Whenever I act in a way which I don’t feel very good about, (often after I’ve had a glass or three!) I can be pretty sure it’s my inner wounded child looking for attention. Some buried pain from the past that I’ve not come to terms with, and have been trying to ignore so I can ‘move on’. The big irony is that, tempting as it is, burying painful feelings rather than admitting to them and seeing where they really come from, is the one thing pretty much guaranteed to give them more power to deflect me or hold me back.
A recent example of something I wish I’d done differently was at a family gathering where I fell out big time with my stepson because of our differing political views. I made the classic error of being sure that I was ‘right’, and thinking that if I just explained my views clearly enough he’d surely come around to my way of thinking! Not an attitude likely to lead to a mutually enjoyable conversation – especially when he was as convinced that, in fact, I was the confused one and he was trying to set me straight!
The upshot was we got very frustrated and bad-tempered with each other. I’ve since apologized and we’ve ‘agreed to differ’, so I decided to treat it as a chance to discover what underlying pain was “making“ me act in such an ineffective and unreasonable way (something which is much more likely to happen after drinking, which seems to have the effect of reducing my emotional age by at least a couple of decades!). In this instance, I concluded that what was causing me to feel that I knew more than anyone else was the painful memory of being thought to be stupid at school and my failure to get the kind of grades that my father wanted for me, causing him great disappointment and creating a lot of guilt and shame in me that I hid from everyone – especially myself – by acting like a super-confident guy who wouldn’t care less what other people thought of him. Whereas in fact behind all that act, I was gagging for acceptance and approval.
Unfortunately, I carried this act and this attitude into my relationships, which meant that until recently I found it very difficult to be vulnerable – i.e. truly open and intimate – with anyone, and ran away whenever it looked like things might be heading in that direction. I’m eternally grateful that the woman I married last New Year’s Eve has been able to reassure and persuade me of my basic inner value, so that I am learning to be completely open and honest with her about all my feelings, (and from what she says, it’s been a mutual experience!).
Whenever I dig deep and acknowledge any buried wounding, and bring it out into the open, I can feel it begin to heal and have much less power in my life. If I just bury it again, it’s certain to come back and haunt me by pushing me to keep repeating the same destructive behavior. By taking this approach I can find gold in any kind of conflict with anyone – although the closer I am to the person, the richer the results tend to be.
It’s sad that so many people (including myself for much of my life) use all kinds of self-medication or distraction to avoid doing this “inner work”, but it’s understandable because it can feel very hard and uncomfortable to carry through – especially for us men, who are ‘trained’ and encouraged to be afraid of our emotions and to ignore them. But the rewards are more than worth the effort. In fact, it can feel like a choice between being a human or being an emotional zombie – a state that will not only make me miserable but also increase the risk that I will damage someone else by being pushed to behave in irresponsible and dangerous or uncontrolled ways.
I can feel like crying if I’m getting in touch with the hidden most wounded parts of myself, a possibility which used to really scare me as it seemed such an ‘unmanly’ thing to do – but these days I’m much more ready to show, and know, what I’m feeling, however, it comes out as long as there’s no risk of causing harm. I know that the reward will be more peace of mind, a better balance in myself, and less chance that I’ll get caught up again in any ‘out-of-control’ behavior. I feel myself becoming better able to choose to be the loving (and loved person) I want to be.
I imagine that this is how good counseling works, by reflecting back to us hidden parts of ourselves so we can see ourselves more clearly and take the steps we need to heal. But two people in a deep and trusting relationship can also support each other wonderfully in this process by being able to share their deepest fears and feelings, and by being truly open and vulnerable with each other. For me, it’s been one of the best parts of having made a commitment to someone – something I had never really done before. It means that even if we have a hard time understanding each other, we will still grow as individuals and become closer in the process of trying to get to the bottom of what is going on for each of us. The one thing we’ve promised never to do is either retreat or hide.
It’s not necessarily an approach or a journey which is right, or which will work, for everyone, but I’ve found that when I see all difficult feelings as an invitation to dive into and heal old wounds, I can become free of the past and move on to becoming my best present self. I don’t want anything more from this life!
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