Live your best life …
Those of us who have been sunburnt, will know all about the pain and the discomfort such a condition causes. Avoiding contact with anything that might come in touch with the burnt area becomes a priority. Consequently, the sunburn image works well for any area of our lives where we experience sensitivity.
When life is treating us well, we tend to be unaware of these sensitive areas. However, these areas come into sharp focus when certain people or situations ‘rub up against’ them causing pain and distress. If we pay attention to our self talk in these ‘bad patches’, we notice how negative and self accusatory it becomes. ” I must be such an idiot….so weak…..so incompetent etc.” This negative self talk indicates that we have just collided with a belief about ourselves, an uncomplimentary one, that makes us feel wretched. Metaphysicians refer to such sensitive feelings as ’emotional wounds’.
Many ’emotional wounds’ can be traced back to childhood incidents; a time when our need for love and acceptance was greatest. There are myriad ways that a child can form the opinion that he/she is not good enough. It is this feeling of ‘not enoughness’ that causes the development of emotional wounds and the consequent protective behaviours.
A compliant child is usually rewarded for good behaviour but a child who questions or rebels is shown displeasure. Sometimes there are circumstances which compound negative self images which are beyond the control of parents or care givers. For example, a child experiencing separation anxiety as a result of a protracted absence from home, caused by a mother’s illness, may be left with the feeling of being abandoned. A child sent into the care of relatives while a mother recovers from her illness may see this as an act of rejection especially if older siblings remain at home. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that some children blame themselves for the demise of their parents’ relationship ( at least initially) in cases of divorce.
As adults, we know that children are not in possession of all the facts. However, human nature, being what it is, allows the child to come to a conclusion based on his/her limited knowledge and experience. The child fills the ‘not knowing’ gap with an imaginary tale. The conclusion that, ” There must be something wrong with me because if there wasn’t everything would be peachy”, takes hold and begins to grow. The child does not realise that he/she is accepting a flawed premise as the truth. At this stage, the child has a real sense that he/she is not OK, not worthy, only worthy if…and undeserving. To be reminded of unworthiness or unacceptability is extremely painful. The child’s spirit feels diminished. The child has ’emotional sunburn’. Unfortunately, this sensitive area becomes the ‘go to place’ in any consultation about self worth whenever abandonment or rejection etc., are activated from then on.
Another way to explain this phenomenon is to say that our feelings of safety around acceptance, worthiness, competence, power and authority have been threatened and consequently we feel extremely vulnerable. Vulnerability creates protective behaviours to enable us to function in the world. These behaviours shield us from the pain that we associate with our own brand of vulnerability.
For example, Over-achievers will often admit that they are driven by the fear of being inadequate. Every success is just one step ahead of failure. They feel that they cannot relax or enjoy the success they have created. The belief that they are inadequate is overwhelming and so they protect themselves by continually striving for more success.
Perfectionists are driven by the fear that whatever they do must be perfect in order to be acceptable. No mistakes are allowed. They are often over responsible for everybody and therefore must be in control of a situation. They protect themselves by taking control, being critical, judgemental and hard on themselves as well as those around them.
The people suffering rejection learn to live in their own little world; a place where they can be safe. They protect themselves by appearing aloof and disinterested and yet acceptance is what they crave.
The person who learns that their self worth is dependent on pleasing others goes to great lengths to do their bidding while ignoring the legitimate needs of self. Such a person may feel guilty and disappointed any time he/she takes care of him/herself first, believing this to be selfishness.
All of these examples are variations on the theme, ‘I am not good enough; I am flawed’. The sad part is that the foundation for these feelings and beliefs is erroneous but they continue to be in control UNLESS they are challenged. The root cause of ’emotional wounds’ needs to be explored and debunked. Which part of you are you holding responsible for your pain? Getting to know this part of yourself and its story is a process. Pin pointing that part of you that you are shaming, blaming, judging, criticising and beating up on maybe quite an eye opener. Is it a the 3,4,5 or 6 year old child part that is shouldering all the pressure and the blame? Is it the young adult who made an unfortunate decision that you cannot forgive? Is it your Victim self that is being accused of being incompetent or weak? Developing a new relationship with your ’emotional wound’ is called for. Compassion for this ‘burnt’ part is the start. You may even elect to ‘send’ someone special to this part to give comfort and reassurance.
For example, if angels are significant in your life, then send one of those; if you prefer a super hero or someone that you admire or believe in, then use that image. The important thing is to convey the feeling of safety, compassion and understanding to that part that has been and continues to be in pain.
When your ‘sunburnt’ part feels safe enough, you could try some of the exercises suggested in my blog, Faults….. Are They Our Greatest Assets?
Remember, help is available from life coaches or counsellors if you find that you are stuck and need a helping hand to move forward.
Lastly, consider the gifts that the protective behaviours have developed to keep your wound safe:
The over-achiever has forged a successful business, provided jobs and is perfectly placed to be a mentor to younger people in the same field.
The perfectionist has developed the skills of analysing and problem solving.
The person who feared rejection has developed creativity which is directed towards his/her own hobbies and interests and gives that person a wide range of topics for discussion in social settings.
The pleaser has developed great generosity of spirit towards him/herself, as well as, others.
We are all works in progress.
Be kind to yourself