Become A Compassionate Witness To Your Past

Imagine what happens when we get triggered or reactive. Our initial reaction is to defend ourselves in one way or another either by shutting down, attacking, people pleasing or avoiding. This may seem automatic to us as we have done it many times but there is a whole process of multi-level thinking behind it. Thinking that was first developed in childhood to protect us from dysfunction and lack of connection. 

I firmly believe in the existence of multiplicity in our thinking. That means that at any given time, different parts of our thinking mind are at work trying to influence the way we see the world and any given situation. These multiple parts can be so powerful that we believe them above all else, even when evidence points firmly to the logic of believing the opposite. We believe them because we always have. They are our protectors and they work to keep us in the status quo that has become our life. They influence us directly or work against each other in a polarized way to keep us stuck. The problem is that they also stop us accessing the exiled emotions we subdued that are in desperate need of healing. They also stop us becoming our genuine self.

As part of the 7 Day Challenge, I wrote about polarised thinking and how the battle for control of the various “parts” of our personality can lead us to such extremes as being stuck, procrastination, people pleasing and addiction. The antidote to these “protectors” is the promotion of the “Self”, the logical, reasonable, calm adult voice within us that has been subdued. This article deals with how to promote it.

There are a range of books that tell us how to deal with our family of inner critics and protectors. Most centre on mantras and progressively aggressive language to deal with them. While this can be useful, we have to remember that by isolating these “parts” and pushing them away, we are maybe losing an ideal opportunity to work with them. Working on the theory that they are trying to protect the exiled emotions that we found too threatening to reveal around our caregivers and the inner core of our being that was wounded and criticised, we can safely say they are trying to help, albeit in some dysfunctional way. Getting to know and connecting with an exile or protector voice is a much more effective way of dealing with them and eventually lessening the grip they have. We also have to remember, we created them as children so in effect, they are part of us.

One of the key aspects in this process is the discovery of the Self. This is the pure part of us that shines through and guides us when we are not being tormented by the host of protectors that exist within us and polarized thinking. It can be said that we are either in Self in torment (taken over by pain and insecurity) at any given time. Finding the Self is the key to healing and seeing the world in a different light. When this can happen, the natural qualities that embody the Self will shine through. For example, the Self promotes connection, helping you to interact socially. You are drawn to meet other people, join groups and be part of the community. The Self also likes to connect with our protector voices, helping to engage with them and aid healing. The Self is interested and inquisitive. It helps you to take natural risks in life, to be interested in people without judging and promotes an understanding of new things. It is also interested in how your inner voices work and why they react the way they do. Finally, the Self is compassionate and helps you to be compassionate towards others and yourself. Best of all, the Self promotes responsibility and definitive action. There are said to be 8 C’s of Self Leadership. More details can be found here: The 8C’s of Self Leadership

To be help the Self shine through, we first have to understand that our protector voices are not aware that the Self exists and they feel the need to control to keep us safe. They are fully ignorant of the fact that underneath it all is a part of us that is fully able to deal with life’s issues. They are still in young and scary mode where the exiled emotions are being protected from hurt and rejection. This is the only way they know. They do not trust that the adult can handle situations that the wounded and criticised child couldn’t, so they step in when triggered and take over. They tell us to avoid conflict, not to take risks or act socially… all in the name of protecting the child within us. True healing takes place when we can appreciate and work with the protectors, rather than pushing them aside to get to the inner child. These voices have been working tirelessly for years helping us to avoid our childhood pain and when we connect with them and appreciate what they tried to do, they can step back and trust us to take over. To be able to connect with and understand our protectors, we must be in Self mode as much as we can and this is best done through breath work and meditation. We can sense the presence of a protector (which could be a critical, anger, guilt or escape voice) usually in our body first. It could be tightness in the chest, a distinct pain or a numbness. It is important at this point to become aware of what part is present and be calm, curious, compassionate and confident in our approach to it. Why does it protect us? What is it afraid will happen if it lets us free from its grip? Why is it motivating us with fear?

The answers to these questions will allow us to ascertain what these child-like protectors are protecting us from. It is important to absolve the protectors of their responsibility and this can be done as described below. Once your protector is isolated, you can speak directly to them. This is where the strength of Self comes in. Rather than scorning and getting angry with the protectors, use compassion, curiosity and connection:

Firstly, openly thank them when they appear.

Thank you, I appreciate all you have done for me

I fully understand that you are trying to protect me

I understand the responsibility you carry

I know you work hard for me

I understand how hard it is to let go

Ask questions (from the stance of curiosity)

I wonder what you are trying to achieve by protecting me this way? (likely answer is to avoid pain, facing change)

What would be the consequences of not calling me lazy, fat or stupid? (the protector would have less power)

What happened that made it important for you to judge me? (the wounded child was hurt in the same way and it was triggered)

Be compassionate

I accept that you are trying to help but I would like to do this

I accept you fully and as part of me

Please trust me to lead

Once the protectors have stood aside, we can discover and work with the exiled emotions directly with compassion, letting them know that you understand the pain and hurt they feel. You can reassure them that the Self will be interacting with the protectors and will help them to understand. You can also use imagery to conjure up pictures of comforting your exiled emotions and inner child, standing between them and the protector or images of a protective parent soothing the child while your Self talks with the protectors.

This process of having a direct relationship with your Protectors and critics is in stark contrast to most other advice which banishes the protectors with images of aggression and violence. By working with them, we can promote a healthy, trustful relationship with them that allows our inner child to be healed. This is not a process that happens overnight and can take some time. However, in therapy, a therapist can promote this process and help the client come through.

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Dr. Nicholas Jenner

Dr. Nicholas Jenner is a counseling psychotherapist in online private practice working with individuals, couples and groups, dealing with codependency issues, severe depression, bipolar, personality disorders, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders and other mental health issues. He has been practicing online for many years and recognized early that online therapy was a convenient method for people to meet their therapist. Working outside the box, he goes that extra mile to make sure clients have access to help between sessions, something that is greatly appreciated. He also gives part of his spare time up to mentor psychology students in a university setting.

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