To be human is to be flawed. People aren’t perfect. Parents make mistakes. Lovers break our hearts. At some point, we may become the victim of injustice, violence or abuse. Darkness comes to us all in one form or another, and it hurts. While the pain is absolutely not our fault, healing the wounds inflicted upon us is 100% our responsibility. I may even go as far as to say it is your mission in life to heal yourself… because that is truly the only way you can heal the world. One person at a time.
After decades of depression, anxiety and feelings of unworthiness, I am taking responsibility for my wounds. It wasn’t until I sat down to write my first novel, I realized what some of these wounds were and began to heal them. Healing is big work–soul work–which, on my journey, included naming my wounds, facing my shadows, sitting with my feelings, reparenting my inner child, and loving myself unconditionally. Each of these steps are multiple blog posts in and of themselves, but I will give you an overview of the process I am going through, utilizing journaling and creative writing.
Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist, personal coach nor spiritual guru, but I hope sharing my journey–which included writing my novel SONG OF A SOPHOMORE–may encourage someone else walk their own path of healing. Even if all you do is shine a light on your wounds, you have done important work.
My heartaches go back to childhood, as most people’s do. Feelings of shame, guilt, unworthiness and self-hatred as a result of an unstable home life, bullying and childhood sexual abuse are the shadows I hide from the world. For years, I buried the wounded parts of myself under a smile so I could function in society.
Journaling is an excellent way to start identifying your wounds. For example, I completed the online journaling course “How to Heal the Mother Wound” from Daily Om to help me identify and heal pain passed down my maternal line. If you are having difficulty identifying your wounds, look to your triggers. What types of people and situations bring up the ugliest emotions inside you? Those reactions may have their origins in childhood.
Ask yourself whether you were wounded in childhood. Things like the death of a loved one and verbal, physical and sexual abuse are the big ones. But there may be other wounds which are less obvious. Think back to your 5, 10 and 15-year old self. What were your daily struggles? Where did you feel misunderstood? How did your parents’ own unhealed wounds manifest and affect you?
For example, if you had an attacking mother who always criticized and judged you for your flaws, you may be harshly critical toward yourself and feel deeply unworthy of love. If your father was an alcoholic, you may have had to grow up too fast and assume responsibility for siblings or the household. As an adult, you may find your self always putting other’s needs first and trying to fix everyone. If your caregiver was emotionally distant and neglectful, you may have trouble identifying your own emotions and connecting with others.
These are core wounds, and if we don’t understand them, cycles may repeat. Sometimes negative traits like verbal attacks, physical abuse, narcissism, alcoholism and even depression and anxiety are passed from generation to generation. It takes great courage and introspection to be a cycle breaker.
NOTE: If identifying your wounds is bring up traumatic memories you can’t handle on your own, consulting with a mental health professional or trauma writing coach is highly recommended.
Facing your Shadows
What most people don’t realize (myself included, until recently) is that burying the hurt parts of ourselves has big consequences. The unsavory traits and past pains we refuse to acknowledge move from the conscious realm to the unconscious, where they become part of our “shadow self.”
In 1963, the famed psychologist Dr. Carl Jung introduced the concept of the shadow self. It is the rejected aspects of oneself borne out of hurt feelings, harsh judgements, perceived inadequacies, and animalistic fears. Our shadows are often formed in childhood, when we are learning to fit and become part of society.
These personality traits were cast into our unconscious shadow for good reason. To bear our negative traits and pain in the real world comes with ramifications. So, we suppress those dark feelings as often as we can. We deny the pain. We numb ourselves with addictions. We don’t shed the tears. We avoid the rage. The problem is, although we think we’ve got it all figured out, those buried emotions are actually directing our conscious behavior, relationships and careers, whether we know it or not.
He called he process of uncovering and accepting our shadow selves shadow work. (See my blog post “How To Explore Your Shadow Side” for a very brief introduction… I could do 100 posts on this topic, there is so much to explore here.) Jung warned if we don’t do our shadow work, we never really see other people. Instead we see the shadow aspects of ourselves projected onto others. “Unless you learn to face your own shadows,” he said, “you will continue to see them in others because the world outside of you is only a reflection of the world inside you.”
Too often, we want to be “good,” but what we really need is to be whole. Shadow work requires you to shine a light into those dark corners of yourself and to embrace the pain, anger and fear. Acknowledging your shadows, as well as your light, is the key to balance and healing. Journaling prompts for shadow work were very helpful for me. (See my Pinterest board for more.)
Let Yourself Feel
This is the hard part. Unearthing old traumas and opening up past wounds will hurt. That’s why so many people avoid doing this work. You may have heard the adage, “You have to feel it to heal it.” It’s true. Sitting with your feelings and really processing them–not distracting yourself or numbing your pain–is the key releasing the hurt. Writing is an important tool to help your process your feelings.
Whether you chose to journal, take a somatic writing course, pen a memoir, or write a novel, the act of putting your feelings on paper, learning the lessons and sharing them with others helps release the negative energy and pain from your physical body. When I wrote my YA novel SONG OF A SOPHOMORE, I didn’t start out to heal my old wounds, I just had this yearning to tell my story through creative writing. The process was unexpectedly healing and brought me to a new level of transcendence. Through the eyes of fictional characters, places and events, I relived past bullying and rejection, with the power to rewrite the story. I was able to change my awareness and focus on the meaning, the lessons, and the strength I acquired. Little did I know, this was an important part of the healing process.
There is scientific evidence that the nature of a person’s writing is key to its health effects. In an intensive journaling study by health psychology researcher Susan Lutgendorf, PhD, of the University of Iowa, Lutgendorf found people who relive upsetting events without focusing on meaning report poorer health than those who derive meaning from the writing. Those who focus on meaning develop greater awareness of positive aspects of a stressful event.
“You need focused thought as well as emotions,” says Lutgendorf. “An individual needs to find meaning in a traumatic memory as well as to feel the related emotions to reap positive benefits from the writing exercise.”
TIP: Combining your writing with breath work, meditation, yoga and other gentle exercise can take your healing to the next level. Remember you are healing mind, body and spirit.. and your body keeps track of your emotions, always. The immune, endocrine, nervous, digestive and respiratory systems can all go awry under stress, so it is important to take a holistic approach. Nurture yourself on this journey. And, don’t be afraid to seek out the help of a mental health professional when dealing with trauma.
Inner Child Healing
On the surface I seemed okay, but old wounds and negative aspects of my personality would rear their ugly head in unexpected ways: subconsciously, in relationships; in my inability to manifest my goals and dreams; and it my own inner voice. My own wounded inner child was running the show… or at least pulling the strings from behind the curtain. It was time to acknowledge her presence.
When we are emotionally injured, neglected, or even abused in childhood, those inner wounds never heal. That wounded “little you” who feels unworthy, invalidated or afraid doesn’t just fade out of existence. It’s still a part of you. We carry the child version of ourselves around for the rest of our lives.
If you have a wounded inner child, you might notice some of these signs:
- When you’re upset, you belittle yourself or speak to yourself in a very negative way.
- Seemingly small incidents send you spiraling because they remind you of countless times something similar has happened.
- You constantly seek validation from others because you don’t know how to validate yourself.
- You struggle with free time because you don’t know what you’re supposed to do.
- You have a hard time trusting others. You just get the sense that they will let you down or hurt you if they get too close.
- On some deep level, part of you feels inherently unlovable.
So sad, right? We need to start showing that neglected inner child some love ASAP, which may help that kiddo from acting out in our lives.
First, acknowledge the presence of your inner child. Pay attention when your inner child is screaming out for your attention, maybe when you are feeling overwhelmed, overworked or afraid. Take some time out to really hear what he or she wants to tell you.
Get to know them… what makes them happy? Give your inner child something to be happy about. Go get ice cream, take the afternoon off, and do something your child self would enjoy. What old hobbies or interests would bring your inner child joy?
Try to become the adult you needed when you were a child. (This is really helpful parenting advice too!) Instead of berating yourself with negative self-talk when something goes wrong, let your inner voice be the calm, reassuring parent you always needed. “It’s okay, you’ll do better next time.” “I love you.” “Don’t worry, I’ll protect you.”
Love that little child you used to be! Stand up for him or her. Let them be seen. It will make a huge difference on your healing journey.
Radical Self Acceptance
Once you begin giving your wounded inner child the love, support and validation they didn’t get during childhood, a shift happens. That negative inner voice softens and you become more forgiving of your character flaws, since you understand they may come from wounding you received as an innocent child. You have taken the time to identify those wounds, face your shadows and sabotaging behaviors, and feel the pain. You’ve learned lessons, broken negative cycles, and healed some heavy stuff. Now, unconditional love and radical self acceptance is more attainable.
Radical self love not just a catch phrase, it’s a new way of being. It is caring for yourself, accepting yourself, and not settling for less than what you deserve. It does not mean waiting to love yourself until you are a perfect, healed person. Healing is not linear. It is a spiral. Each time we revisit our wounds, we obtain new layers of insight and wisdom.
Unconditional self love and acceptance is about unlearning deeply ingrained beliefs of inadequacy and inferiority, and replacing those beliefs with positive ones. To be confident and appreciate your unique abilities. It is about taking a rest when you need it, treating yourself, making time for healthy eating and exercise, and taking pleasure in the little things. It’s slowing down, breathing deeper and forgiving ourselves for our physical, emotional and mental imperfections.
My journey has brought me to a new level of self-care and relaxation I neglected as a busy mom of four kids. I now make time to journal, write, rest and don’t stress as much about “keeping up with the Jones.” I try to talk to myself and my kids like the parent I needed when I was little. I now have more empathy and compassion for myself and others. I am far from perfect, and I still have a lot of healing to do, especially around childhood abuse, but I’m working on it.
Recognize you are a work in progress. Accept who you are at this moment, flaws and all. Take a look back at all the demons you have faced and obstacles you have overcome and be proud. The healing path is long and twisty, with each step forward you may fall two steps behind, but realize the journey is not about the destination but the experience of shining your light. The world needs it now more than ever.
Sending you love and compassion for your inner healing journey,