Safety, Survival and Connection
We all grow up in a world of societal and parental conditioning, a world of expectations, unexpected events and difficult circumstances. As children we learn to adapt and respond to different situations to survive, stay safe and protect from hurt. These patterns of behaviours and ways of expressing or suppressing emotions become habitual as we grow and move into adulthood. Approximately 80% of our adult interactions with others are unconsciously rooted in this learned behaviour (i.e. implicit memory) - essentially, your 'younger you' is driving your adult interactions 8 times out of 10!
Child-caretakers often subconsciously continue this role with a partner in adulthood and always put others first. Those who grew up with impossible expectations often become perfectionistic and never feel 'good enough'. Others who parented themselves, learned to be so independent that as adults they struggle to maintain a secure relationship of inter-dependency. These are just a few examples, but human beings are fabulous at learning, and just as we acquire the ability to walk, talk and ride a bike without needing to consciously think about it, so too, we learn how to 'be' a certain way in the world. Finding love, compassion and healing for the inner child allows us to make conscious decisions about how to be in the world from a perspective of the present, instead of the past.
During the first two years of infancy, all children form attachment with their primary caregiver(s). For many, many reasons, parents are often unable to provide consistent availability, dependability, unconditional love, or respond appropriately to an infant's needs. When this happens, children form a non-secure attachment style that is then carried into adult life and relationships. Which of these brief descriptions resonates with you the most?
I have a strong sense of who I am
I am positive about myself, my partner and other relationships
I am comfortable with intimacy
I depend on others and feel comfortable with them depending on me
I don't worry about others getting 'too close'
I feel safe to express my emotions and needs openly and honestly with my partner and friends
Relationships are not that important to me
I prefer my own company
I feel uncomfortable in intimate relationships
I find it difficult to trust others and prefer it when others do not depend on me
It is important that I am independent and self-sufficient
I dislike conflict and talking about emotions
I can be reactive to the moods and actions of others
I often worry that my partner and friends will abandon me
I crave closeness and intimacy
I look for reassurance and approval from others
My need for closeness sometimes scares people away
I find it difficult to talk openly and honestly about my emotions and needs
I feel like I don't really know who I am
I often dissociate (completely detach) from my emotions or they completely overtake me
I seek intimate relationships but then push them away when they get too close
I sometimes trust easily but quickly become fearful of being hurt
I often find myself in abusive relationships
I don't understand my emotions and needs and so cannot talk openly and honestly about them
The statistics vary greatly, but approximately only 50% of the world's population are believed to have a 'secure' attachment style with around 25% being 'avoidant', 20% 'anxious' and 5% 'disorganised'. Disorganised attachment is often accompanied by depression and/or addiction, and can be a signal of unresolved past trauma, loss and PTSD.
The great news is that it is never too late to work through emotional and behavioural patterning to form secure attachment. Much of this, by its very nature, must be worked through with another 'in relationship'. However, gaining understanding of and compassion for the reasons WHY as an adult these 'ways of being' play out, can, in itself be deeply validating and aid the process of healing 'self', in order to then build trusting and secure relationships with other.
As grown-up human beings, many responses that were helpful in the past, may result in unfounded or even harmful behaviours 'in the now'. Inner child (or encapsulated child) work shines a compassionate light on the root of deep-seated limiting beliefs and ways of being in the world that no longer serve us. Simply becoming aware of these in a place of safety is the first step. Awareness in the present can provide the opportunity to take time to check-in with ourselves before responding, even if it means saying, "Let me think about that and get back to you." instead of "Yes!"
Often it is possible to identify a memory, interaction or series of events that makes sense of these seemingly irrational thoughts, feelings and behaviours, however 'remembering' is not always necessary. Utilising tools to empathically visualise or externalise the child you were, it is possible to offer this younger part of you whatever it was they needed at the time - unconditional love, acceptance, freedom, forgiveness, compassion - and in doing so dissolve limiting beliefs, heal emotional wounds and gain compassionate understanding of why you respond a certain way. This is not only validating for the adult you, but most importantly, enables deep and lasting healing for change!
With practice, time, gentleness and self-love, mindful awareness of reactions 'in the now'' can bring deep healing, greater freedom, joy, spontaneity, emotional expression, secure connection and ultimately contentment, self-acceptance and happiness. This work also allow for exploration of boundaries, what feels good or not as an adult and an empowered ability to voice needs, wants and 'say no' when necessary.
The Healing Journey
Recently, I was asked ‘what does healing look like to you’? My personal perspective is that healing has to encompass mind, body and soul/energy - the whole being. Talk therapies help to rationalise, release and process difficulty on many levels, body-focused somatic work releases held ‘stuff’ on others, spirituality in whatever form brings a sense of belonging, energetic healing, perspective and connection. But to me, healing has to be truly ‘holistic’. Each separate approach is deeply valuable in their own right, but brought together to ‘heal the whole’ - calming the mind, releasing from the body and finding a sense of belonging within through deep connection with self can allow for true, honest and authentic connection with others.
Trying to heal through the body alone, denies the need to face the rational self, healing through the mind alone denies held stuckness in the body. The polyvagal theory is the perfect scientific explanation for why it is necessary to explore the subconscious, conscious, body and mind from a place of safety. The body-mind connection is a real thing, not a woo-woo approach to healing invented by charlatans to sell something, in reality, pharmaceutical companies dominate the world and attempt to suppress healing ‘the whole’. The majority of medications in this multi-billion-dollar business are designed to fix symptoms - fire-fight the resultant issues of an unconscious fear-filled society dealing with generations of trauma, daily uncertainty and unrealistic expectations. What and how we think deeply affects the way we feel. How we feel deeply affects the way we think. The body holds response in the same way our mind does, they react in tandem to situation and environment, each influencing the other.
Take this a step further to quantum physics and the understanding that ‘everything is energy, everything is ‘vibration’. Words and thoughts hold energy, emotions are energy in motion, our physiology is dependent on energetic movement of electrical impulses from the brain to drive a physiological response, the body detects movement of the world around and translates it into danger or safety and feeds this to the brain. Energetic and sound healing techniques, chakra balancing, yoga and meditation all focus on our energetic being at the deepest level, and when combined with a focus on embracing, healing, loving and accepting the inner-child this deep work can have a positively transformational impact on our adult 'now'.
Resources and Support
For further information on inner-child healing, the nervous system and attachment styles, check out the following books and resources.
Homecoming - John Bradshaw
This book provides a series of compassionate exercises and meditations for different ages, specifically written to reclaim the encapsulated child.
Getting the Love You Want &
Keeping the Love You Need - Harville Hendrix
These books are great for couple or solo work and allow you to identify how childhood attachment issues play out in your relationships as an adult, and most importantly, how to work through them!
The Body Keeps The Score - Stephen Porges
The Body Keeps The Score is a must read for understanding how our bodies hold the memory of trauma. For or a full review and further books about the body-mind connection, click here!
The Polyvagal Theory - Seth Porges - the science of safety, the nervous system, social engagement and trauma.
This light-hearted video gives a scientific explanation as to how the nervous system works and why mindful awareness of the breath can help us to feel safe in the world.