A personal account of self-soothing (revised)


Many blogs – mine included – are written in the third person, and you wonder whether the blogger actually practises what they preach. Well, here’s a personal account of the self-soothing I spoke of in my last post.

Perhaps it will help someone.

The other night, my meditation class became a head-ache inducing event because of something the teacher said. He was talking about having compassion for all people and how imagining everyone as your mother would help. I made a facetious comment about that only working for people who have a good relationship with their mother and he replied by ‘reminding’ me that she showed kindness by looking after me and feeding me.

Errrrrrr…. no.

She walked out on me and my sister when we were toddlers and played no part in our upbringing. On the infrequent occasions she was a physical presence, she could be relied on to be frosty and critical and her discomfort around me was evidence that she despised my presence. I was an object of disgust and dread for her. Ugly. Unwanted. Persona non grata. An aberration. An interloper. An unwelcome presence. A thing of yuckiness to be ignored, cold-shouldered, forgotten about. As if I had never existed. A dream turned sour. A disappointment. A mistake. A regret.

An insignificant irrelevance.

I could go on.

It’s a terrible thing to live with… the knowledge that you’re an aberration to your creator. I reckon a lot of us feel this way. This idea that all mothers always love their children is bollocks. It’s a myth. A lie. A nonsense.

Needless to say, I have a history of attachments to men who displayed the same attitude, but that’s a different story… Actually it’s not, is it? It’s the same story retold with actors who are – essentially – in locus parentis, ie stand-ins.

Anyway… back to the meditation…

Fury arose in me in response to the teacher’s words. I get so angry when people make these comments about mother-love being a  given, because not everyone experiences it. It’s NOT universal. I feel not only misunderstood,  but as if the person is implying that I’m in the wrong for feeling aggrieved, heart-broken, unloved, unwanted and cheated. Sure, I understand the intellectual arguments for her defence, and for forgiving others not because they deserve it but because you deserve peace. Nevertheless, in the context of our culture’s assumptions about mother-love, an event (abandonment) occurred to which I have an emotional attachment that needs attending to for the sake of my psychic well-being.

I also get fed up with hearing that parents ‘do their best’, as if that excuses all abuse and neglect (think on this: bullying and physical violence aren’t accepted in the workplace (for example) but they’re accepted as normal – effective even – methods of child-rearing). Many parents do what’s best for themselves, not what’s best for their children.

So, the meditation kicked off with the ‘let’s get to a peaceful place’ scenario. Now then, I think Buddhist philosophy has quite a bit to offer us, but I do have my reservations. I think there’s an element of avoidance about it and while I think wallowing in perceived misfortune is dangerous for one’s psychic well-being, I do also think we need to attend to our difficulties – examine them, come to an understanding about the nature of them, and heal them; otherwise, the effects of them will determine the outcomes of all the events of our lives on account of how they shape our perceptions.

I felt, in this instance, that I should really get in touch with – to really feel – the feelings of rage that had come up, because it was clearly important to me as I had such an intense emotional reaction. I imagined a boiling pool and let it boil without attempting to calm it. I felt huge pressure in my head and tears came to my eyes and ran down my cheeks. After a few minutes the boiling began to decrease. I remembered about the little girl (I’m a strong believer in the idea of healing the wounded child within our psyche) and she became very present, almost real. She sat on my lap and I cuddled her. After the class I imagined her walking by my side back to the car, me holding her hand, and in the evening I imagined her next to me on the sofa and on the bed, cuddling in.

I have imagined soothing the wounded child on other occasions. It helps in the short-term (I’ve got to the stage where I can transform feelings of distress into happiness in seconds!) (yay, me!), but whether it helps long-term remains to be discovered. I think it must be more helpful than the self-denial we get ourselves into the habit of, though.

Something I’ve tried to do, but haven’t managed so well, is imagine myself as the child receiving the comfort. It’s harder to imagine myself as a child with an adult as third person than the other way round. I think it’s worth persevering in the interests of self-healing, though.

Also, it’s as important in this life to be able to receive love as to give it. We’re told frequently to give, give, give – that giving makes us a ‘good’ person, but wherever there’s a giver there’s a receiver, and it’s an unkindness of enormous magnitude to not accept love that’s given by another. When a person feels unworthy of love and reacts with discomfort when a person offers them love it’s as if they’re saying the love on offer isn’t wanted. It’s hurtful to the giver.

Therefore, I think if you’re going to go into this sort of mind/emotion practice, I think it’s useful to practise receiving love.

I guess what I’m saying is:

1. If you feel aggrieved because you weren’t loved by your mother (or father) as a child, you’re not alone.
2. It’s okay to feel hurt about it. It’s okay to be angry.
3. We each have to sort our own minds and hearts out – no one’s going to come along and wave a magic wand and make the pain disappear. Basically, if your mind has been fucked up, the task of unfucking it is yours.
4. Self-compassion, self-love, self-soothing, self-care etc is a route to healing that hurt.

It takes courage to face the pain, but actually I think it’s considerably less painful than the angst that ensues from an ego in denial. Considerably less so.

Jim Morrison said something about exposing yourself to your greatest fear and after that fear holds no power over you. I think the word ‘hurt’ could be substituted. We avoid – through fear – things that hurt, believing that the pain will be too much to bear, but I do think we overestimate the pain and underestimate our ability to bear it.

I do think that pain is present so often in our lives – such as in the dysfunctional relationships mentioned in my last post. But we’re in denial about the nature of it, so it haunts us in disguise because we won’t look at it for what it is. That wounded child comes into play in intimate relations but we don’t see it – or rather, won’t. If we do, we can help him/her so that pain doesn’t accidentally damage relationships that are precious to us.

Alongside each one of us, or inside us, or whatever, we are accompanied by a broken-hearted, broken-spirited toddler. It’s more-or-less universal in Western society. And men have it too.

Instead of fearing the desperate inner toddler that threatens to expose our ego as a fraud (you know – the ego that is struggling to pretend to be cool, calm, collected and competent!), we could try falling in love with him/her, as we would a real child. (What I reckon happens is: the frightened child falls in love with an ego who is – essentially – ashamed of it (because of society’s attitudes about acceptable personality traits… which differ from our inner reality) so that our wounded inner child ends up in a Stockholm Syndrome-like relationship with our ego. Then we meet our ego’s counterpart in the real world… and it’s no wonder things go wrong… the inner child is unlikely to reveal itself to someone it perceives as an enemy… no matter how dazzling!)

For me, I think I will have more success at loving humanity if I think of everyone as my child rather than my mother!

NB: If you find yourself being irritated, rather than moved with compassion, by toddlers having tantrums in public, or just generally being boisterous, I reckon it’s a clue that you have a negative attitude toward your inner pain. Try a bit of compassion toward yourself – you might find it works wonders in terms of clearing psychological blockages.


(image © Crista Forest, www.forestwildlifeart.com)


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