Reclaiming and Re-Mothering
the Wounded Little One(s) Inside
(In 1984, at 43 and feeling devastated, I began the process of kindling a fiercely protective, unconditionally loving Mommy-Inside. An extraordinarily powerful inner ally, she helped me to care for the long abandoned Little One Inside who had begun to capture my attention and concern. This is a chronicle of the first five years of that journey.)
As I sit down to start writing, my body seizes up in layers of contraction. Most of them start in my back, around and between my shoulder blades and also at the level of my diaphragm. They almost take my breath away. I lie down; breathing slowly and deeply, I search (by means I can neither name nor understand) to find where and how to begin the physical unwinding process for each vortex of constriction.
After several months of this, I understand that what's going on in my body is a physical manifestation of terror. I don't feel it emotionally, but some small being long locked inside me feels it intensely. Without words, images or memories, my body is responding to some threat I do not, in my grown-up self, perceive.
Curled up in bed on a heating pad, cuddled around my saddest, most forlorn-looking teddy bear under a soft fleece comforter, some of the tension releases. The heat warms the ice-at-my-core sensation that comes with the contractions and I ease into the middle of being with my body having its feelings of terror. I drift briefly into semi-consciousness, then am wrenched into wakefulness by a dream: I am driving my car when suddenly some dark fabric-like creature attacks and covers my face. I can't see where I'm going. I can't breathe. I can't pull it off my face. Suffocating and terrified, I wake in panic.
Awake, I hold and rock the teddy bear and my self. Inside me the Mommy croons lovingly to the Little One, "Oh, my little sweetie is so scared. It's such a scary time for you, Little One, but I'm right here with you. Honey, you won't be alone, I won't leave you. I'll hold you and rock you and stay right here the whole time. I won't let anyone hurt you, dear heart."
When the terror constricts my body while I'm with someone, I pay attention to it. At another time in my life I might have vaguely noticed the tightness as background and continued with the interaction as if nothing were going on in me. Now, I hear my body screaming at me to stop what I'm doing because the Little One is feeling petrified. I stop everything and go inside, melting into the pain. Sometimes that gives birth to a knowing about what stirred the emotion; other times I remain mystified. I simply stay with the pain and with the Little One until the wave passes. When I do this and talk lovingly to her, it always passes. When I try to override it or ignore her calls to me, it gets stronger and more persistent.
People in my life are getting used to my doing this; my fierce determination to not abandon that frightened part of me keeps me centered and encourages others to respect my process even when they have trouble understanding it.
There are many moments these past weeks when an elephant's foot of grief lands crushingly on my chest. I feel as though I could crumble to the ground dissolved by tears and the weight of unspeakable anguish. In the middle of crossing the street, walking down a supermarket aisle, driving my car, drifting on a boulder in the canyon – whenever it comes, I sob and shake inside and speak softly to the hurting Little One. "Oh, my sweetie, I'm sorry you hurt so badly. I love you so much. Poor little honey, it's being so hard for you now." The grief expands and spreads through me as I allow my self to yield to and go with it. After a time, just as with the contractions, the waves of sorrow pass away.
When they leave I, like a child, am fresh, open to whatever is happening in the moment. There is no residue. Life feels vibrant, joyful. I am eagerly engaged in this experience of reclaiming lost parts of my self. In the midst of the pain there is joy that I am coming more fully home to my self.
I've been deepening into intimate closeness with a handful of women friends nearby and at a distance, as well as with a small circle of other women teacher-healers with whom I seasonally sit in Council. I know that these deepenings are part of what is triggering, in the littlest, nonverbal self of me, the echoes of ancient terrors I can't remember feeling. Something inside me is cracking open, falling away. As it does, my being-in-a-body is reliving all the anguish and fear the Little One felt before she long ago shut down and ceased living inside a feeling body.
Allowing my self to collapse into the helplessness of these experiences is something new for me. For most of my forty-eight and a half years my way has been to transform disempowering circumstances into empowering opportunities. My goal: never allowing my self to be in any situation where having my reality controlled by someone else might be a possibility. Over this past year, Spirit has nonetheless provided me with a succession of circumstances that have left me feeling helpless and out-of-control.
My usually peaceful physical and emotional space has been repeatedly disrupted: by a new landlord (with no sense of boundaries and no respect for the earth) who along with troops of workers has been spending his weekends tearing out the wilderness around my house (so that he "can see" all of his property); by a pogrom of possums and gophers who've been tearing up and destroying both my tiny patch of grass and many of my grown-from-babyhood plantings; by having my car (packed full of ceremonial objects and garments, musical instruments, art supplies, camping gear and new books) vanish from a parking space in San Francisco on my way home from a Council meeting only to reappear vacuumed clean of all my treasures (including my favorite teddy bear); by having my back go into deep spasm on three different occasions, each one leaving me incapacitated and dependent for several days.
With each challenge, I consciously chose not to get into my habitual if-we-don't-fix-it-make-it-better-figure-out-the-most-empowering-way-to-tell-the-story-to-our-self-we-will-disintegrate-or-die mode. Instead, I chose to risk immersion in the not-knowing, not-doing place: to simply be with my self in the midst of the overwhelm not trying to bind the chaos into some form I could name and do something about.
As a very different sort of warrior, staying in the middle of the powerless feelings, I discover that choosing to surrender to these terrifying feelings is the most empowering commitment I've yet made to my self. I continue to find the courage and patience to stay in these moments as they intensify and then pass. As I yield to the helplessness and hang in with the worst of it, gentleness and peace enfold me. To stay with feeling the unlabelled pain and my defenselessness seems to be the only help I need these days. In surrendering to these experiences I am feeling a wholeness I've never reached with my formidable attempts to avoid being out-of-control. When I let go into the darkness, after a time, I fall through the bottom of it into a radiance and freedom far beyond anything I've ever known.
The courage for this part of my journey is sourced by the work I've been doing with my self over the past five years: growing a fierce, unconditionally loving Mommy inside of me. There is, at last, someone actually there for me. Competent and trustworthy, she protects me, holding safe space for me to risk feeling the helplessness that was buried along with the Little One who once lived in constant terror. Her presence allows me to be the child it was never before safe to be. This Mommy inside of me was birthed in a labor of self-love that began only when, in great despair, I finally abandoned the illusion that anyone outside of me could ever love me any more than I was able to love my self. (Until then, in my periodic episodes of black depression and self-decimation, I would imagine that someone else's love for me might someday love me into a fuller acceptance of my self than I seemed capable of on my own.) In abandoning that illusion, I stopped abandoning my self and began learning to accept my self all the ways that I am, unreservedly with gentleness and patience for even the most awful and disagreeable me's.
Finding A New Frame Of Reference
For most of the past five years, the journey has been primarily with and within my self, alone. It was essential to disconnect more radically than ever before from the outside world. Both the hetero-patriarchal and the New Age spiritual cultures that surround us felt toxic to me. They assault us (both through media and the so-called acceptable standards of social interaction), suppressing us into often less-than-conscious submission to values and norms that are, as far as I can see, inimical to a healthy relationship with one's self, much less with anyone else. Through a lifetime of moving consciously, steadily toward greater wholeness, self-love and nourishing self-care, intuitive messages from within have been leading me to choices that usually are the opposite of everything that I've been taught about how to encourage growth and healing. Through a succession of dropping-outs, I'd lived most of my life as an outsider, trusting and following my intuitive knowing, often paying the price of feeling very crazy. This latest, most extreme retreat from the world-at-large gave me back the energy I'd been expending to keep the constant barrage of invalidating, crazy-making messages from crushing the tender shoots of my emerging capacity to love all of my self. With this retreat came the courage and spaciousness to accept and welcome Darkness and Chaos as my teachers. I opened to the depths of my own confusion, despair, anger, rage, fear, terror, and meanness so that I might receive their teachings.
Repeatedly, I am shown that healing comes from embracing the very places in my self I had always thought it best to get-beyond. I learn to honor my fears. I learn to not push-through them, to not be afraid to acknowledge them or to acknowledge my taking them seriously. I learn to trust that what I once might have called running-away-from or avoiding behaviors are in fact important breaks that I need to take while I grow and fund the energy I'll need for later goings forth. I learn the power of giving my self my own permission both to be exactly where I am at any moment (even and especially when it's someplace I hope someday not to have to be) and to stay there forever if I need to.
I learn that when I deny or disconnect from the darkness within (my sadness, my despair, my meanness, my anger, my rage, my terror, my ungenerous feelings toward others, my wanting things my way) I am stealing my own power. There is power that comes when I can claim and speak aloud, without shame, these dark truths-of-the-moment; I and others can be in truth and clarity with each other rather than being drained by the confounding energies of suppression and disguise. From this open sharing, significant change can be born.
I learn to not be afraid to put my self and my Little One first in any considerations. I learn that this is my first responsibility to my own healing and to the healing of all beings and of the planet. I learn to dare to speak as much of my inner truth as I am aware of anywhere, anytime – no matter what agreements others seem to have made. I learn not to be afraid to admit that my own truths will be more important to me than what anyone else has to say or to offer about their experience of me when what they share doesn't resonate for me. I learn not to be afraid to give up anything that feels like compromise or sacrifice. I trust that when we come from our own deepest truths and stay with the discomfort of apparent differences until we find common ground, we will find ways to each have 100% of what we need. And, perhaps most important of all, I learn not to be afraid to lavish loving encouragement and celebration upon my self for going only as fast as the slowest, most frightened part of me needs to go in order to feel safe.
The path to these knowings and to the Mommy-Inside has been through reaching toward the abandoned child-within. It began with a teddy bear (selected with very special care), time (five days a week unplugged from the outside world), and the canyons of Ojai. I spent my days practicing caring for and nurturing my body, heart and soul. I did Reiki and yoga in the mornings (unless I didn't feel like it) and walked long hours in the canyons by day and by evening. I climbed hills, up creek beds, into the arms of trees. I curled up with boulders, melted into little waterfalls and let the streams flow through me. I felt day becoming night, dark becoming dawn. I lived with my favorite canyon through a searing fire that uncovered her bones and then through the almost immediate beginning of renewal as green sprouted out of charred stumps of what had been. I felt young, little and very safe. I played with colored pens, pastels, paints and clay. Drawing and writing in my journal with my left hand (the one that has no rules or expectations) I made space for the Little One to speak to me with images and words. I called for her and talked with her of my yearnings to know her, of my awkwardness in approaching her after for so long ignoring and abandoning her, of my intention to become ever more trustworthy and available to her. Slowly, cautiously, she began to trust my intention and commitment to learn to love her unconditionally and be an advocate for her needs. She began to speak and to share her long hidden self with me.
Embracing the Little One's Grief
Having throughout my life been comfortable with feelings of melancholy, it was easiest for me to be there for her in her sadness and despair. I would hold and rock my self and the teddy bear that would stand in for her. I would listen to her when she felt unhappy or upset and didn't want to be around certain people or to do certain things. I'd make sure we didn't ever do anything that felt scary or uncomfortable to her. We grieved together for all she'd never had the first time she was little. We grieved for the ways in which I had been as harsh, impatient and rejecting of her as the outside world had been in those early days. We grieved for the loss of the chance to feel free simply to be little and have needs. And, we grieved for the loss of the dream that anyone else could now or ever mother that part of us. We cried a lot and spent long hours feeling very sorry for our selves. Then, slowly we began to make the world safe to be little in, at least when by our self.
Watching and feeling the cycles in nature taught me that moving away is always the beginning of moving toward, if your eyes are truly open. My daily bonding with nature reminded me to remember patience, to remember that all processes have their own timing for birthing, blossoming and decaying (provided we don't interfere with or restrict that flow by imposing our notions of how it should be).
Watching the slow process of new growth after the fire's devastation helped me to remember that the seed of new life is forever hidden in the ashes that become its food; that there is no hurry, only time and growing. And, too, that both the blossoming forth and the dying away are part of growing. Giving my self fully to the sadness and despair began the birth of new aliveness, though it took a long season for the light to return in its latest form.
Finding My Anger
As the Little One became more trusting and I, like the Great Mother surrounding me, became more reliably patient and accepting, a time came when strong feelings of anger (the more focused, specific version) and rage (the more amorphous, all-encompassing version) began surging into my consciousness. In situations where the old, ostensibly evolved, grown-up me would have psychologically/spiritually understood the circumstances and people involved, spiritually by-passing the feelings (the messiness and pain of feeling small-minded, mean, dark and negative), I began to stay open to the Little One as well as to the grown-up part of me. When I did that, I could understand and yet still feel all the ugly feelings, without judging my self badly for them. I gave up the belief that anger and rage are not evolved things to feel. (I had long ago given up the "nice girls don't..." rule in exchange for the equally emotionally repressive one that "enlightened beings don't...")
It was harder with these feelings than with the sadness, pain and despair but, again, I gave my self permission to be in the middle of whatever ugly hatefulness I was feeling. I gave my self permission to stay there or, in the old way of seeing it, permission to be stuck there indefinitely, until or unless some release came organically, from my deep belly place.
I found ways to move the energy of the anger and rage through my body. (A special friend, wise in the ways of rage, helped me pay attention to the way it gets caught in the body.) I banged on gongs, drums, chimes, the piano and my bed and (with battaccas – the stuffed encounter-bats) on door jams. I screamed, shouted, cursed and roared at home, in the canyon, at the ocean and often while driving around in my car with the windows rolled up and the music blaring. I stomped and flailed fists and feet on my mattress. As I allowed my self to experience my rage in the safety of my own company, without judging my self for feeling it, I could recognize the situations and circumstances that, now and in the past, stirred my anger. After a time, I began telling people how I was feeling when I was angry or enraged. Later on I became more able, without dumping or blaming, to let people know what, in what they were doing with me, was angering me. I sometimes even allowed my self to yell at them to stop when I needed to do that. I felt excitement and a sense of freedom as I permitted my self to be feeling the anger rather than just knowing that it was there.
When I first started banging and screaming out my rage (alone with my self), I experienced intense palpitations. I could barely breathe. I would have to stop after only seconds of pounding to catch my breath, to find some balance. Then, I'd go at it some more. As the energy coursed through me, I one day remembered a knowing that had come to me intuitively, years before, when I had explored with psychedelics. If you attempt to contain or control intense waves of energy/feelings rather than just allowing them to flow through you, their velocity increases to vortex proportions; you feel nauseated and terrified. When you stop resisting the powerful flow and instead surrender – letting the current carry you or wash through you and out your pores – you discover that rather than being out-of-control, you are in the middle of something that has an organismic coherence you can feel in your bones.
As I submitted, allowing my self to ride with the intense feelings, they would crest, reverberate and then diminish, receding on their own. This was as true for anger and rage as it was for grief and despair. Sometimes as I raged, old images would surface of situations in which I had been, but not felt my being, enraged. Sometimes, after I started banging, there was nothing but energy and rage. After a while, I would be spent. There might be tears, exhaustion or laughter. But, soon, a calm would come and with it, often, clear knowing of what I needed to speak of or to do to change whatever had triggered the rage.
The more I, without judgment, allowed the rage and anger to surface, the more they informed me. My feelings were healthy organismic reactions to circumstances that I experienced as noxious or invalidating to some part(s) of the me I was in that moment. This important information allowed me to move into my life in ways that were not possible before I began the practice of listening to my anger. Again, I was learning that surrendering into the dark feelings allows for one's inmost truths to emerge; that embracing those feelings could be not only safe, but also illuminating.
The coherence to be discovered in yielding to chaos is typically more substantial than any order imposed by the part of us that tries to control or dilute extreme feelings by means of our mind imposing structure. That coherence is incomprehensible, just as the chaos is threatening, to the part (our rational, logical masculine aspect) of us that sees the world as either in- or out-of-control.
With the Mommy-Inside's permission and encouragement, the Little One began to feel safe to be aware of her rage and to express it directly in her child's language of immediacy. Without efforts to translate her reactions into more suitable or seemly forms, she informed people of when she wanted to put them in the trash or bury them in the backyard for treating her badly or telling her things she didn't want to hear. She could trust that she would not be judged or abandoned for speaking her truth: the Mommy would love her and be on her side no matter what other people might say or do. The Mommy also became free to be ferocious in her protection of the Little One. Without taking time to be polite, she directly and calmly expressed her anger to anyone who either treated the Little One badly or who tried to tell or ask the Little One something that the Mommy knew neither she nor the Little One needed to hear just then. The Mommy was especially fierce about not allowing anyone to help the Little One since so often other people's ostensibly helpful gestures felt fraught with danger to the Little One and to the Mommy as well.
Much wisdom came from dancing with the depths of my own sadness, grief, despair, rage and anger. Knowing the power that flowed from moving into and through these strong feelings unimpeded by my own or anyone else's thought processes and having become more familiar and comfortable with having those feelings resonating their parallels in me, I became freer to serve as a guardian and witness for others in the midst of their chaos. I was less worried or fearful that they would not be able to get through those places without my intervention. I was less threatened by what feeling-with-them was stirring in me. Feeling safe to feel-with-them, not needing to move them prematurely through or beyond the immediacy of the energy of their chaotic intensity, I offered powerful, non-verbal support affirming the safety of the process. I was living my trust in the power of staying with the darkness until the eye (or the I) learns a new way of seeing. My confidence in my and their natural processes provided the ground for awakening/reawakening their faith in their own self-in-process. And, my sitting in witness with others through their diving into their dark places helped me fund the courage for what has become my own next step. I began opening to terror and helplessness, feelings that were, as I've earlier described, even further from my repertoire of embodied experience than the feelings of rage and anger had been.
Bringing My New Self into Relating to Others
The feelings of terror and helplessness surfacing in this newest stage of my journey seem connected with my becoming embodied and my moving into relating intimately with others from my newly emotionally and physically embodied self. Over the past two years the Little One, the Mommy and I have been practicing being the all of our selves we can be, openly, everywhere as much of the time as we can while still feeling safe inside our selves. Some days I feel like a one-woman traveling guerrilla theater troupe as I keep giving voice to all the subterranean levels I am aware of in my interactions with others. I tell them when it feels to me as though they've disappeared behind their eyes leaving me a facsimile to relate to. Rather than continuing what feels like a charade of communication, I ask them what if anything they know about this energy shift I'm sensing. I also stop our dialogue when I feel me wandering away from listening to what they're saying. I believe that this happens in either of us for reasons that we can discover together if we look at what has just taken place. I am giving up the dark secrets I've kept in my intimate relationships (e.g., where I feel superior, when I feel emotionally stingy and resentful). And, secrets that I've kept even from my self (e.g., where I still am more giving than I truly want to be) are rising into my consciousness.
For the first time in my life, I am surrounded by a number of women who are as dedicated as I am to becoming more conscious and impeccable in all their relationships: with self, with others, with the planet. They are women who are willing, as am I, to risk and struggle to be in truth with themselves and with each other, committed to taking responsibility for doing their own emotional homework. As I come together with these women – in Council, in friendships and in one more-than-a-friendship – our shared intention is to serve healing and the loving acceptance of our selves and of our selves-in-relation. We do this with the conviction that in this process we are helping to generate a powerful wave of healing on the planet.
Along with the excitement in this, there is a great deal of hard work. For me, there is also the rising into consciousness of all the terror and powerlessness that shaped the Little One's first years and the choices that her past later led me to make about trusting and relating intimately with other people. Early in the complicated, excruciating relationship with my biological mother, the Little One learned that no one outside of her self was dependable or trustworthy. My mother's responses to my needs came always with resentment. For her, mothering was not sharing a loving merging so much as it was being called upon to give away that which she most craved for herself. She birthed me (she told me before her death) to give her the affection she felt starved for in her marriage. Of course, once I was born, she was overwhelmed by the neediness of an infant. The mothering I received taught me that needing or wanting anything from outside my self was shameful and dangerous both physically and emotionally. Sharp nails, yanking hands and lots of feeling cold and wet are body memories that surfaced as I've re-embodied. To survive, the Little One disconnected from her body and, making a virtue of necessity, became adept at living richly within herself – needing or wanting very little from outside sources.
Until these past two years, the most enlivening moments of my life were those spent in only my own company. Early experiences that required keen sensitivity to subtle shifts in others and my abiding fascination with introspection opened me to an awareness of less-than-conscious processes that set me apart from most people I'd ever met. I would need to constrict, to dim the intensity of my awareness around others; it was either that or feel crazy.
In these recent relationships, I am able, for the first time in my life, to be all of my self while around others. Even more amazingly, the resonance of being in relation with others who seem as present to their inner selves and processes as I am to mine opens places that are sometimes beyond what I can provide for me by my self.
This experience of belonging, of no longer feeling so alien brings both delight and fear. With the joy of feeling part of a community of other similar beings comes the possibility that I could lose that comfort, have it suddenly taken away if I relax into having it. It is this that triggers the terror and powerlessness I feel as I open to others on such a deep level.
The depth of my friends' self-awareness and spiritual consciousness invites me to risk telling all of the truth about what I feel each moment in their presence, to risk giving up my lifelong conviction that revealing my self at this level is dangerous. The dependability of the Mommy-Inside helps me to dare being this exposed in my sharing. Because she keeps the space safe for me or else gets me out of there, I feel brave enough to risk becoming conscious of the long buried fears and paranoia stirred in the Little One when I allow my self to be all of the wonderful and awful of me in my sharing with these women. With the Mommy standing guard, I am able sometimes to allow mirroring to come through interactions with these women rather than only from the teacher within my own depths.
What comes of all this is that I am no longer dealing with the historical realities that usually confirmed my paranoid fantasy that I was being experienced as too much, too serious, too convoluted, too incomprehensible or too much bother by those with whom I sought to share my deepest feelings. Among these women I risk being exposed in the middle of the Little One's vulnerabilities and fears about what others might be thinking or feeling about me or my participation. I risk letting her name those fears and terrors as they emerge in her experience of our interactions. The Little One has me asking these others for reality checks when she feels afraid. She believes that they will answer with the truth of what they are experiencing in themselves, that they will be answering from a level of self-awareness and emotional honesty with themselves that is congruent with my own.
Because these women are willing and able to acknowledge what in them may have triggered her response of fear or uncertainty rather than merely dismissing her terror as groundless, my Little One is slowly becoming less terrified around them. I can let her speak her truths of the moment without needing to intervene and speak from my old, familiar, more comfortable place of the articulate grown-up. That grown-up has for years spoken very freely and openly about such feelings, typically long after the precipitating moment was passed. Sometimes at edges where the Mommy is not yet strong enough to hold the world safe, I still can disappear the Little One into that grown-up articulate self without realizing I've done the shift. But, this happens less often as my special friends and I practice giving and receiving feedback about the usually less than conscious shifts in level of interaction that we each do (in our own individual styles) when we are afraid without being aware that we are afraid.
I am moving into unexplored territory in me at the same time I am becoming available to experience others' responses to and reflections of me. Even as I go to the edge of what I know about my self or about my self-in-relation, having the Mommy with me helps me to know that I will recognize that which in their feedback, although new to me, does feel true for me. And, that I will be able to separate what is true for me from what feels to be more about them and their conscious or unconscious projections onto me. I believe I will, even at the edge of my knowing, continue to choose my inside-eyes view of my self over any not-resonant or critical outside-eyes view of me.
Even as we're each intending to tell the whole truth, we are all often blinded to some parts of our selves by our fears. So, when as sometimes happens, the Little One still feels uncertain after the reality check, her version of what's happening still guides my behavior; no matter what anyone says and even if they all think I'm being stubborn or crazy.
Over the past five years, being little, undeveloped, hungry for love, frightened and yearning for closeness has gradually become safe for me when I am alone. I've been able to stay with these, before now, intolerable feelings without judging my self and without feeling the shame and disgrace that would in the past attend any hint of such needfulness or insufficiency. The growing edge in my evolution is being able to carry this capacity out into the arena that has always mobilized those feelings most intensely: close relating with others.
When the others around me are willing and available either to expose themselves similarly, or simply to sit with their own little selves having feelings that resonate with mine, I am as able to stay with these feelings as I am when I'm alone with my self. I can feel the Little One's hungers and terrors increasing as her closeness with these friends intensifies her long unacknowledged (by me) yearnings to belong, to be a part of some healthy family and to have more of this magical newness of being all of me with other people.
When I feel safe enough to be with her terror of rejection and abandonment, to name it as it's happening, to stay right there in the middle of it feeling that it's okay to feel that terror, to stay embodied, to stay present because it's not here and now that's threatening her – I come home to the part of me that's been locked up and denied all my life. My safety comes both from knowing that I and the Mommy will not abandon her no matter what anyone else chooses to do and from the fact that these treasured women have proven to be honest, even when they don't like something she's doing or saying. What terrifies her most is when she feels the pretend accepting that creates total confusion in her about what's going on. In her past, that pretend-okay would usually mean there'd later be terrible consequences for her.
Because I feel safe here and now, I can let go into this process of reliving the ancient terrors locked in my body since so early in my life. That the specialness of these women stirs the Little One's longings makes it all very present for her and allows healing to happen now. I'm so grateful for this opportunity to go deeply into this old, damaged place in me.
When the Little One is immersed in terror, I am not feeling endangered; not by her terror, not by her vulnerability, not by its disclosure as she is vibrating with it and not by the people we are with. Instead, I'm feeling empowered by being able to experience that much terror, embodied, fully exposed. I feel safer and more protected than I've ever felt in my life: I have the Mommy-Inside right there and the grown-up me off to the sidelines; the Little One is no longer alone with her terror. (She's also not in hostile, dangerous territory.) I am able to feel and to reveal the vulnerability precisely because the other aspects of me are there to help and to take care of her if she needs anything more than just to feel the feelings and feel beloved and protected by the Mommy and by me. My terror and longing are loud and clear. I am able to be with them in my self. What I need from those outside of me is simply that they bear honest witness in whatever outside way they can as I dive and process and emerge.
Trying to Cope with Others' Attempts to Be "Helpful"
The biggest struggle I have these days when I'm in the midst of my terror, fear, longings, needfulness, and yearning to belong comes when others take it upon themselves to help me through my feelings. Even among my cohort of conscious women, when the Little One speaks out in the middle of fear, insecurity and vulnerability, some of them respond (albeit lovingly) by trying to fix it, fix her, help her understand it's not that way here and now, make it better, tell her what she needs to pay attention to in order to feel better, help her see where it's coming from, tell her how more safely to navigate through it, or just reassure her that it's going to be all right. When that happens, the Mommy often intervenes with controlled fury. Usually they persist and feel misunderstood by the Mommy. I feel exasperated and infuriated at being intruded upon in the middle of my process and the Mommy often has to yell at the people to get them to stop it. They feel mistreated. The next step is that the grown-up me comes in and tries again to articulate the lay of the land. All the parts of me feel drawn off course and undermined; the processing gets aborted while the explaining takes place.
From the grown-up part of me, I explain that I need people to stay out of my process, that my Little One is safe even though obviously in the midst of her terror; that if I really needed something other than witnessing from outside of my self at this moment, it wouldn't have been safe to risk this processing at all. No matter what I say, it still seems very difficult for some of my cohorts to understand.
They feel my Little One's terror, feel her yearning, feel her confusion and then, despite all my protestations to the contrary, they feel that they have to do something about her situation. It feels as though nothing I can say will counter their unshakable conviction that they're right, that underneath all of it I really do want and need help from them in order for her to make it through this scary place. Even when I go as far as to stand in three separate places, speaking with my three separate voices (Mommy, grown-up and Little One) to get them to see that there's more of me available to me than just the terrified child, they still persist in their conviction. It drives me wild.
The tenacity with which they hold to their reality despite my own clarity that I do not want or need assistance or intervention but rather its opposite – witnessing – makes it clear that something strange is going on here. What's being offered as help (as if it were for my benefit) seems to have more to do with their own unconscious projections than it has to do with my actual need. Especially since the helping words and the attempted gestures of physical comfort they persist in offering feel invasive, suppressive, undermining, disorienting and even threatening to me.
When an outside person attempts to mother or do therapy on me while I'm both in and also being with that child place of terror, that person keeps herself in her grown-up rather than in her own child space feeling the resonance with my child-terror. Her acting to "help" me feels like an invasive attempt on her part to move me out of a place that I suspect would feel very threatening to her were she actually feeling that way in her child self. Her intervention suppresses rather than promotes my processing. It feels undermining and insulting because it implies that she doesn't at all recognize the power in me that is allowing me to (safely, at last) collapse into feeling helpless. She acts from an outside-eyes view of me as incapacitated and in need of outside intervention. This message is threatening to me when I'm at the very edge of my own capacity to hold to my inside-eyes view of my self as engaged in an act of self-empowerment. As I stand precariously in this new place of consciously feeling the terror for the first time, exposing it at the very same moment, and holding my self safe in the middle of it, the outside person's intrusion disrupts me.
At this point in my healing process I am, as yet, unable to hold the space safely open for me to continue in the face of persistent attempts by others to mother or do un-requested therapy on me. Both sets of behaviors are other people's attempts to bring understanding, words and thought into this place where my greatest need is to simply surrender into the emotional storm without using my mind or my usually too-ready words to contain, shape and control the chaos. Still, each time there is strong pressure from the outside in this direction, that old familiar part of me gets mobilized and I drop out of my process and move into explaining.
I begin, as I do the work of writing this, to understand the intensity of the rage I feel at those times. When I respond to their pressure by coming out of where I am in order to deal with their manifestations of what I believe to be their own unconscious fear of my terror, I am re-experiencing what I suspect happened to me as an infant (and child) with my biological mother. I am repeating the process of disconnecting from my primary terror in order to protect my mother (or her contemporary stand-ins) from the overpowering terror my terror stirs in her. Again I wind up being mommy to the one who acts as if she is mothering me. This time around though, I seem at least to be experiencing the rage at the rip-off that I surely was not able to feel when this happened to me as a child. What I also see in this shifting is that while my own Little One's terror doesn't terrify me, the unacknowledged terror felt by those who would attend me does indeed terrify me enough for me to drop out on my self. And, against all my own intentions not to fall into knee-jerk caretaking, there I am doing it again (just as they are) and doing it out of some unacknowledged terror in my self (just as they are).
I understand, as I write this, that the next step in this processing of my Little One's terror involves me learning finally how to stay in the middle of my own process even as I become aware of another's great distress, fear or discomfort with it. Until I'm able to do that, I will continue to rob my self of my own pain in much the same way as that person's helping would rob me of it. Until I stop responding to the help by being drawn off into the explaining that tries to fix the fixer so that she won't keep trying to fix me, I continue the life-long process of robbing my self of the empowering experience of sitting with my terror or any of the other painful feelings I have even when that upsets other people. For this next step the Mommy needs to be even stronger than she is. (And we're working on that even as we write this.)
I certainly recognize the compelling need to step in, to be there to comfort, to try to make it safe or to make it better for someone in an extreme state. It's an impulse I've lived with and acted from over and over again throughout my life. In me, it's seemed to come from the fantasy that this would be what I'd want were I to be feeling as little and helpless as the other appears to be feeling. (A kind of magical thinking that if I'm there to make it okay for you when you're so helpless there will someday be someone there bigger than me to help me if and when I might feel so helpless.) My traveling into my own depths has convinced me that that kind of help is, at least for me, more crippling than truly helpful. My traveling has also convinced me that the best help I can receive from others is their willingness to sit consciously with their own fear and helplessness while I am with mine.
Some part of me continues to yearn (and perhaps is only just beginning to be fully in touch with the depth of the yearning) for someone outside to be bigger and more capable than I am. At the same time, it has become ever more apparent to me that if there wasn't such a person there for you when you actually were a child, it is never possible for anyone outside to cross the time-warp to provide that for the wounded child inside the grown-up you. All anyone outside can do is done by acknowledging and supporting the developing Mommy-Inside through whom their love can pass to that inner child. Nothing can be given directly to that wounded child but the illusion that something is being given her. That illusion, coupled with the fact that nothing can reach her through the time warp, leaves her feeling unsatisfied and not understanding why she feels so insatiable. It also draws her off the process of birthing a healing Mommy-Inside.
When others act in ways that intend to fix or help someone get through their pain, the one being helped doesn't get to experience the empowerment that comes with traveling into, through the depths of and out the other side of the pain. Instead of finding her own safety within her self, she gets to feel dependent on the outside person who provides the illusion of safety. And, she gets to remain blind to her own wholeness because someone has robbed her of the pain whose energy is the fuel for her transformation. Being heard, felt with and allowed to stay where you are until you're done being there is the truest support one can have. It's also the hardest support to come by from real people. The streams, rocks, trees and boulders, the earth itself have heard and helped me in that way.
I will not be pressured into giving up my terror until it releases me. I will not go any faster than the slowest, most frightened part of me feels safe to go. I can live in the middle of the paradox of knowing there is nothing in the situation to fear while staying with and experiencing the old terror that rises in my child-consciousness. And slowly, as I persist, others around me begin to do the same for themselves. I will not do anything that violates or overrides my feelings or my body and I will honor the power of that stance by naming it every time I take it. And, slowly, as I persist, others begin to respect their own bodies and feelings enough not to be coerced by cultural pressure into overriding their own inner messages of truth. The more of us who openly declare our selves in this process of reclaiming the dark, the child and the feminine, the more the craziness of the world as it is will be seen as just that. I will no longer be shamed into believing that having feelings and being connected with the longings and limits of my body makes me not powerful, not evolved, not worthwhile, not worthy of respect.
The Gifts of this Journey
In the struggle to share my process and to be heard (the projections of those who are listening to me notwithstanding), I have grown strong and fiercely self-protective. I am becoming ever more able to stand in the midst of the primordial terror connected for me with feeling powerless, frightened or emotionally hungry and little in the presence of people who see themselves as beyond all that. I am becoming more able to stand nakedly in that place, recognizing my stance as an act of the greatest power, no matter how they may view it. My willingness to be there – feeling the power of surrendering into helplessness – becomes an act of transformation: the fierceness with which I defend my right to stay there until I'm through to the other side really forces others to reexamine their own view rather than allowing them to dismiss mine.