During my self-awareness journey in 2019, I discovered the importance of doing ‘Shadow Work’ in helping to bring out your authentic self, which ultimately leads you to a happier life. I read a few books, did a bit of research and started my shadow work by writing some Forgiveness Letters, see previous post My Shadow Work: Forgiveness Letters. I found the concept of shadow work made sense, however, doing the work was far more complex. Whilst I found writing the Forgiveness letters extremely helpful in helping to let go of past resentment. I have since discovered that I jumped the gun in attempting shadow work first, as I had not completed inner child work.
I have now started doing inner child work with a Psychotherapist, mainly because of recurring negative relationships, behaviours and patterns in my life. I did a bit of research and realised my part in attracting and facilitating bad relationships, which ultimately, not only blocked any potential healing, but often added to my emotional pain. I finally realised just how damaged I am as a person, but didn’t know why. I had a strong urge to understand why, so that I could give myself the best chance of healing. I didn’t feel like I had a traumatic childhood, even though it was a very unhappy one, I just thought I was unlucky and flawed. I didn’t connect the real reasons why I was unhappy or link it back to the point at which my life changed in childhood.
I will go through the work I have undertaken so far with my Therapist, including some Therapists that were just not right for me. It did get a bit frustrating finding the right therapist for me. I felt like I wasted not only my time but money, but looking back, the Therapist I am currently working with was worth the wait.
I did have six sessions with one Therapist, who a) did not identify that I may have a personality disorder and b) did not identify that I had experienced childhood trauma and c) made no progress whatsoever, she gave no real insight into my behaviours and situations, which I desperately wanted to understand. To make things worst she would say things which made it feel really fake, one example was when I was crying, she said ‘tell me what your tears are saying to you right now’ and ‘I feel your pain’, whilst these things may work for some people, the way she said them sounded scripted, inauthentic and not helpful. I wanted to get to the root of my issues, I wanted a deeper understanding of myself, I didn’t get therapy for sympathy. We only talked about current situations, she did not try to delve deeper into my past, something I now believe is key. After the sixth session, I felt as clueless and frustrated as I did before I started, a complete waste of my time. I think her most profound advice when I was feeling so low, I could barely get out of bed, everything was a major challenge, was to ‘go for a walk’. Now I know the benefits of exercise, especially walking when you’re lacking energy and are depressed, but I couldn’t even leave my house at this stage because of crippling anxiety.
After a period of depression and being overwhelmed with every little thing in my life. I needed to understand why I responded to stress so badly, I had come off work with depression and anxiety and I wanted to understand why this happened. I had come out of work 3 times during my life with depression, the first in my early thirties, and the last two episodes in the last 5 years. It just felt like the older I got, the more of a struggle life became. But, throughout my life I think I have been a high functioning depressive, finding most days fairly difficult but plodding on without addressing the underlying issues. Believing this was just the way I was, flawed and weak, little did I know there was a reason for this.
After trying 3 different Therapists to help me with my inner child work, I finally found one that I connected with. In fact within a 30 minute initial assessment, she uncovered something from my childhood at age 7, something that was so painful I had not even acknowledged the huge negative impact it had had on my whole life including my relationships, work, finances, and health. The deep emotional pain I felt as a 7 year old, has never gone away, and when things go wrong in my life, it fully resurfaces, although I wasn’t conscious of this, it has never weakened, always lingered, of course I have only discovered this after 3 therapy sessions.
Now, I do have financial issues and am trying to cut back on my spending, but the money I pay for therapy for me is money well spent, understanding my self and my behaviours will help me to make positive changes in my life, particularly in relating to others.
Today, I have hope, hope that I can be healed, hope that I can have a happy relationship and friendships, despite all these painful emotions that have been brought to the surface. In fact, I would go as far as to say, it is more than hope, it is a knowing. Bringing your emotions and hurt to the surface, acknowledging and accepting your pain is the only way to heal.
Because of money issues, I only have therapy once a month, but I get ‘homework’, usually one thing to do which I will go in to in a bit. Most therapists say once a month is not enough, some turned me down because they said weekly sessions are required, but the therapist I am currently working with, agreed to monthly sessions, as I offered to do work in between. From my previous weekly sessions with a therapist I just didn’t bond with to my now monthly sessions, the monthly sessions have achieved far more. Yes it has opened up an emotional ‘can of worms’ for me, but I know this is the beginning of my healing. This shows the importance of a good therapist with specialist knowledge, a no bullshit therapist for me is the way to go.
Below is a brief overview of my assessment and sessions:
It is essential to have a potential Therapist do an assessment first, not only to see if they are the best person to deal with your issues, but in identifying the issue/s in the first place. I cannot remember the questions she asked me, but I remember answering questions about my childhood, then somehow, she touched upon something I had more or less buried. Something, that caused me to pause, as the emotional pain surfaced. I had no idea this was at the core of my issues both as a child and as an adult, but it made complete sense.
How did she bring this out of me? I have absolutely no idea, but I am guessing her questions were designed to do this. I had had assessments with 3 other therapists, they didn’t bring this out of me. This was a free assessment, lasting 30 minutes, I was extremely impressed that she identified a potential personality disorder linked to my childhood trauma. I don’t want to go in to what the trauma was. It is not just sexual or physical abuse that causes childhood trauma, so don’t dismiss the idea that you may have been traumatised as a child and that this may be linked to issues you face as an adult, it is more common than you think. Following the assessment, I thought a lot about what she had uncovered, I could barely think of anything else.
The session lasted 1 hour, it was difficult as she asked a lot of probing questions, and as someone who usually keeps their feelings, especially strong emotions to myself, I strangely found myself really opening up to her. She made me feel safe to do this, she was the expert trained to appreciate and handle my pain. Now this was a telephone session due to Covid 19 lockdown, something I thought may not work, but it did. The Therapist forewarned me that my therapy will be a difficult journey and at times very challenging. She was right, but at the same time I know deep down that this painful therapy will not make things worse, it can and will heal me.
My homework was to write a letter from the perspective of my 7 year old self, about how I felt regarding the event, I was asked to describe as much details as I could. I wrote the letter, it was excruciating, I sobbed throughout, I remembered things I had obviously suppressed. I gave myself a whole day to do this, although the letter didn’t take that long, I felt extremely sad and low for the rest of the day. The Therapist advised that we would discuss the letter in our next session
Prior to the second session, I text the therapist to see if I should email her the letter prior to our second session, so she could have it open on her computer during our telephone call. Her response made my heart sink, she said no, she wanted me to read it to her. Writing it was hard enough, but to read it out loud was even more difficult, but again, this is part of the healing process. I read this to her with the predictable emotional response. After this, we discussed in more detail the contents of the letter, she asked further questions and also acknowledged what I didn’t initially think was trauma, was in fact trauma.
She told me how I could not have possibly processed what happened as a seven year old and said I was very courageous for facing this now. She acknowledged how traumatic it must have been for me. Her response felt really genuine and for the first time I acknowledged that I had experienced childhood trauma. My 7 year old self did not understand, I did not get the support I needed at the time, but that was no-one’s fault. But because of this, I hid my emotional pain, which as a child (and adult) is incredibly difficult to do and it inevitably comes out in other ways, through behaviours, addictions etc. After the session, I felt for the first time in my life, my pain was validated, and understood. I had never discussed these things with anyone else before, simply because I didn’t want to show my pain to anyone, hence the reason why I buried this event and my associated emotions.
Now before the next session, I had to write a letter from myself, as an adult to my 7 year old self, telling her that she is now safe, supported, loved and give her acknowledgement for the pain she went through.
Yes, I had to read this letter to the therapist too and my therapist picked up on a sense of frustration and anger in the letter I had wrote towards my 7 year old self. I didn’t see this in the letter, but when I answered the question honestly, yes I was very angry at my 7 year old self, in my head for not expressing to my caregiver what I was going through and also for letting this affect my whole life. Again, I was impressed with the therapist for spotting this and I opened up to her, expressing an almost scolding attitude towards my 7 yr old self. The therapist explained a 7 year old child could not have possibly had that kind understanding, she was dealing with overwhelming emotions that no child should experience.
There were 3 parts to this month’s homework:
- Because of the anger I revealed, not only towards my 7 year old self but also to my adult self, my therapist asked me to write another letter to my 7 year old self, showing empathy, compassion and a greater understanding from my adult self. I also suggested that I should include an apology in the letter for punishing my 7 year old self, blaming her for not handling things differently, my therapist thought this was a very good idea, the key being to fully express my feelings in the letter. I was to get a picture of myself at age 7 and look at the picture whilst I wrote the letter. I was told to let all my emotions out, cry until I could cry no more, both during writing the letter and afterwards.
- I was asked to come up with a mantra to stop me from shaming myself for showing emotions. I did come up with this on the spot, so nothing profound, but it’s relevant to me ‘Crying is good, crying is healing’. I am to repeat this in my head daily and continuously, whenever I have negative thoughts or feel any emotional pain.
- I was also asked to write a list of NATS (Negative Automatic Thoughts). And to remember, these thoughts are just thoughts, not facts. (I suspect these will be looked at more in a future session).
I was also given the following advice:
- Cry when I am upset, don’t suppress my emotions anymore.
- It’s okay to feel sad, it’s okay to express sadness.
- Anger covers up hurt and pain, think about what lies beneath my anger. When I fully connect to the pain of my inner child, the anger will disperse.
- NATS (Negative Automatic Thoughts) are just thoughts, not facts.
I have not yet completed the above homework, with the exception of repeating my mantra ‘Crying is good, Crying is healing’. I will choose a day I have to myself to do the letter and the NATs, my Therapy continues.
Now I do acknowledge how lucky I have been, to feel like after just a few sessions, my healing process has begun. I understand for most, especially more complex traumas, it may take many more sessions to get to a point of knowing you are healing and having hope again for your future. But for me, once you find the right therapist, I believe you will start healing from your first session, even if it doesn’t feel like it (and it often won’t), it will get worse before it gets better, but you owe it to yourself to try. You may not always recognise you are healing, this is not like a cut you can watch scab over and heal, our inner wounds are hidden.
There are so many emotionally damaged people in this world, I hate to us the word ‘damaged’, but we are, when I used the term damaged, I mean deeply hurt at your core. But damaged people can be healed. I have attracted damaged people into my life, and never understood why and sometimes never even recognised them as damaged, but I am starting to.
I have at times, lived my life according to other people’s moral codes, whilst ignoring my own standards, wants and needs. For me, so much advice is to deal with the symptom when it comes to emotional issues, not the root cause. Yes, you can deal with your symptoms, whether they are depression, anxiety, PTSD or addictions, but I believe you have to go to the source of your wounds, to discover and then address the cause of your ‘symptoms’, and this is where I believe therapy is essential. It is only recently I realised just how damaged I am. There is no shame in therapy, in fact it is commendable, you are facing your traumas, showing a desire to heal and be a better person especially for yourself.
If you suffer, depression, anxiety, sabotaging behaviour, addictions or difficulties relating to others, expressing your feelings, I urge you to consider the possibility of therapy for inner child work. If you can’t afford it, is there any funding you can apply for? For me, after just 3 sessions and doing my homework in between, I am starting to understand myself and learning not to judge myself for things that were not my fault.
I have stopped daily drinking of alcohol, I don’t know why, I have tried for about 4 years to stop drinking daily, but for some reason the past few weeks, I don’t reach for a drink when I am feeling stressed, overly emotional or anxious. This wasn’t a conscious choice, I just don’t feel the need to do it anymore. Now, I wasn’t an alcoholic, but I was sure heading that way. My therapist has not lectured me or shamed me about my drinking, she hasn’t stated the bleeding obvious (like most professionals do) about the dangers of drinking every day. Through therapy, I started to understand why I drank; to numb the pain, to keep it under wraps, but now I am facing my pain, I am guessing I don’t need alcohol to self-soothe. I can only put this down to my therapy and for me this is an indication that it is working already.