Parenting Your Inner Child

Parenting Your Inner Child

Most of us think we are adults because we have reach a certain chronological age, but psychologically , we are often pseudo adults. We are children in adult bodies, trying to do adult things. I think this may in part be where the term “adulting” comes from. We may be 35 physically, but deep inside of us is a five year old trying to navigate through adult life, attempting to maintain relationships and cope with adult stress. Every now and then the pressure becomes too much and our inner child is forced to make their needs and fears known.

What Is An Inner Child?

Inside of all of us there is a part that is frozen in time, stuck in the past. As therapists, especially those of us who deal with trauma, we call that part of us our inner child. Everyone has an inner child (at least one), but we experience our inner child in different ways.

Some of us have an inner child that is relatively well-behaved and quiet. He or she may be barely noticeable and only make their needs, concerns and fears known subtly and infrequently. It could be the anxiety we feel whenever we are talking to our boss, or the explainable way we suddenly feel small and unsure of ourselves when we have to give a presentation.

Others have an inner child that is more boisterous. He or she may make themselves known often and show up as a temper tantrum when we are frustrated with our partner (sometimes complete with yelling and throwing things), shutting down when we can’t find the words to express ourselves or a panic attack at the thought of being alone if our relationship fails.

Many of the destructive behaviors we have in our adult lives from infantile neediness, fear of abandonment and dependency to self-sabotaging behaviors, impulsivity and irresponsibility can be attributed to our inner child.

Why We Ignore Our Inner Child

Society tells us that when we become adults, we put away childish things. We are forced to ignore our inner child, the good and the bad. Our inner child not only holds our childhood hurts, traumas, fears and angers, but it also holds our innocence, awe, playfulness, sensitivity and wonder.

Remember the things you loved in childhood, the things that made you happy? When adults would ask you what you wanted to grow up to be maybe you said a pilot or an artist. As we grow up, most of us end up going into jobs and careers that have nothing to do with what made us happy or what we wanted to do as children, in large part because many of us were told that those dreams were childish and we needed realistic, more “adult” goals.

One way or another, we were taught to ignore our inner child almost completely which is why most adults are unaware of this unconscious part of them that sometimes throws their lives off balance seemingly out of the blue.

Because most adults are unaware of this inner child, they do not know how to meet his or her needs. This unawareness is what allows the inner child to take over and sometimes ruin relationships or cause us to act in ways that as adults, we know we shouldn’t.

In order to address our inner child and meet their needs appropriately, we have to first acknowledge and accept that he or she exist, and then take responsibility for parenting and loving our inner child.

When we are inattentive or neglectful to our inner child, we may find ourselves in situations where we are unconsciously looking to fill his or her needs through other people. We are basically asking someone else to parent our inner child and that can come in the form of dependency, toxic relationships and even substance abuse.

Our inner child most likely is looking for something he or she felt neglected of when we were children and as adults we can’t expect our parents or anyone else to go back and fix that. We have to do it. We have to attend to the needs of our inner child through love and support as well as set up boundaries and structure just like a parent would with a physical child.

Having a symbiotic relationship with our inner child will allow us to meet their needs in ways that are mutually beneficial to our adult side as well, instead of meeting their needs through ways that are inappropriate, impulsive and childish.

Explore your inner-child. Get to know them. Listen to them and find out what he or she needs.

Don’t Be Afraid of Being a Beginner

Don’t Be Afraid of Being a Beginner

Many people I know allow the fear of looking awkward or silly prevent them from trying something new. It could be anything from karaoke to going to their first yoga class. Just the thought of failing or looking like they have no clue what they are doing is enough to prevent them from ever trying things they have dreamt about doing.

Remember when you first learned to walk or ride a bike? You probably don’t because it’s quite natural to you now, but if you see any old videos of yourself you would see how unbalanced you were and how many times you fell, but never gave up. That’s what it is like trying something new. We can’t let the fear of looking stupid, like we don’t know what we are doing or even failing, rob us of the joy mastering (or at least being competent) in that area will bring.

Recently I started training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and one of the hardest things I have done so far was to walk through that door and start my first class. I had so much anxiety about it and most of my anxieties revolved around how silly I would look attempting to perform exercises and maneuvers I had never performed In my life.

I was worried about my conditioning because while I consider myself to be in somewhat decent shape, I knew I was not in the type of shape I thought I needed to be in for Jiu Jitsu. I was mostly worried about my conditioning (or lack thereof). I go to the gym often and lift weights, but I rarely do aerobic activity. I also knew that I could find a thousand excuses to keep putting off starting the class if I didn’t push myself to go despite those anxieties.

During my first few classes, I was really self-conscious and compared myself to the rest of the class. Most of the other guys were in better shape, quicker and more coordinated. I did feel like an awkward gorilla when we did many of the warm up exercises that required flexibility I didn’t have and left me sucking in air before the class even really begun. All of that started pushing doubt and excuses in my mind. “You’re too out of shape”, my inner critic said, “You’re too old, too tired, too busy” it added.

I live in my head, which isn’t always a good thing if you can’t master it. I had to quickly get out of my head. I did this by reminding myself that I was a beginner and it was okay to look and feel like a beginner.

I had to tell myself that it was okay if I looked and felt awkward during the exercises, if I couldn’t perform some moves right, if at all. I told myself that it was okay if I got gassed during class and had to take a break. I was a beginner, and if there is ever a time to look awkward while trying your best, it’s when you’re a beginner.

Instead of being worried about being a beginner take advantage of it, embrace it.

When I started focusing more on myself and not on the other people in class things became easier. I had taken the pressure off of myself to be better than I reasonably could be. I pushed myself of course, but took breaks when I needed to and learned to be unapologetic about it (by the way, no one ever made me feel bad about having to take a breather). I modified moves I couldn’t do until I could do them instead of getting upset, hurting myself or giving up out of frustration.

I worked on not caring about other people’s opinions.

So what if other guys in the class made fun of me or snickered about how this middle aged, muscular but uncoordinated guy flopped around class like a fish out of water. They weren’t paying for my classes, I was. They weren’t in my shoes. We all have different lives and different goals. While some guys were there to someday compete for medals, I was there to get in shape and learn a martial art I had been curious about for over a decade. While some guys live to train, I have a full-time, stressful job, commute 144 miles to and from work each day and have a family to divide my time with. Our goals and drives are completely different, and that’s okay.

Once I got out of my own head, allowed myself to be a beginner and stopped being concerned about what other people may think about me, things became fun! It helps that most people who train Jiu Jitsu seem to be non-judgmental and encouraging. You’ll hear them say, “We all started at the same point, don’t give up, just keep showing up”.

I don’t think anyone ever looked at me and thought about how awkward I looked or how much my conditioning sucked. It was all in my head. Once I got out of my head and really focused on being mindful and present in the moment, I quickly realized I very rarely even thought about my weight, my clumsiness or my fitness level that much. As a matter of fact, Jiu Jitsu class became one of the few places I didn’t think too much about those things or other life problems at all. It became a stress reliever.

I’m still extremely new in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and in every class I am learning something new and attempting to perform it for the first time. I am still a beginner and I allow myself to be a beginner, unapologetic ally.

Survivor’s Guilt: Dealing With Being “One of the Lucky Ones”

Survivor’s Guilt: Dealing With Being “One of the Lucky Ones”

Imagine being in a tragic event such as an earthquake that killed dozens, hundreds or even thousands of people, but you survived. Yet you had to bury family members and friends. You were right next to someone who didn’t make it, and you don’t understand why them and not you?

Days, weeks and months go by and you can’t shake that feeling of guilt, loneliness and wondering if you could have done something different to save someone else. When everyone is telling you that you should be happy that you survived, you don’t feel lucky. You may even feel undeserving of having survived.

You may feel like you can’t talk to anyone about what you are going through, after all, what do you have to complain about? You lived! You survived. You were one of the lucky ones! However, for many people who survive such horrific events, being a survivor is just the beginning of what can be a life-long, debilitating relationship with survivor’s guilt.

What Is Survivors Guilt?

Survivor’s guilt is something that may develop in some people who experience and survive a traumatic, life-threatening event. It is something that is common in war veterans, airplane crash survivors, survivors of natural disasters and mass shootings.

In her blog on Psychology Today, the Stoic Warrior, Nancy Sherman, PhD states that survivor’s guilt begins with an endless feedback loop of “counterfactual thoughts that you could have or should have done otherwise, though in fact you did nothing wrong”.

Recently two of the Parkland mass shooting survivors killed themselves a year after the tragedy and one of the father’s of a girl killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting also committed suicide. According to their family and friends, they all had a very difficult time coping after the tragic event and appear to have been suffering from survivor’s guilt.

While not everyone who survives such tragedies will experience survivor’s guilt, some signs and symptoms include:

  • Having flashbacks
  • Feeling irritable
  • Having difficulty sleeping
  • Feeling numb or disconnected
  • Feeling unmotivated
  • Feeling helpless
  • Feeling an intense sense or fear or anxiety
  • Experiencing physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, and heart palpitations
  • Having suicidal thoughts

Survivor’s guilt is a normal response to loss, even if it may appear abnormal to someone from the outside looking in. They may be bewildered to why this seemingly “lucky” person is suddenly withdrawn, depressed or even suicidal.

Some studies suggest that individuals who suffer with depression or have experienced childhood abuse may be more susceptible to survivors remorse since both issues appear to break down a person’s healthy defenses and coping skills making dealing with such tragedies even more difficult.

If you or anyone who know may be suffering from survivor’s guilt, I  have gathered these helpful tips from the Psychology Today website:

  • Give yourself time to grieve.
  • Consider thinking about who was really responsible, if anyone.
  • Remember to take care of yourself physically and psychologically.
  • Think about what those who are close to you are feeling about the situation.
  • Remind yourself that you were given the gift of survival and feel good about it.
  • Try to be of service to someone or something.
  • Remind yourself that you’re not alone.
  • Be patient.
  • Share your feelings with those you trust.
  • Try to stick to a daily routine.
  • Consider journaling your feelings.
  • Get professional help, as needed.

I think it it important that after such tragic events, especially man made, horrible events like mass shootings, that while we are grieving for the ones we loss and reaching out to their families, that we don’t forget those who survived, the “lucky” ones, and reach out to them as well and continue to reach out and support them.

As you can see by the recent suicides, it can be a year or several years after the incident where the survivor reaches his or her breaking point. It also goes to show the bigger pictures of such tragedies and the very far reaching affects they can have on our society.

 

We’re Conditioned to Stay

We’re Conditioned to Stay

The idea for this post came from a client who wanted to understand why it was so hard for her to leave both a bad relationship and a job she nearly hated. As we discussed her family history, I learned that her mother stayed in bad relationships with no good boyfriend after boyfriend.  Her grandmother stayed in a bad marriage for decades.  The answer became clear. It was simple, powerful and complex at the same time. She was conditioned to stay.

Many of us find it painfully hard to leave situations we know are not healthy for us. We find ourselves in relationships for years sometimes with people we should have left a long time ago, or friendships that should have been let go of a long time ago. Unfortunately, many of us are conditioned to stay in these situations that aren’t the best for us and we don’t even realize it which makes it that much harder.

This conditioning could be as subtle as watching or parents stay in a loveless marriage so we stay in an unhappy marriage because we learned that we don’t leave a relationship just because we’re no longer happy, or we stay for the kids or we stay because we vowed “til death do us part”.

Many of us witnessed our parents have terrible fights, sometimes even getting physical, but they always stayed together so subconsciously we learned that even in an abusive relationship, we stay. It can even be that we witnessed our parents blissfully happy and in love for 30 years and we want that same relationship so we stay in our terrible marriage because we don’t want to not have what our parents did or are afraid of disappointing them.

Conditioning comes from many directions. Many families, religions and cultures do not believe in divorce so we may be even more obligated to settle and stay where we are not happy.

Beyond relationships, that conditioning can spill over into the work environment. We tend to copy what we do in personal relationships with what we do on the job. We stay in unsatisfying romantic relationships and end up staying in unsatisfying jobs. We want more, but somehow, somewhere were conditioned to settle.

Just like relationships, different cultures have different views on work. Many cultures believe that a man’s job defines him and that he must do the same type of work his father did, or work on the family form despite his own dreams and aspirations.

Maybe our father taught us that we show up to work every day for 30 years, keep your nose clean, head down and then retire, so even though we are unhappy, that’s what we do.

My mom went to work every day, she retired from two jobs and I never heard her complain so subconsciously I learned to go to work every day and not complain. I also learned to be loyal to a company, sometimes to a fault.

The same things can be said about relationships. I watched my parents stay in a troubled relationship for many years and that helped condition me to stay in toxic relationships longer than most people would.

We are all conditioned in good, bad and neutral ways of thinking, behaving and relating to the world and ourselves. It’s only when we start to examine this conditioning can we break away from what may be holding us back without us realizing it.

Psychopaths Most Dangerous Trait: “He Seems So Normal”  

Psychopaths Most Dangerous Trait: “He Seems So Normal”  

Every day I work with some of the worst of mankind; killers, rapists, molesters, etc. Most of these individuals easily fit into the category of psychopaths or sociopaths. Although these terms are often used interchangeably, the difference mostly comes down to nature versus nurture.  

Psychopaths are thought to be born that way. Their traits are more innate and often have underdeveloped parts of the brain that influence emotions such as empathy. Sociopaths on the other hand tend to be the result of their upbringing and environment. Both are covered in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders under Antisocial Personality Disorder.  

Not everyone with Antisocial Personality Disorder ends up being a criminal. Studies show that many leaders, CEOs and medical doctors have Antisocial Personality Disorder. In some ways, it is what makes them able to do their jobs so well. However, many career criminals, especially does engaged in some of the most violent and heinous crimes, do fall under the constructs of psychopaths or sociopaths.  

A common and what I consider to be the most dangerous trait that most of these individuals possess is the ability to appear perfectly “normal”.

They are not the creepy, easily recognizable monsters we would like to believe they are. They don’t look scary. They don’t cause us to cross the street when we come across them on the sidewalk.

They are the guy next door we see every day and says hello, yet he’s got death bodies hidden in his apartment (Jeffrey Dahmer). They are the charismatic friend we never could imagine is going out raping and killing women (Ted Bundy). They are the neighbor who dresses up like a clown and entertains the kids, yet is killing and torturing young boys (John Wayne Gacy).  

They are the people you could never imagine had such violent tendencies and could carry out such devious acts because they act so “normal” and blend in with the rest of society so well. Many not only appear harmless, but also appear weak.  

Watching a documentary on Jeffery Dahmer, one person interviewed commented that when he first met Dahmer, he found him unassuming and thought to himself that his seventeen-year-old son could easily beat him up, yet Dahmer successful drugged, sexually assaulted and killed seventeen males.  

Ted Bundy often put his arm in a sling and put on a facade making himself appear harmless and handicap, that’s as if his relatively good looks and charm weren’t enough to lower his victims defenses.  

I’ve spoken to a man who attacked two women with an axe, brutally killing one, yet he portrayed himself to me and others as barely able to walk and incapable of moving as fast as the blitz attack he was later convicted of committing called for.  

Another man I spoke to killed his wife, dismembered and discarded her body, yet during our interview who portrayed himself as being fragile and sick with mobility issues. Many of the healthcare staff who came in contact with him commented on how they felt sorry for him, that he was so weak and needy that they couldn’t imagine him hurting a fly.

And that’s how psychopaths and sociopaths get you. You think they are harmless, your guard is down and then they hit you in the back of the head and stuff you in the trunk of their car, or the back of their van. 

I recently spoke to a serial rapist who, once again presented himself to me as being emotionally weak, compliant and an overall nice guy, yet he has attacked, abducted, beat and raped women in his van. He is a good-looking young man, that with his charm and apparent mild-mannered disposition allowed him to meet women who had no idea they were putting their lives in the hands of a monster. 

I’m not saying you can’t trust people, but what I am saying is to listen to your gut. Society has slowly been pushing us as to ignore our natural instincts that say “something isn’t right here”, and that ignoring our natural instincts can make us easy targets for people to victimize us and not just rapist and killers, but those who are less deviant such con-artist and scammers.  

The person who could have ended up being Jeffrey Dahmer’s next victim, felt like something wasn’t right when Dahmer had him back at his apartment and wanted to take pictures of him handcuffed and lying face down on the bed. This person found an opportunity to leave and this saved his life and ended Dahmer’s killing streak. How many other of his 17 victims also felt like something wasn’t right, but overrode their innate warning system and told themselves nothing bad was going to happen.

Not that this totally summarizes my point nor do I necessarily agree with everything said in this clip, but  listen to what Saundra Bullocks character says in this clip from the movie Crash about ignoring her gut.  Some things can not be avoided, but from my research, individuals like psychopaths and sociopaths are counting on us to ignore our innate instincts in order to become their next victims.

Gas-lighting: Psychological Warfare

Gas-lighting: Psychological Warfare

I had never heard of the term gas-lighting until I was in a tumultuous relationship with a woman with borderline personality order who accused me of gas-lighting.   At the time I asked her what it meant and she told me to look it up, so I did and the more I read about it and researched it, the more I realized she was the gas-lighter and I was the one being gas-lighted!

What Is Gas-lighting?

Gas-lighting is a deceptive and insidious form of control and manipulation. The name comes for the 1938 play, Gas Light. People who are being gas-lighted are deceived into doubting what they know to be true through the use of false information. These victims end up doubting their memories, feelings, perceptions and nearly everything about themselves, including their own sanity. Overtime, the gas-lighter’s manipulation tactics become more complex making it harder for the victim to recognize and avoid. If this sounds like psychological warfare, that’s because it is.

Gas-lighting is most common and noticeable in intimate relationships, but they can happen in professional relationships as well. Gas-lighters are usually charming at first and often have personality disorders such as narcissism or borderline.  Many sociopaths and addicts are skilled gas-lighters as well.

Gas-lighters attack their victims most sensitive areas: their sense of identity and self-worth. Through my research and interviews with clients who were in toxic relationships, I found that it was common for gas-lighters to show one face to their victim and another to the rest of the world, making it hard for their victim to reach out to others in fear that no one will believe them.

In it’s most basic form, gas-lighting can be seen as projection taken to it’s highest level. The gas-lighter needs to create a certain reality by attempting to shape the reality of the person being gas-lighted. They will change facts in-order to create a new narrative more suitable for themselves and disregard their victims reality.

Gas-Lighting Can Be Used To Manipulate A Whole Society

Gas-lighting not only happens in day to day relationships, but historically has and is happening in a greater context. Think about how the narrative around Thanksgiving downplays the genocide of Native Americans, or how many American History books brush over the horrific slavery of and treatment of African Americans. Cultural appropriation and white-washing are both ways experiences and realities of others are overwritten, manipulated and downplayed. It happens so much in our society through the use of media and stereotypes that’s it’s not easily recognized, but is just as damaging to those who are the victims of gas-lighting.

I once read a book called Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority, that in many ways detailed how American Society has been gas-lighted to perceive African Americans a certain way.

My Personal Experience

One example from my personal situation is that the person I was dating continuously disrespected our relationship by flirting with other guys. Even other people who knew us would come and tell me and it became embarrassing. When I would talk to her about it she would accuse me of being insecure, other people of manipulating me and accusing me of looking at other women.

It got so bad that I started questioning if I was insecure, if other people were trying to sabotage our relationship and although I had never been accused of having wandering eyes before, I started to doubt that as well. I started becoming more aware of my behavior and attempting to never even look in another woman’s direction. I started becoming paranoid and questioning things my friends were telling me about her. I started to doubt myself so much that I became oblivious to the ways she was continuously and increasingly disrespecting me and our relationship.

That’s what gas-lighting does. It makes you start questioning your own reality to the point where you don’t trust what you know to be true.

How I ended up overcoming this was through some deep introspection and awareness. First,  thanks to her accusing me of gas-lighting (the gas-lighter often accuses their victim of being the gas-lightee), I became aware that I was actually being psychologically manipulated.

I had to regain trust in my own sense of self and judgement and realize that I wasn’t crazy and that my eyes and heart weren’t deceiving me. I had to find a way to separate myself from her and see the truth for what it was and once I did that, it was like someone had turned the lights on in a dark room and allowed me to see everything. I had to take back my power and it’s then when I decided to leave because I knew she wasn’t going to change and the new “woke” me, couldn’t stay in that toxic relationship and keep my sanity.

Despite the fact that I knew I had to leave, it still took multiple attempts before I was able to walk away for good. Toxic relationships are usually hard to leave and take several attempts.  During that time I did reach out to friends for support and I continued to read articles and books that opened my eyes and made me strong enough to eventually leave for good.

-T.R. LMHC