by Kristin Mitchener
In reading Beverly Engel’s Healing Your Emotional Self, I have remembered so many specific events from my childhood that had been lost for years. These were interactions with my mother that really affected me then. I can feel and smell and see my frustration and anger and complete confusion. I feel sad remembering these times.
The book, specifically Chapter 9, opened my eyes as to the extent of which I self-deprecate. My mean inner voice constantly judges and shames me to the point of purposely making negative and often dangerous choices. The remaining half of Chapter 9 focuses on how to properly care for and love yourself despite your caregiver’s lack of nurturing during your childhood. Until reading this chapter, I hadn’t connected the dots between my mother’s lack of nurturing me as a child and my lack of nurturing myself in adulthood. But there is a connection—a connection so defined that I think I would have saved myself a lot of pain had I realized it sooner.
My mother was all about immediate gratification. She would lash out when she felt angry, stay in bed all day when she felt depressed, or take on countless projects when she was happy. She was all over the place every day.
I saw her overindulge in eating as well as with men—specifically, her relationship with her long-time, on-again-off-again, drug-addicted boyfriend. She would either smother him or ignore and abandon him, much like she did with me. When things with him were good and her needs were met, she was happy. When things with him were bad, her needs were unmet. Her job or children or friendships or health played no role in what she needed for herself. Her needs were based around circumstance. My mother met my needs after hers were met. Love and acceptance and compassion were given to me when I was good and when I had “made my mother happy.”
Binge drinking, overspending, overeating or undereating, obsessively taking on a project, judging and shaming myself for every mistake and flaw are the result of my negative inner voice. This inner voice developed during my childhood. It relentlessly tells me that I am not good enough and that I must prove my worth to others.
According to Engel, I must create a nurturing, mothering inner voice. “Creating a nurturing inner voice can help to soften and balance the negative introject. It is like giving to ourselves the responsive parent that so many of us did not have (p. 159).”
So what does creating this internal mother involve? Here is what Engel says.
- Consciously create an intimate connection with yourself. Ask yourself “How do I feel?” as many times a day as you remember.
- Bring up a nurturing but strong inner voice that is deeply connected to the inherent strength, goodness, and wisdom within you (your essence). If you find it difficult to find a nurturing voice, adopt the voice of someone you know who is nurturing but strong.
- Whenever you find you are criticizing yourself or being hard on yourself, consciously switch to this more nurturing voice.
Creating and listening to my nurturing inner voice is what I am working on now. Since childhood, I’ve tended to confuse my negative feelings toward certain circumstances with my feelings about myself as a person. My negative introject speaks up loud and clear, and I soon find myself acting on the shaming words I hold inside.
I find myself admonishing anything and everything about me. I did this on my way home from the gym this past Sunday morning. I replayed the events of last Friday night’s drunken argument with my husband and then ignored him by staying in bed all day on Saturday. I judged and shamed myself for a few minutes until I asked myself, “How do I really feel? How am I feeling right now in this moment?”
My answer was drastically different and more positive than the thoughts that were running rampant in my mind. I told myself that when I do inner work, I experience outer conflict. Alcohol lowers my ability to reason, further distorts my already distorted reality, depresses me, and arouses feelings of anger and the need to defend myself. These facts led to Friday’s argument.
I am making the most of today by exercising and taking care of myself. Today, I am okay. Right now, I am okay.
It’s been difficult to talk to myself in a loving way. It comes and goes. I build myself up and then shred myself to pieces. Most times the hurtful thoughts toward myself seem true. I haven’t yet found my value in simply being me. I don’t see what’s so great about me and who I am. These words are so sad to me—just saying them and writing them stirs up something inside of me. How can I possibly begin to act in nurturing ways if I cannot speak about myself in nurturing ways?
I have no choice but to wait. Take each day one step at a time, one word, one sentence at a time until my inner dialogue is one of love. My words will become actions and my actions will become words.