When I was little I had, like most children, many emotions that were not heard. And those emotions tended to bubble up in the evening, when I was tired and I didn’t have so much energy to distract myself from them. I don’t have any memories, but I can safely guess that I would get whingey and clingy, because my inner girl still feels like that when she is tired. I suspect it was similar with my three other sisters, and that mum felt overwhelmed in the evenings trying to get us all fed and ready for bed within a particular time frame when, at least one and possibly more of us, were flooded with painful emotions that wanted time and attention.
Mum survived by disconnecting from her own heart and our emotions, and by setting very strict limits with painful consequences. So as a little girl I figured that, when I am tired and emotional, it’s a dangerous time. I leaned that the way to survive is to put blinkers on and trudge along. I understood that the faster you get through what needs to be done, the safer you are, because back then it saved from my mum’s anger.
Fast forward thirty odd years and find me with my own children, repeating the pattern. Sensing their painful emotions bubble up when I am tired takes me right back to the danger zone. First of all, I don’t trust my ability to hold them, because I never had a role model that showed me how to be tired and present. Second, I have an internalised voice that wants to push me and my kids through it, faster and faster, to avoid trouble. And third, it puts me in touch with my own unheard emotions that bubble up for healing, which I don’t really want to be dealing with when I have emotional kids playing up. It also puts me in touch with the pain of not being heard as a child, when I had troubles to tell mum, but not the skill to do so in a “reasonable” and contained way so she could hear them easily.
I bet this pattern has been going down for generations. I know it was the same for my grandmother. But I am determined not to pass it down on to my children. There is a part of me that knows that there is no actual danger when tiredness and emotions come together. My inner girl feels as distressed as if a sabre-tooth tiger could ambush her at any time, but my logical adult knows that this is not possible; even more, it knows that, actually, there is great potential for healing in that overlap.
The solution has been in bringing two new players to the scene: my Inner Loving Parents. They are the parts in me that have grown from years of therapy and healing, that have learned that it is possible to listen to big painful emotions and come out the other end, not only unharmed but more peaceful, joyful and whole. They are the ones that know that, in integrity with my true values, it is more important to give time and space to those emotions than to catch the school bus, or cook dinner, or have a spotless house. They are also the parts that know that it is possible to set limits without being harsh.
When my inner girl starts to panic, my Inner Loving Mother comes in and holds her close: “Here, here. It’s OK, you are feeling scared. I am here to hold you. Tell me, what’s up. I’m listening.”
My inner girl used to argue: “But I can’t stop and tell you right now! I need to carry on! There is all this to be done, don’t you realise? Let me get on!”
Then my Inner Loving Father would step in: “Sorry, darling, but I won’t let you. Listening to your emotions is more important than the stuff in your list of things to do. Slow down for a minute and let us hear what’s upsetting you”.
That Loving Limit used to bring fear to a peak for my Inner Girl: “But I can’t! It’s dangerous! I will be told off! I must be punctual, and do my house keeping jobs and be orderly! Otherwise I’ll get into trouble!”, she used to shout with great distress, tears running down her cheeks.
Loving Mother would get closer and reply with a soft voice: “Oh! Darling! I hear you are scared. It is frightening to slow down when you are in a hurry. You fear that things won’t be the way they ought to be and that people will think you are not good enough.”
“Yes!”, would sob my Inner Girl, surrendering into her warm embrace. And she would just cry, feeling the fear and the pain flow out with the tears. Eventually the Bucket would empty, and peace and softness would settle in. Having heard my Inner Girl, and having shifted all those emotions out of the way, made space for my outer children and their emotions.
With time and practice, panic is diminishing. Loving Mother realizes earlier when fear is shutting down my heart, when she needs to intervene and bring in more connection. And Inner Girl doesn’t argue any more, she can more easily let go into the safety of Loving Mother’s arms, relax and slow down. That means there is more space for my outer children’s emotions. While Loving Mother holds Inner Girl lovingly, she can also hold my son or daughter, or both; Loving Mother’s arms are big enough for all three! Rather than stressful, tired moments become gentle and soft.
Of course sometimes emotions come out in an aggressive way. This is when Loving Father is most needed, with his Loving Limits. Throughout my childhood, limits always felt hard and painful, because the behaviour was condoned but so was I. What incredible power it is, on the other hand, to be able to say “No” to the action while showering our children with love, presence and closeness! I must admit, it is quite tricky. And in this particular front, I am struggling right now. You know what that means? That there will be possibly a newsletter in the future about Loving Limits! I know where I want to get and I a slowly jumping over the hurdles to get there. When I feel like I can do it better, I’ll let you know what I have learned in the process.
In the meanwhile, I’ll enjoy the shift from angry/overwhelmed/fed up parents, plus crying/confused/hurt children, to peaceful/tender /connected adults and kids whenever that is the result of my presence. May you and your family be blessed with those qualities, too.