I have many clients who struggle with the possibility they can be loving, compassionate, grounded, patient and any other characteristic they need for recovery work.
They tell me they can’t possibly be this way because they have never been shown how to be that way. Their parents didn’t behave that way, and they certainly haven’t felt any inkling of those characteristics since entering adulthood. And I really get it. When I started this journey, I felt the same way.
How in the world was I going to parent my inner and outer children when nobody ever parented me? How was I going to love myself (or anyone else) when nobody ever loved me? How was I going to be compassionate with my inner parts when nobody ever gave me the benefit of the doubt? How was I going to have patience after a lifetime of fear, of watching everything I ever loved be ripped from my grasp? That wasn’t possible. I was basically screwed. Recovery would never work for me.
But for some reason, I didn’t give up. Those beliefs were strong, but I sensed there was something else. It was a tiny something else, but it was still there. For some reason, I had a semblance of understanding that I could learn these things. I had an even smaller semblance of understanding that I already knew these things. So I stuck with the idea that something better was possible.
And as we do when we live in our heads, I spent an exorbitant amount of time researching things. I thought I could teach myself how to be what I wasn’t. I read the parenting experts. And believe me, there are some awesome parenting experts. I read the spiritual folks. I read so many spiritual books, I went in to bypass at times. I learned what it was supposed to look like. I remember thinking to myself, “Maybe I can just fake it. I know what it needs to look like, so that should be enough right?” Wrong. Love, compassion and patience cannot be faked … not forever … and certainly not in parenting.
But I didn’t know how to get there. Then something occurred to me. I wasn’t going to find these things somewhere out there. I wasn’t going to learn how to become them. I had to unearth them. They were there and I had no access to them. They didn’t need to be taught to me. I was born with them. And they weren’t something that could be taken away. As long as I walk this planet, I have them. But they were hidden from me. In childhood, they were not safe characteristics, so they were buried underneath a pile of rubble, otherwise known as unresolved trauma.
So I wasn’t supposed to become these things. I was supposed to “unbecome” the traumatized person created by my past. But of course, that brought up one extremely important question. How was I supposed to do that? And the answer was not what I expected. I had to accept all the things about me that were the opposite of what I wanted to be. If I wanted to be love and compassion, I had to embrace my hate and anger. If I wanted to be patient, I had to embrace my fear. If I wanted to be grounded, I had to embrace the memories that kept me out of my body. To become who I was meant to become, I had to accept and validate my human responses to my trauma. I had to love all of me.
If you believe there is no point to this recovery work because you don’t have what it takes, I ask you to reconsider. I ask you to take off the mask you created to be who you thought you needed to be and embrace how you feel right now. I ask you to accept all the parts you don’t want to accept, all the parts who fail to meet the image you want to have of yourself. As you do that, you will release what is not your true self. And one day, down the road in this life’s journey, you will look down at the rubble and you will see little shafts of light coming up. You will find you have compassion for yourself and others like you never did. You will find you can wait a little while for what you want. And you will feel a bit more centered in your body.
But you have to get started. If you keep telling yourself you can’t, then you won’t. And that would be a tragedy because you are amazingly compassionate, loving and patient. I just know it. And you will know it too.
Written By Elisabeth Corey, MSW