It is important to realize that the path of opening the heart is not the same as becoming a receptacle for the unloading of others’ unconscious, unresolved beliefs, unprocessed feelings, and unintegrated behaviors. It is to the degree that we are attuned to the “inner other” within that we will be able to skillfully respond to the projections of the external other upon us. This inner other contains all of those partly processed feelings, unmetabolized emotions, and unconscious beliefs that we have lost contact with along the way, the entirety of our disowned vulnerability in all its forms.
The only way to care for and integrate the “other” is by way of profound levels of self-compassion. For many, this holding does not come naturally as it was not encoded into the nervous system of a little one in an environment lacking in empathic attunement, a field not ripe and open enough to contain the magic and brilliance of a unique, unprecedented, unfolding emotional world. But despite early relational trauma, inconsistent empathic mirroring, and the seeding of disorganized narratives of attachment, you can learn and practice this now. You can experience reunion with the disavowed inner other and play with him or her, re-embodying to the pure flow of feeling that was once disallowed and misunderstood in a world that has forgotten.
While appearing “compassionate” on the outside, being an emotional doormat involves the re-enacting of early, unconscious dynamics. We learned that devaluing ourselves, often in very subtle ways, was the best route to get our needs met, to fit in, to receive attention and affection, and to maintain a precarious tie to an unavailable attachment figure. This misperception of unworthiness arose not because there was something fundamentally wrong with us, but from our best efforts to care for a sensitive little heart when we were not developmentally equipped to dance in the opposites, to hold the tension, and to work through overwhelming states of survival-level anxiety.
But the pathways within you are luminous – neither solid nor fixed – and can be reorganized around empathy, kindness, and presence. The urgency of the little one scrambling to be held and mirrored can be metabolized now with new capacities that were once unavailable, replaced with the slower, more grounded circuitry of wise, empathic kindness. But this possibility occurs only by way of self-compassion and the unconditional commitment to no longer abandon the inner other as it surges within you, in the form of feeling, sensation, and vulnerability of all kinds. We must end the spell of self-abandonment, which will require immense courage, care, curiosity, and embodiment, staying close to the eruption of waves of emotion as they present for integration.
Look carefully and see the ways you habitually place others’ needs over your own… not out of true compassion for them, but as a re-enactment of an early environment of shame and unworthiness. With your presence, seed the somatic field with holding and attunement, receive the longing for an update to your holy nervous system, and lay down a new pathway. This pathway is grounded in self-care, which wisely expresses itself in the skillful care of others, and opens a doorway into the unfolding dance of self and other and the eternal mysteries therein.
My next book, A Healing Space: Befriending Yourself in Difficult Times, will be published by Sounds True in 2020.