Are You Running Away From Yourself?
Exploring the roots of inner-child suffering and how to heal
We all find ourselves doing things and not really knowing why. However, there is a sound explanation for why that happens. Allow me to explain.
We make every choice based on how we feel, not what makes logical sense. In other words, we are driven by our emotions; we move toward what feels good and move away from what feels bad, both consciously and unconsciously.
We are neurologically wired that way.
The problem lies in that what feels good isn’t always what is actually good for us, sometimes even being outright bad.
So why do we do what we do, knowing it’s bad? Don’t we know any better?
To answer that, let’s rewind to when we were young.
When we were children, we required specific physical and emotional needs to develop healthy and fully functional psyches.
But the truth, though, is this: It is nearly impossible for parents to meet all their child’s needs in precisely the right way to have them enter adulthood unscathed — no matter how self-aware and emotionally mature the parents are.
So, it is safe to say we all got fucked up growing up, albeit to varying degrees— we grew up with some level of emotional dysfunctionality due to our developmental needs not being met fully.
Consequently, we are left with a void, a wound from which the path of emotional and intellectual incongruence begins.
Let us look at these developmental needs, which generally fall under one of these categories:
This is the first need that must be met so the child can relax and feel safe to explore the world. Physcial safety includes accessibility to food, shelter, and a stable living environment.
Emotional safety: to be seen and acknowledged
The child needs to feel there is at least one parent or guardian present with them who can attend to their needs while providing a sense of validation and affirmation. This validation is something a child instinctively looks for as they begin to self-express and explore their environments.
The child needs to feel that their emotions and thoughts matter and that their parents can give them space to communicate that without fear or judgement.
This need is concerned with the child feeling loved and accepted for who they are no matter what, instead of feeling worthy of love only when conceding to their guardians’ demands, preferences, and expectations.
Can you relate to any of these needs not being met in your life?
Or, maybe you not meeting those needs in your child’s life?
Children are precisely good at adapting, and growing up, that is what we did; we adapted. Under the demands and expectations of our parents and authority figures, we learned that to receive our physical and emotional needs (and a sense of love and belonging), we had to behave differently and pretend to be somebody else.
We concluded that aspects of our feelings, emotions, and thoughts were bad and wrong. We became skillful at hiding our vulnerable parts from the world because, otherwise we would get rejected, ostracized, and lose the love and belonging we so desperately yearned for.
So, what happens to our wounds as we get older? Are they healed? Do we outgrow them?
The answer is a definite No. Not on their own, at least.
Those wounds remain tender for years and years; we just get extra skillful at navigating our lives without having to feel them (or at least that is what we believe).
We build walls around these wounds to shield ourselves from others and get particularly good at numbing the pain.
Undoubtedly, these walls effectively keep things from coming in but also prevent things from coming out. Our hearts become isolated from the world, and genuine love becomes a mere fantasy, veiled by the fixation on obtaining external love and validation and a fear of being hurt.
We are in effect: Shielding.
When we shield, we are protecting our vulnerabilities with the belief that we are inherently unworthy of love if those parts were to be exposed to the world.
We generally shield in one of these ways:
“If I am perfect in every way, and if I do everything right, then I can avoid the feelings of guilt, shame, and the criticism of others. That way I will gain their approval [i.e., love].”
Money & Prestige
“As long as everybody in the room knows who I am, what I have, or what I’ve done, they will give me love and significance, and no one’s going to see those wounds I have been hiding.”
“If I am angry all the time, then people will know not to come near my wounds.”
“If I keep my head down, stay quiet, and appear inconspicuous, then the bullies won’t notice me and pull me out to shame or ridicule me in any way.”
“If everybody around me is happy and, more importantly, happy with me, then they will give me the love that I desire.”
But shielding is not enough. As we keep others from really seeing us, we still have the constant feelings of unworthiness and insignificance that we must deal with (that we must distract ourselves from), so we numb.
We may numb ourselves by indulging in things like smoking, drinking, junk food, social media, video games, Netflix, sex, unhealthy relationships, and pornography. But also, as some of us become more intellectually aware of the ramifications of these practices, we unwittingly find smarter ways to numb; we may focus on continuous achievement and busyness or even overly indulge in spiritual retreats and workshops.
For some, shielding, numbing, or even escapism are all synonymous, and perhaps that’s true. Undoubtedly , all these mechanisms achieve the same result: Avoiding painful feelings.
But how do you know if what you are doing is an effort to avoid some painful feeling inside you?
Well, you can ask yourself this:
“How do I feel after doing that thing? Do I feel energized and invigorated or drained and disgusted of myself?”
“Is this really serving me? Is it in line with my values and deepest desires?”
Now, this is not to say that emotionally mature people have fully functioning psyches and will never shield or numb. The objective isn’t to reach a place of zero avoidance of painful feelings, as we may still catch ourselves in such. Instead, the aim is to live (most of the time) in alignment with who we are and our higher selves.
Are you living in alignment? Answer these questions to help you find out.
“Am I living my life in line with my values and deepest desires?”
And knowing that you will inevitably do things to avoid painful feelings,
“Am I getting the highest value from my shielding and numbing with the least possible cost?”
For the entirety of our lives, we have been guided by a broken internal GPS (the inner-critic) and are continuously running the fixation of:
“I will only be worthy of love and belonging IF …”
The fixation is in the “IF,” which we soon realize is perpetual. There is always going to be an IF.
Analogously, we become like a dog chasing its tail.
We soon realize what we have been doing up to this point has not been working and that something needs to change.
And it all starts with a decision — a decision to stop running.
However, we cannot come to that point if we don’t sit still long enough to let the dust settle and see the reality of our lives.
Once we do, we can begin the healing and growth process.
One thing to establish is that we never really outgrow the inner child. We carry that child within us at all times.
You and that child are one in the other, and all feelings are shared.
All that child wants is for their needs to be met by their parents. You know, the exact needs that were not met in childhood. They want to feel that they are seen, acknowledged, and loved for who they are.
Thus, for healing to occur, we must move toward our wounded inner child.
It becomes evident that the only way out is through. And to heal, we must feel.
We must move towards these painful feelings with:
- Attention and presence
- Empathy and understanding
- Unconditional love
Only then can we mend the wounds and integrate ourselves entirely with our fragmented selves.
Then, one thing becomes certain: we seize to live in terror of the boogeyman living in the closet and courageously look within for the love we so desperately desire.
So, ask yourself this: Are you running away from yourself?