Today I heard a famous man ask his wife, “How did I do?” Her smile was received by his eyes only. The nod of her head, indiscernible to the sea of faces in the room, her whispered, “Wonderful!” dissolved in the air that shimmered with applause.
Inside us the little girl or boy seeks comfort, validation, perhaps approval. Certainly love and acceptance. “Am I OK? Do you love me? Did I do something wrong?” As adults we may hunger and thirst for these words: You matter to me. I appreciate your uniqueness. I love you.
And yet what if we can’t get the love and acceptance we yearn for? What if, despite our best (conscious) intention, our belief in the formulaic “The Secret”, our prayers of supplication, we don’t get the love we want in the way that we want it? What if the support we need from our colleague, the recognition and praise we yearn for from our boss, seems to leave us hungry for more? What if we spend the rest of our lives floating adrift on a sea of air, not waving but drowning?
In the 1970s we were collectively “ready” to accept the notion of “the Wounded Child Archetype” as used by self-help movement pioneer, John Bradshaw. Robert Bly wrote in A Little Book on the Human Shadow, “When we were one or two years old we had what we might visualise as a 360-degree personality. Energy radiated out from all parts of the body and all parts of our psyche. A child running is a living globe of energy…but one day we noticed that our parents didn’t like certain parts of that ball. They said things like, “can’t you be still?” Or “It isn’t nice to want to kill your brother.” Behind us we have an invisible bag, and the part of us our parents don’t like, we, to keep our parent’s love, put it in the bag… by the time my brother and I were twelve …we were known as “the nice Bly boys.” Our bags were already a mile long.”
Modern psychology tends to favour the disease model and focus on our experience of suffering. It is enormously helpful to our own soul’s evolution and certainly eases out some of the Gordian Knots in our relationships when we heal the wounded child within with gentleness, compassion and understanding. And most certainly, it’s in the shadowy world of the unconscious that we find our richest treasure, our own redemption. As Jung wrote, we “do not become enlightened by imaging figures of light but by making the darkness conscious.” But like most children who are indulged with too many sugary platitudes and left to run the household while parents cower and hide behind their incessant demands, our Wounded Child may grow up to be a tyrannical “ Wounded Brat” says teacher and author Caroline Myss acerbically.
In an interview back in 1997 she admonished: “How long are you going to waste the precious gift of life mourning over the fact that you didn’t have this perfect childhood, when in fact nobody has a perfect childhood?
At some point you’ve got to say to yourself, I’ve got to get over this because I’m wasting my adulthood. Many people are waiting. They have confused healing with becoming perfect and with making their life perfect. Until they reach that state of perfection they aren’t moving on, that is nonsense. It is this kind of attitude I really cannot support anymore. I tell people, get rid of your wishbone and get a backbone. It’s time to really move forward with strength instead of identifying yourself by your weaknesses and your wounds.”
Thich Nhat Hanh, in his beautiful book, Reconciliation, Healing the Inner Child adopts a more compassionate approach. He suggests that we talk tenderly to our inner child several times a day. “When you climb a beautiful mountain, invite your child to climb with you. When you contemplate the sunset, invite her to enjoy it with you. If you do that for a few weeks or a few months, the wounded child in you will experience healing.”
So in our own healing we heal generations of our ancestors and our descendants. In moving forward in life with strength and fortitude, in focusing less on the Wounded Child and more on the Magical Child we may find comfort and joy in our own creativity, our Core Aliveness in our resilience.
Backbones not wishbones. Caroline Myss calls for action, not procrastination or wallowing in Victim consciousness. So how would that look? Perhaps we start something new to signal a new cycle of growth in our life. Perhaps we focus on gratitude for what is right in our world instead of continually lamenting what is wrong. Perhaps we leave a relationship where two Wounded Children huddle together and moan and whine and expect some one, something, outside themselves to make things better for them. Perhaps it is not another human being who is the surrogate parent who dispenses the love, the validation and the support we crave. Perhaps we spend more time in silence, tuning out the babble and the brouhaha and find out how to truly love and value ourselves.
Chogyam Trungpa taught the practice of the awakened heart. “The genuine heart of sadness” which he said was natural to us all when we allow ourselves to receive the full experience of life with open hearts. It is in this “genuine heart of sadness” that we discover our repressed grief, our forgotten anger, our thin shard of shame,our intoxicating joy and our boundless capacity to Love.
Portugal. The Man – Sea of Air