How to Heal Your Inner Child: Parent Yourself Better Than Anyone Else Ever Has

(Editor’s note: I’ve used feminine pronouns (e.g., she) in this post for the sake of writing flow. They can be replaced with masculine or gender non-specific pronouns where appropriate.)

Place one hand on your belly and the other on your heart. Tune into yourself. Address yourself by name, then utter slowly, gently, pausing between sentences, “I’m here…I’m listening…I’m right here…I’m listening…I’m with you…I’m listening….”

Then wait. Notice your body’s response. Notice too the emotions that arise.

Who within hears the invitation to reconnect with you? See her in your mind’s eye. Is she making eye contact with you? What does she look like? Notice her posture. What is she doing?

There is a you inside of you that has been waiting for this moment for years (maybe decades), even if at first she seems distant, disinterested, suspicious, or even angry for being forgotten or avoided for so long. And she has much to show and tell you, much that she has longed to reveal to you and have you acknowledge compassionately and without judgment.

Be to yourself now whom you needed when you were a child.She is a part of you, split off during a time in your life that when it was too painful or traumatic to remain whole. She wants to be remembered and reintegrated. The reclamation of all fragmented aspects of Self is an ancient practice shamans refer to as soul retrieval. Carl Jung adopted the technique, calling it shadow work, when engaging with his clients. Later, practitioners in the field of mental health renamed it inner child work or healing the child within.

My personal journey included years of this practice in which I’ve healed and welcomed back aspects of myself split off throughout childhood. Some inner children, so to speak, required weeks of my attention and nurturing; others years. The majority of my own clients who read this will recognize the practice from our work together. They’ve recognized that with time, their younger selves began to trust their adult selves as emotional needs, unfulfilled by initial caretakers many years ago, are at last met by themselves.

How is this possible, you wonder?

Time is nonlinear. Our minds, perceiving only three dimensions, have constructed the concepts of past and future. In reality, all time exists simultaneously. Through the portal of the now-moment (which is the only “time” that exists), we can access parts of ourselves that are frozen in childhood, stuck in loops, or patterned, limiting behaviors or beliefs. We can go to our younger selves and validate, hold, comfort, and love them the way they have always needed, wanted, and deserved.

Each time you feel anxious, depressed, ashamed, insecure, unworthy, not enough, or unlovable, place a hand on your heart and one on your belly. Or grab and hold a pillow assigned to be your surrogate inner child. Close your eyes and see her in your mind’s eye, just as I’ve stated above, and connect with her. Be patient if at first she seems apprehensive.

Let her know that you love her, that you see her and feel what she’s feeling. Empathize with her, just as you would with a child for whom you care deeply. Say that it’s OK to feel what she feels, and don’t try to convince her to feel differently as so many of our parents used to do. Avoid the attempt to cheer her up, use logic to explain why she should feel differently, or snap her out of it.

Be with whatever she’s showing you and tell her you’re sorry she has been suffering. Speak soothingly, letting her know that she’s no longer alone. Depending on what she has experienced, she may want to hear you say you’re sorry, that you forgive her, that she didn’t deserve the hurts she endured, that you’re grateful for her, or that she did her best.

Tell her that she’s safe, if that’s what she needs. “I’m here now, and I’ll never leave. I promise to take care of you. I’ve got you now.” Explain to her  that she survived whatever tragedies or hurts occurred in the past, emphasizing her strength and resilience. Invite her to take a look around your world to see for herself. Describe to her the wonderful things in your life now that she would appreciate.

Most important, ask her what she needs from you today. Ask every day. Check in with her frequently.

If at first you aren’t sure how to help her or struggle to feel compassion for her, promise her you’ll learn and seek help from a psychotherapist or someone else who is familiar with inner child work.

Feel silly holding a pillow and talking to it? Don’t worry: no one is looking. Slowly, I assure you, you, the adult, will benefit from the nurturing you offer those younger versions of you.

Allison Brunner, LCSW, Body Talks Therapy

 

 

 

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Mother Earth’s Embrace: an mp3 Download to Support You in Times of Stress, Anxiety, or Emotional Overwhelm

Following is a reprint of Mother Earth’s Embrace: A Natural Remedy for Anxiety, to accompany an mp3 I used to share with clients in need of support between one-on-one sessions. I hope you find it helpful and look forward to sharing another with you in the months to come.


 

Mother Earth’s Embrace: A Natural Remedy for Anxiety

Wrinkled brows, a tight jaw, and eyes wide with dilated pupils. Legs cross and uncross, fingers pick cuticles then press the forehead. Breath fills lungs then exits before reaching the stomach.

MEEI observe the body language of a client seated across from me. Caught in the turbulence of her mind, she’s disconnected from the now-moment and her body.

She speaks rapidly, seeking safety in potential solutions too many to track. “What if” this and “maybe that?” Underneath what she’s saying, I hear, “If I just do that, I won’t have to feel this.”

Softly, I name what I’m sensing. Her eyes water in response. Her throat tightens, and she looks into her lap. Tears slide into the corners of her mouth. Energy flows through her body once more. She’d been holding on tightly and just needed a safe space to feel before moving into a calmer, more spacious state.

So many of us cope with our fears of feeling—and with our fears in general—by escaping into our minds and seeking solutions or distractions. It’s a behavior that helped us feel safer when we were too young, too small, or too vulnerable to deal directly with actual threats. Over time, this became habitual and we never learned that it was safe to simply feel.

But the mind is no refuge. It can create all sorts of thought forms, including worst-case scenarios to which our nervous systems respond as though the scenarios are happening right here and right now.

I invited my client, and I invite you, to soothe your frazzled nerves, ease your anxiety, and create a safe space to tolerate your emotions by engaging in an exercise I use daily, as frequently as necessary (you can’t overdose).

First, connect with your breath by simply noticing it. Then exhale, squeezing out the oxygen from your pulled-in abdomen so that when you again inhale, you fill your belly first and then your lungs. Notice the sensations in your body as you breathe. If you feel the urge to cry, to yell into a pillow, to grunt, to squeeze your pinky fingers with your ring fingers and thumbs, allow yourself the release.

Feel the heaviness of your body. Mother Earth holds you close to her through gravity. You’re safe; she won’t let you float away. Visualize this and track any emotional response.

Again notice your breath and your body’s weight, held up by Earth; she prevents you from falling through. Linger here for a while, noting the experience of being embraced and supported by Earth. See if you can take in her nourishment. What is it like?

Imagine your hearbeat in sync with the Earth’s. You are an extension of her, made of the same vitamins and minerals and nearly the same percentage of water. The stardust that comprises her is in you as well. Hang out with these truths for a a few minutes.

Extend your awareness to your five senses, noticing sounds, colors, smells, the taste of your mouth, the temperature of your skin. Remember your breath and that Earth breathes through you.

Explore the now. What is true in this moment? Not the next hour. Not even tomorrow or next year. Can you stay here a while longer? Can you carry the now-moment into the next moment, then into the next? Can you remember that this quality of presence, that this stillness, is available to you any time you need it?

Can you remember too that you don’t have to do any of this alone? You’re supported by something greater than yourself, that which is as miraculous and divine as you. Carry a photo of Earth with you as a resource, if it helps. Consider connecting with her directly when your feelings are more intense.

Nuzzle into a tree. Press your cheeks to some grass. Allow her to cool you with ocean waves or to blanket you in sunlight. She’ll never leave you. She’s here for you always.

(Download “Mother Earth’s Embrace” guided exercise on mp3 here.)

—Allison Brunner, LCSW, RM, Body Talks Therapy

Art Imitates Life in The Last Jedi: the Power to End the Battle Between the Light and the Dark Resides Within Us All (Part One)

WARNING: Spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi follow. Read at your own risk if you haven’t yet seen the movie.

When will the fight between the dark and the light end once and for all, I wondered wearily while watching The Last Jedi a few weeks ago. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the film; I loved it. The epic battle provides a backdrop for sage wisdom from brilliantly archetypal characters we love and with whom we can relate.

It also reminded me of the world we live in, our current state of affairs, and that for millennia we’ve engaged in the same dramas but have worn different uniforms representing different campaigns, time and time again. They’ve all led to the same results: winners and losers. An imposed peace and quiet follow for a period—until tension and intolerance build and fighting recommences.

We’ve lived in a world of duality (good vs evil, right vs wrong, Left vs Right) for thousands of years. It plays out on the international stage and we see it in the news every day. People speak passionately about and promote their causes and dress down those with whom we disagree via shouting matches, video and written blogs, arguments on social media, and behind each other’s backs.

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to move on.

We’re going to win this war, not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love.” —Rose Tico, The Last Jedi

When I was a little girl, I threw temper tantrums. When imperfect, I lost patience with myself and wallowed in self-loathing. My mother, whose nerves I’d wear thin with my brooding and crying, would note how my behavior reminded her of my hot-headed father. She’d left him when I was 5, and I knew there was no love lost in that separation. Therefore, I interpreted her remarks as “When you act like your father, you’re unlovable.”

Add to that messages I received in church or in Catholic school, that when I did not follow the Ten Commandments or behave the way Jesus would in each moment of my human life, I put myself at risk for being abandoned to the fires of hell. God loves us, the priests proclaimed (but only when we’re good). Die with sin-stained souls, and “He” will damn us for eternity.

Thus intensified the war within me and my own black-and-white perception of the world. I strove to be flawless; when I failed, self-hatred intensified. When others did not live according to the high morals of Christian doctrine, I judged them. In fact, sometimes it was easier to evaluate others than to contend with my own insecurities.

And so it is for most human beings, including our beloved Star Wars heroes.

Upon sensing great darkness in Kylo Ren, Luke Skywalker pulled back in fear and almost killed him. Not unlike Luke, we abhor others’ shadows, because we’re averse to our own. As the battle rages within each human being, it persists globally.

You may have heard of Harvard professor and psychologist Robert Rosenthal, who, in 1964, conducted a study on how teachers’ expectations affected student performance. Teachers tended to smile, exhibit patience, and nod approvingly at students whom they were told had higher IQs. Students internalized their teachers’ warm attitudes towards them and thus increased their IQ scores.

Imagine how we must look at and interact with people from whom we expect the worst and how it affects their self-image and behavior. Awakening to the sight of his own uncle poised with a light saber pointed at Kylo’s head reinforced the younger man’s belief that he was some kind of monster—thus motivating Kylo to take up his light saber in service of darkness.

“What you stand witness for in others is strengthened in them by the power of your observation. When you look for the worst in someone, when you make them wrong in your mind, when you refuse to see the best in them, you are committing a spiritual assault of the worst kind. For you are testifying against their ability to choose the light, standing witness for the darkness in them and strengthening its power over their heart and mind.

“If you’ve ever face a hostile crowd, a hostile cop, a hostile lover, you’ve felt the destructive force of another’s contempt for you. Do not give into this way of seeing. Stand witness for the light in others. The unassailable divine spark forever shines in the hearts of every man, woman, and child just waiting to be called forward.”

Garret John Loporto, How You Change People, Wayseer.org

That divine spark is the Force, so to speak, and it’s within each of us. So too is the power to choose whether to use it in service of self or for the greatest good of all—and the survival of all humans and our planet depends, in this very lifetime, not only on the choices each of us makes; the way we interact with and see each other will determine whether we usher in a final era of cataclysmic destruction or of everlasting unity.

Luke: What do you see?

Rey: The island. Life. Death and decay, that feeds new life. Warmth. Cold. Peace. Violence.

Luke: And between it all?

Rey: Balance and energy. A force.

Luke: And inside you?

Rey: Inside me, that same force.

As art imitates life and vice versa, Rey represents all of us. She holds the power to free Kylo (who too represents all of us)—and thus the galaxy—from the clenches of his inner demons. It was apparent when the two saw and communicated with each other beyond third-dimensional space-time that it was she, his equal, in whom the Force runs equally strong, who could see most clearly through Kylo’s layers of hurt and pain into his true self. In doing so, she was the one who came closest to melting the ice around his heart.

Rey to Kylo: “You don’t have to do this. I feel the conflict in you. It’s tearing you apart.”

That ability lies within each of us for each other.

So where do we go from here?

Stay tuned for part two, coming in January 2018.

Allison Brunner, LCSW, Body Talks Therapy

 

Bring the “Love and Light” Into Your Darkness

In my teens through mid-thirties, I was diagnosed with severe and recurrent Major Depressive Disorder as well as Generalized Anxiety Disorder. A well-meaning friend who witnessed me struggle to get through my days recommended a then-popular book by Dr. Wayne Dyer, though I can’t recall its title. Its premise was that if you simply change your thoughts, you can change your reality.

I devoured chapter after chapter while riding the bus to and from work one day, hopeful that something so simple might be the solution to lifelong anguish.

Aspiring to be among Dr. Dyer’s best students, I thought about happiness, well-being, and churning out articles that that would knock my boss’s and editor-in-chief’s socks off at the magazine publisher that employed me. I also envisioned a few rainbows and unicorns for good measure.

But the dark clouds remained fixed in my world, and where I expected beautiful, white legendary creatures, I met horned inner demons who seemed to get louder and more intimidating the more I tried to ignore them. My boss too remained unimpressed with my moodiness and its impact on my ability to meet work deadlines.

infused water

I tossed Dr. Dyer’s book and opted instead for more psychotherapy with someone who warned me against the pitfalls of esoteric teachings that promote spiritual bypassing, a term coined by Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist John Welwood in the 1980s. It refers to, in Welwood’s words, a “tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks.” [i]

What happens when you repeat affirmations or chant mantras in the mirror about how lovable, powerful, or abundant you are, for instance, while squashing beliefs that you’re loathsome, weak, and lacking? Or worse, what occurs when you ignore the chest pains, jaw clenching, gut pangs, or other ways your body tries to communicate to you that something within is out of alignment?

Remember American Beauty character Carolyn, the ambitious real estate broker and disdaining wife who drove around listening to motivational speeches on tape. She did what so many of us have been taught to do: think positive and visualize success while never acknowledging thoughts and emotions that indicate otherwise. Some of us were taught by our parents and other authority figures to buck up, get over it, snap out of it, move on, look on the bright side, find the silver lining, make lemonade out of lemons, and so on.

If you understand human nature, you picked up on the fact that Carolyn believed deep-down that she was unworthy or unlovable. She had minimal awareness of her true self, which lay hidden beneath the layers of “I’m not enough” buried in her subconscious.

She drove underground and disowned the aspects of herself she feared would keep her from the “worthier” tribes of society. But you can’t hide from your own shadow indefinitely. When you try, it either comes out sideways or in emotional breakdowns like this one:

 

or this one:

 

What lies buried within our shadow can contort and fester if ignored long enough. It can manifest later as chronic mental- and physical-health problems or in judgments and behaviors towards others that are cruel, passive aggressive, dishonest, or manipulative.

Carolyn needed help. Either from herself or with the guidance of a nonjudgmental witness or professional guide (a psychotherapist, shaman, or other depth worker) who has done her own shadow work and knows his or her way around the dark. Carolyn needed to turn off the positive thinking tapes and spend some time bringing the light of awareness and compassion to the hurt aspects of herself that she’d disowned.

Such leaders in the positive thinking communities as the late Louise Hay, Dr. Dyer, and Jerry Hicks, as well as Hicks’ living wife, Esther, were not wrong when they professed that our thoughts create our reality. But this truth is a little more complex than most of us who study the Law of Attraction have interpreted it.

You can think with your conscious mind all you want to about success, as Carolyn did. But that which remains buried in the subconscious can be an equally if not more powerful point of attraction—because what we deny and resist pushes back with equal force and is mirrored back to us by our external life circumstances.

Success, healthy relationships, fulfilling work and careers, financial wellness, and the like come to those who know that their personal value is not dependent on them but that they deserve to live full and happy lives.

And yet even this is an oversimplified explanation of the more complex Law of Attraction. For the purposes of this article, however, I’ll leave you with this.

What does happen when you speak or hear the positive statements many people use as affirmations or to override the shadow that lurks beyond the light? Take a deep breath, tune into yourself, and simply notice what emotions arise when you read a few statements below. Work with each individually and take notes.

There is nothing wrong with you.

You are enough.

It’s OK to be imperfect.

Notice where in your body you experience any emotional responses and the physical sensations that accompany them. Place your awareness, if it’s tolerable, right into the emotions or physical sensations. What else comes up for you? Images? Memories? More emotion? Non-logical thoughts that are the breadcrumbs to a deeper layer?

These are aspects of you that have wanted your acknowledgement and healing for either many years or for most of your life. Can you witness what you’ve discovered with a balance of detachment and deep compassion, as though you were listening to a dear friend or loved one?

Imagine sitting around a fire next to them for no more than 20 minutes, holding space for what arises. Let these aspects tell you their story. Allow them to feel what they feel and you to feel what you feel as well. All the while, breathe long, slow breaths of self-love and compassion right into the center of what may feel uncomfortable.

If the intensity of the emotions or the stories these aspects of you have to share are too intense, stop the exercise and seek the assistance of a counselor, mental health practitioner, somatic therapist, shaman, or other depth worker. (Please note that this exercise is contraindicated for people with deeper trauma or a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or complex PTSD, psychotic disorders, or dissociative disorders).

If you have questions about how the exercise works, send me an e-mail.

Allison Brunner, LCSW, RM, Body Talks Therapy

[i] Fossella, Tina. “Human Nature, Buddha Nature: On Spiritual Bypassing, Relationship, and the Dharma (An Interview with John Welwood). 

 

Autumn New Moon Ceremonies Break

IMG_4716Happy Halloween, HSPs! I hope you’re enjoying the magic of the day and taking a few moments to feel the wisdom, support, and love of your ancestors as the veil between realms this evening thins.

New Moon ceremonies will break for the fall, but I encourage you to continue the rituals and exercises that facilitate deep connection to Self. Meanwhile, I’ll be on this farm, hanging out in pumpkin patches, playing the ukulele, and drawing.

Be kind to yourselves!

Allison Brunner, LCSW, RM, Body Talks Therapy

September New Moon Healing Ceremony Benefits Texans Hit by Hurricane Harvey

Join Body Talks Therapy’s next New Moon healing circle, Friday, September 22, at 6:30pm to 8:30pm. Cash donations paid upon arrival will benefit people and pets via the United Way of Greater Houston and the Houston Humane Society. Suggested donation is $10.

TexasWe’ll open sacred space, sing, set intentions for the new moon cycle, send healing to those hit hardest by the 2017 hurricane season, and engage in group sharing and connection.

Bring a journal, an object sacred to you for the altar, art supplies you’d like to use, and your authenticity. All open-minded highly sensitive people are welcome regardless of spiritual background or beliefs who share the desire to impact the world with your inner light, wisdom, and love.

If you would like to share a gift, meditation, prayer, ritual, or heart-thoughts with the group, please contact me by September 20.

Space is limited to participants who can arrive in nine cars or fewer, so please RSVP here in advance and update me as soon as possible if you cannot attend. After you RSVP, I’ll send you the address of our meeting in rural Lititz, PA, as well as parking instructions. We’ll gather outdoors, weather permitting, so please bring a lawn chair or blanket and mosquito spray if current climate conditions still require it.

I look forward to creating miracles with you!

(Note: Proceeds from our August New Moon ceremony are being donated to the National Urban League to support civil rights for Black Americans. Deep thanks to all who contributed!)

Allison Brunner, LCSW, RM, Body Talks Therapy

Hold Steady the Light: How Empaths Can Impact the World More Powerfully

You and I have realized either in childhood or not long ago that we’re on the planet at this time for a reason. I’ve heard many of you say you’re compelled recently to arise from your yoga mats and meditation cushions and do more than cultivate a practice of inner healing and personal transformation; you’re ready to take action.

Ice Cream Party

Meanwhile the noise of our external world seems to have reached a crescendo—enough to make this empath want to hide in a corn field most days and ring in autumn with the crickets. In this era in which the brightest and the darkest in all of us has risen to the surface, it can feel increasingly uncomfortable to engage with people—especially amidst so much suffering. If we don’t know how to stay centered, we can get lost in the drama and aren’t much help then to anyone.

What I hear many of you asking, whether rhetorically or directly in our one-on-one coaching sessions, is how can we as highly sensitive people maintain a healthy nervous system as we go out into the world and carry out our missions, whether in our careers, volunteer work, or while simply walking down a city street?

I’m relieved we’re having these conversations. Now more than ever, I sense the urgency of pausing, taking a breath, and responding in a conscious, more deliberate way versus reacting in a manner that creates more chaos and conflict. More important than what action we take these days is how we move forward.

“Stay centered, do not overstretch. Extend from your center, return to your center.”    —Buddha

From my days as a highly sensitive child, I rushed to the scenes of people in need or stepped into the fires of conflict and tried to mediate. Worse, I didn’t know what an empath was or understand that I was one; when I’d hear that someone was in pain, I’d take it on unknowingly by running their energy through my own body to try to prevent them from feeling it. Half the time, I interpreted what I felt as personal mental illness. I operated this way until burnout rendered me exhausted, sick, and chronically depressed in my late-thirties.

As many of you know, I spent much of this summer alone, engaged in a personal retreat. During this time, I learned how to manage my energy by holding steady the light so that I could impact the world more powerfully. I promised to share what I learned, with the help of Jim Self’s Mastering Alchemy courses, by summer’s end. I’ve never found tools (including the shielding and grounding strategies most empaths have been taught over the years) more helpful than these for myself and for my clients. These days, I feel stronger, more capable, and more energized.

I now practice twice daily, a couple of minutes in the morning and again in the afternoon, or as needed (e.g., when entering crowded public spaces, speaking with an unhappy customer service representative, or being exposed to TVs broadcasting bad news). After familiarizing yourself with the techniques, you can practice them just a couple of minutes on your own.

On the evening of the solar eclipse, I created “Own Your Space,” a downloadable mp3 you can access here. The thunderstorm you hear in the background is not ambient; it’s real, so enjoy!

 

Allison Brunner, LCSW, RM, Body Talks Therapy