Embracing the Inner-Child
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | October 2015 (edited 2018)
The rich experience of being human includes many emotions. When we can gently hold discomfort, along with the joys, our life flourishes. We recognize subtle pushes to grow.
Recognizing personal error is painful. Our security is shaken, disrupting our sense of surety in sound decisions in a dangerous environment. Safety, survival, and flourishing require reasoned action that positively impacts the future. Important choices of partners, placement of trust, order of priorities, and utilization of time all shape our destiny. Knowing this, our present security is impacted on beliefs that we will act effectively now. We are responsible agents to the building of futures; but our action is not the only determinant. Futures are dependent on many factors, one of those factors is action. Perfect action and perfect control are illusionary—not existing in this complex world. Success is achieved through a more fluid approach to life, compassionately accepting fault, and adapting to the moment.
Honestly reflecting on the past uncovers personal actions that intertwine with our success and failures. Our self-reflection instructs and corrects. We are involved with the evolving product of our lives and careful observance helps explore these connections.
We occasionally stumble, making blunders that hurt others, impact opportunities, and wound our well-being. We should consciously work to fine-tune our effectiveness. As part of a human inheritance in an imperfect, complex and unpredictable world, we’re not capable of perfection. Perfection is a blurry ideal, never completely achieved. We must rely on adaptability (not perfection) to successfully navigate the complex mazes of survival.
Popular dogma degrades discomforting emotions. Acknowledging guilt over a wrong draws the ire of an over-reaching positivity crowd, claiming guilt serves no constructive purposes. I do not agree. Self-awareness exposes wrongs. When no longer covered by the luxury of deception, we see the impact of behaviors on our lives and on the lives of others. This knowledge combined with empathy may induce sorrow. But, more importantly, this knowledge interrupts the blind hurtful patterns of the past, allowing for new directions. Sensitivity to causing pain to others assists in monitoring actions.
We shouldn’t excuse emotional reminders of misdeed with smug self-righteousness or ignorant self-justification. When guilt is unacceptable, we—consciously or unconsciously—relieve the guilt with unhealthy practices. We flee from obnoxious guilt by denigrating the victim, blaming their pain on their misdeeds; we excuse our meanness through hurtful judgments. Many abusive partners utilize this guilt avoiding mechanism. “You made me do it,” they proclaim, forcing momentary relief from feeling affects that should be categorized as guilt to correct ruinous behavior.
We flee from obnoxious guilt by denigrating the victim, blaming their pain on their misdeeds; we excuse our meanness through hurtful judgments.
If we believe guilt is unacceptable, we then experience secondary guilt—feeling guilty about feeling ordinary guilt. This second layer of guilt is almost always unproductive, becoming the motivating power to psychological dodging of responsibility, and re-categorizing of feeling.
Effective responses to emotion begin with openness to emotion, sifting through beliefs, stepping back far enough to illuminate the influence of histories, and seek support from compassionate and knowledgeable others.
Our beliefs give feelings meaning, focusing on personal connections from experience. If we have a critical, non-accepting view of ourselves than subtle reminders of shortcomings register as serious indictments of inadequacy, painfully reminding that we don’t measure up to the difficult task of living. When we are constantly peppered with these harsh interpretations, we feel overwhelmed, often sinking into depressions. Our misdeeds prove our privately held image of deficiency. The insecurity of self reigns, creating heightened and unmanageable emotions. The momentary sorrows, disappointments and guilt invade, trampling self-esteem, and threatening survival. The normal collisions with experience create bouts of shame, guilt and anger in a thick stew of “ouch.” Life sucks and we can’t escape. Errant interpretations—defense mechanisms—protect the psyche from collapse, working their own form (and less salient) of destruction.
When overly insecure, guilt doesn’t stem from the actual misdeeds, motivated by empathy for the other, but from our fear of rejection. These powerful rascal emotions are muddied by protections for our damaged ego. This guilt doesn’t repair connections but ignites shame; the digging judgments create deeper chasms between us and others.
Healthy action strengthens our relationship through encouraging more positive felt emotions. Unless we live in a bubble, we’ll never eliminate all negative experiences. Through compassionate holding of feeling, we disentangle experience from the defensive mechanisms and can better identify our role, gleaming insights to improve our lives and relationships. Misdeeds, instead of indictments, are a humbling reminder of humanity. Our self-conscious examinations of actions in a relationship will stir emotions—an evolutionary response to connection needs. But the mindful acceptance of emotions doesn’t have to be condemning; they can gently guide attention to areas needing care. When we have improved relationships with emotions, our uncomfortable feelings don’t demand escape.
With mindful acceptance, we kindly feel emotion, understanding the underlying complexity, and embrace the crying inner-child, gently comforting him by holding, accepting, and soothing.
The transition from tormentor to compassionate caregiver is a long process, requiring commitment and support. Therapist Carl Rodgers embraced person-centered therapy. Change, he insisted, took place only through a caring environment. Once security of an environment was established, the client healed themselves. Once safe, his clients slowly emerge from the clouds of self-deception. The positive changes they achieved were the natural growth of an organism responding to a healthy environment. The magnitude of guilt, sorrow, and other painful emotions lost their sting when not accompanied by self-deprecating interpretations. The discomforting emotions morph from condemnation to gentle reminders of the rich experience of being human. (1995)
As one travels down the path to self-compassion, they must kindly accept the slowness of new change, remnants of the past will remain, haunting experience with unneeded sorrows. This is okay. Smile on your injured soul. Pasts remain. We step back when possible, shedding a tear for the pain, and then compassionately accepting the feeling—for it is part of our being. We continue to work, repairing misdeeds when possible, expressing sincere apologies as needed to those we have hurt. By constructively facing these inner-feelings, instead of self-condemning or neglectfully dodging, we move forward wiser and stronger.
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Rodgers, C. (1995). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist's View of Psychotherapy. Mariner Books, Retrieved from Kindle Books