I’m going to post this and attempt not to apologize about it being a rough draft and not yet copyedited or proofread and all that, but I began the year with the motto that I would be willing to make a fool of myself and that I would “ride the wild donkey” as well – which means doing projects without the mistress of Perfectionism having a say.
Please follow my FB page for The Kind Self-Healing Book, to track its progress.
* * The Kind Self-Healing book is due out in March 2015 * *
The Kind Self-Healing Book
Raise Yourself Up with Compassion & Curiosity
Part One: I Seek You
Beckon and Befriend Your Inner Child
Making A Pledge to the Work
Catching Your Thoughts
Every Single Pain and Loss
Humbly Seeing Three Sides to the Story
Part Two: Feelings and Feeling Them
The Big List of Feelings
Trawling for Your Feelings
Cultivating Compassion for Your Feelings
Bouts of Worthlessness, Fear and Becoming More Grown up than Your Problems
I’m in Love with Your Anger!
Part Three: Navigating Sabotage
Does Self-Sabotage Exist?
The Wild Mind
Your Thoughts vs. Their Voices
Poking Fun at Your Saboteur
Time (Late Again?)
Part Four: Caring for You
Tips for Taking Care
The Art of Caring about Yourself
Care and Feeding
Compassion for Your Funky Self
Having a Spiritual Practice Your Environment
Share Yourself with Others
And the day came for the risk
it took to remain tight
inside the bud was more
painful than the risk it took
- Anais Nin
After ten years of writing about self-healing for guesswhatnormalis.com, I became inspired to put together this book, which is to say, at long last. The inspiration came from my readers. They asked, again and again, “Where do I begin?” How do I start the process of healing and doing the work of re-wiring myself, transforming my traumatic childhood? So, here it is, my answer. This book is all about the beginning of healing. It’s about saying “Hello, feelings,” and regarding what you feel with compassion. It’s about coaxing your Self, your true, inner, imperfect and lovely Self, out into the light. It’s about taking your own hand, being you own guide, and learning and growing through the act of investigating yourself. It’s about getting to know who is really inside each of us and enticing that wonderful being out into the open more and more, bit by bit, with love.
We are sensitive beings, by nature. We’re human animals. We adapt to situations and our survival is all-important. If you grew up with parents who were unable to nurture you, then you did what any child does: you survived. You hid your needs if you sensed that your needs were bothersome to your parent, and you focused on their needs. If your needs were inconvenient, criticized, or doubted, maybe you acted strong or perfect, like everything was A-OK, hiding your natural right to vulnerability and your needs for help, guidance, and reassurance. Maybe you got the message that being “OK!” was all that was acceptable, and deep down you knew being “OK!” guaranteed your safety and security. That is what little beings do to survive. If that’s anybody’s fault, it’s nature’s.
Kindness towards yourself is the way out of pain, confusion, and doubt. I know this because I practice it every day. It’s a way of life that doesn’t cost a cent. Kindness toward yourself is a shift in thinking, a new habit that takes practice to form, and it’s one that gives and gives and gives. Who knows? Perhaps your growth will inspire a few others around you to self-reflect, and by and by your practice of self-kindness will lead to bigger change across your community, and even beyond that into the world to surround all of us.
Growing Up in a Dysfunctional Environment
Dysfunctional childhood experiences cross class and cultural lines, and share common characteristics. In them, parents hold children and one another to perfectionist standards. Criticism is rampant–criticism of the family members (and pets), as well as extended family, and neighbors, as are fear and abuse. Emotions, feelings, and desires that don’t align with the addict’s wants or needs are rejected, shamed, or simply ignored.
Children growing up in dysfunctional environments tend to know (and feel responsible for) the emotional landscape is for the whole household. We are chameleons (this can be a good thing and it can be not so good). Growing up, most of us knew more about our parents’ emotional states and feelings that our. Love is expressed conditionally in a dysfunctional home. This could mean that your parents praised, touched, and gave affection to you only if your behavior pleased them–but withheld it when that wasn’t the case. It could mean that your parent noticed and valued only your appearance and attributed great meaning to it–upon visiting, your parent might exclaim, “You look great!” and, satisfied that that’s the whole of the story, proceed to talk about themselves without actually asking about your life or interior world.
Dysfunctional homes are wallpapered in fear. You may have been afraid of your parents, their moods, or their reactions because all of you existed in an environment laced with the threat of violence. And then there’s abuse; you may have witnessed, or endured, verbal, physical or sexual abuse.
The Lies That Bind
If there is a problem in a family which the family doesn’t want to fix, the family will become dysfunctional in order to avoid the problem. The family becomes dysfunctional in its attempts to live “around” the problem that it ignores. The ignoring requires behaviors that are the hallmarks of dysfunction: denial, magical thinking, lies, and shame. With “magical thinking,” a person believes their thoughts can make things real (it’s like, ‘where there’s a will there’s a way,’ but without any actual physical effort, regard for reality, or reasoning—a mad scientist without the science). While it is most always more destructive and painful to postpone dealing with a problem than to face it constructively, conflict-avoidance is a characteristic of dysfunctional families. Rationally, we’d agree that letting our problems fester leads to a greater mess in the end; however, if we’re in a dysfunctional family, we pretend things are fine until things blow up. There is little value placed on what’s true, including one’s personal truth, in dysfunctional families. And most dysfunctional families will become cut off and isolated from extended family, friends, and society–all in order to avoid facing its problems. Healthy personal boundaries, respect, and compassion aren’t practiced or modeled in dysfunctional homes–instead manipulation and shaming are practiced, and victim/perpetrator dynamics rule.
Can this Book Benefit You?
Perhaps you want to be sure this is the right book for you. If your childhood didn’t quite prepare you for adulthood, your answer to most of these questions will be “Yeah.” If your childhood home wasn’t the place to just be yourself and perfection was expected of you, it’s high time you unfurl and embrace the real, imperfect you. If your family’s code was pretending things were fine when they weren’t, you’re in the right place. If you were expected to be glad when you were sad, you’re in the right place. If you’ve come into adulthood battling low self-worth and the nagging sense that you’re different from other people, you’re reading the right book.
Regardless of how much these questions resonate with you the first time you read through them, know this: anyone is welcome on this journey.
Do you have trouble saying “No”?
Do you over-commit yourself—say “Yes,” then panic?
Do you seek approval from others only to need more?
Are you self-critical?
Is perfection your ultimate goal?
Do you need to feel that you’re “in control”?
Would you rather control others than trust them?
Are you doubtful about the outcome of acting on your instincts?
Do you feel shame about who you really are?
Do you have trouble completing projects and tasks?
Do you struggle to get places on time? (Are you always 5-15 minutes late?)
Do you “go numb,” feel fuzzy-headed, or feel like your brain locks-down during a conflict?
Do you feel your life is one big, unfurling reaction to what happened to you in childhood?
Are you always waiting for the bottom to drop out?
Do you feel your life is driven by things people did, and still do, to you?
Do you fear that if you finally reveal the True You that you’ll be rejected?
Is it difficult, or even scary, for you to ask for what you want?
Do intimate relationships scare you?
Are you unsure whether you have a right to get mad, really mad?
Do you question whether you have a right to your feelings?
Do you experience anxiety that leads to panic attacks?
Do you imagine future conversations, plot, or plan ahead and then get upset by what you imagine (and occasionally act on what you imagined to be true)?
Do you feel your feelings are connected to, dependent on, or control the emotions of other people?
Do you feel more comfortable around chaos and/or people with big problems?
Are you afraid that if you change, you’ll be rejected by your family or that you’ll be rejecting them?
Do you find yourself wondering why you didn’t say “No” earlier, stand up for yourself, or get out of a scenario much sooner?
Is being self-reflective, idle, or “lazy” uncomfortable for you?
Is it difficult for you to just let go and have fun?
Do you crave, yet fear, spontaneity?
When you’ve had a less than perfect childhood, there is healing work to be done. When you’ve experienced a great trauma in your life, there is healing work to be done. When you’re a person living in this world, there’s healing work to be done–to be human is to experience pain, and to be human is to be, by your nature, a transformation-prone being.
* * *
5 Super-Kind Abilities You’ll Gain from Doing This Work
I honestly believe that each of these abilities is within your reach. These abilities can develop from practice and applying a compassionate approach to your personal growth–and from a decision to take the leading role in your own story every day:
1. The purpose driving your actions will become your wants, desires, and needs rather than your anxiety about other peoples’ needs or wants. Your own unique interests, goals, and personal fulfillment will become more central in guiding how you participate in life.
2. The discomfort you feel when asking for what you want and during confrontations will become a manageable discomfort (a low simmer rather than a high flame) and you’ll regard and appreciate the discomfort you feel as encouraging proof of having become daring and engaged in life.
3. Your self-confidence will become more consistent, less of a roller-coaster ride, and you’ll experience more and longer-lasting hopeful moments of self-appreciation, because you’ll have cultivated unconditional love for yourself and cease to expect perfection of your every breath.
4. You’ll be able to remain calm in situations involving criticism without losing your sense of self, your core, and your self-esteem; you’ll be able to hear and benefit from criticism without the old and unhelpful party-crashers of anger, fear, and defensiveness.
5. You’ll become comfortable expressing yourself and your needs in romantic relationships and willing to risk an ending rather than stay in a problematic situation; you will never again rationalize disrespect, criticism, or manipulation just to keep a situation going. And you won’t be tempted to try controlling the relationship because you’ll have moved from living in your head to living in the present moment.
You can have a life in which you grow, feel alive, happy, and feel like yourself (and like yourself) and live at ease. The tools in this book are meant to support you in your growing-up and healing process.
* * *
Survive or Die
For many years I assumed that the central trauma of my life was having an alcoholic father. In fact, not only did my father battle alcoholism, my mother did as well. My father got sober decades ago. My mother died suddenly at age 53 with a blood-alcohol level so high that she was comatose. And they, too, grew up with alcoholic parents–my dad’s dad and my mom’s mom, both of whom, puffed up and saturated, died from the disease of alcohol addiction. Alcoholism is “a family disease,” not only because the drinking of one person in a family effects all members, but because it’s usually an inherited addiction (inherited by a combination of nature and nurture). Alcoholism is an addiction that courses through one’s family tree for generations.
By growing up in an alcoholic family system, my ability to trust others became impaired. I say family “system” because when alcoholism is part of a family, it has its own power over the whole–you could say the entire family is under the influence, and that’s true whether the alcoholic has become sober, or even if he or she still drinks.
It was my mother’s abandonment of me when I was four years old that I now know to be the central trauma of my life. She chose not to raise me (“I set you free,” she once told me with pride.) Not only did she abandon me, but she didn’t acknowledge that the abandonment had occurred. I supposed I was expected to get over it. Yet her decision seeded in me a trust handicap, a.k.a., “trust issues.” I know well how alcoholic family systems are full of lies, focus on appearances, perfectionism, and hyper-vigilance in order to cope with the unexpected mood changes and rages of the alcoholic. And I know well the sad possibility that a person, no matter how integrated in my life or committed to me by marriage or blood, can up-and-leave without explanation. It can happen—it did happen.
Trading Survival Living for Thriving
The words “journey” and “work” come to mind when I think about the first steps I took towards getting out of pain and into healing.
It was during college when I first began to work on the issues that receiving poor parenting created for me. At the time, those issues were anxiety, trust, and feeling on edge and peculiar. While I had been made to go to Alateen meetings once my father started going to AA meetings, what my dad’s alcoholism truly meant failed to click for me. I was still living at home, still in the inferno, surviving my alcoholic family. I wasn’t in a position to see our family objectively in order to work on myself. But in college, after a break-up with a longtime boyfriend, I sense that having relationships was particularly hard for me–like, way, way harder for me than it should be. I sought help. I found a therapist who taught me how to visualize my inner little girl and regard her feelings, and I would spend an hour or so after the sessions writing in my journal. I wrote pages and pages and pages. I filled journals and journals and journals. And then, slowly, my writing transformed into something that seemed like it might be useful to others like me, which eventually became guesswhatnormalis.com.
Without some gut instinct, writing, a some good therapy, and many self-help books, I might have taken the road that my childhood and family line had patterned for me–of codependence, addiction, and decision-making ruled by anxiety. Sometimes I wonder if breaking free means choosing a road that’s at times tougher, lonelier, and scarier. Indeed the road to growth, freedom, and ourselves is an adventurous one. Yet isn’t it the only choice?
It is time to thrive. To get more joy out of your life, feel like yourself, and enjoy interactions with others, you must complete your growing up process by your own hand. Maybe you’re in your 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s or 80s and you can’t believe you haven’t yet done this work. Who cares?! Once you’re on the journey, you won’t care why it began when it did. It might have been someone else’s responsibility to have raised you and prepared you for life better than they did, but you get to finish the job. You’re the only one who can. And you get to do it your way. Beginning is all that matters.
* * *
How to Work Through the Book
I put this collection of activities together with a start-to-finish progression in mind; I recommend starting from the beginning and slowly working your way through to the end.
Every single activity in this book has potential to become the basis for an insight or healing experience for you. There are no forms to rush through and fill out here–you can regard each activity as its own world. Some of the activities may pack more of a punch for you today, depending on where you are in life, and other activities will resonate more for you at another period. Utilize the pages and tools that resonate for you today.
The tools that have helped me along the way, and that I’ve created this workbook around, are: writing (journaling, blogging, and email exchanges), reflection, feeling, and reading. I’ve worked every single one of the activities in this book; I had to–they’re the result of how I approached the inquiry into myself, my healing, and working through issues, oh so many issues.
The Book’s Two Types of Activity Pages
Within the first three parts of the book, you’ll encounter two types of activity, or workbook, pages. The first are tool pages and the second are contemplation spaces, both are invitations for reflection and to study yourself. The tool pages have this image [insert ILLUSTRATION] and are where you’ll take a first, structured step to self-observation. The contemplation pages have this image [insert ILLUSTRATION] and are a next, deeper step to studying yourself in a less structured format so that you can explore in your own way.
The Book’s Four Parts
As you approach part one of this book, I Seek You, the idea is to slow down and notice yourself, your mind, and its thoughts. What–or who–is the source of those thoughts? Are those your thoughts, do you like and agree with them, or are they old tapes from childhood? Regard yourself as an observer, an investigator–of You. Approach the activities as if you have a license to see, say, and feel anything that you might think or feel. Any feeling or thought that arises for you is valid.
In part two, Feelings and Feeling Them, the idea is to identify, look at, and make friends with your feelings. If you grew up in a dysfunctional household, you’re likely the product of the essential dysfunctional family motto: Don’t Talk, Don’t Think, Don’t Feel (it’s never said outright to family members, yet is always in operation). As you work through part two, the idea is to learn the language of feelings, try on what it’s like to have a right to your feelings, and embrace them as normal, valid, and an A-OK part of what makes you you.
When you get to part three, Sabotage, you’ll be going behind the scenes of sabotage and opening the curtain on it–seeing the mechanics of sabotage and how to disassemble it. As part of that, you’ll be noticing the critic and saboteur in your mind, getting practice with re-writing the critic’s script and aiming love at your inner saboteur. Are you and time in conflict? This part will give you an opportunity to contemplate time, find out the time things actually take, and coming to a place of respect and compassion for time.
The final section, Caring for You, could be considered one giant hug, a big, big one that you give yourself. The section is filled with ideas for self-care, a spiritual practice, setting up a nurturing home environment, and sensing your personal rights. You’ll delve into a study of self-esteem, learning what self-esteem is composed of and how to strengthen it, lean on it, and how to take care of yourself through loving self-parenting. You’ll also find ideas for taking charge of making your environment a comforting one, how to know and honor your needs, and for enjoying and sharing yourself with the world.
I hope you show kindness toward yourself, regard yourself with curiosity, and look openly and directly within yourself as you go froward.
I hope that you feel a sense of warm, calm love brewing up from your belly to your heart as you work through these pages. The act of doing this work creates its own magic.
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