throat, that heaviness around your heart, that tightness in your belly. Breathe into it. If you feel an urgent need to jump up and take some sort of action, resist that urge. Just breathe and watch the pain loosen and shift and begin to evaporate. Every time you let yourself feel what's happening in your body, and love yourself through it, you melt away some of the pain from the past.
6. Take that hurting child into the present, where you can keep offering daily nurturance and healing. Reassure your inner child that he or she is completely lovable and loved, and deserved better. Promise: From now on, I will make sure you get what you need.
That's it. If you know you have a trauma background, or if this sounds frightening, then don't do it alone. Make an appointment with a counselor so you have someone to hold the light for you.
(For more support to do this inner work, please see the exercises in the Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids Workbook.)
This may sound simple, but the process is a powerful healer for those triggers your child always seems to find. Once you get through that pain you've been ignoring, you won't need to hang on to any kind of anger. Pain and anger will still arise -- you're still human! -- but you'll be able to notice it and let it go, rather than acting on it. And because you're dealing with your own pain, you won't inflict it on your child.
Your compassion for yourself is the key to healing any place inside you that hurts. And it opens your heart to the unconditional love you've always deserved.
“Healing comes when we meet our wounded places with compassion." -- Stephen Levine
Today is Step 5 of Ten Steps to Unconditional Love: Heal Your Heart, Heal Your Life.
The first four steps were:
4. Are You Drinking Rat Poison? Heal Your Childhood.
Want More? We're exploring each of the ten steps in more detail over the next few weeks. Join us for some heart stretches!