Some are put in the position of emotionally caring for an adult early in their lives at a time they themselves need more than anything to have their own inner world mirrored back to them. To be seen as a subject with an interiority, not merely as a narcissistic reflection of the other. Until reorganized, this template orients the way we see ourselves and engage in close relationship.
In these early configurations, the little one’s sense of self becomes tangled up in the other’s moods, anxiety, and injured self-esteem. The job of the little one is shifted from unstructured play and discovery into tending to the unlived life of a caretaker, a task that is not designed for a young nervous system, nor for a tender little heart.
If interested, we can explore how this template might be at play: in our phobias around having/ expressing needs, in the fear around disappointing someone, in the hesitation around allowing another to matter. In the terror of relationship, on the one hand, and in the painful longing for it on the other. In the existential confusion about where we end and the other begins. In the ancient conclusion that caring for another requires primordial disavowal of our own psyche, body, and heart.
Having come to see our own self-worth through the changing psychic states of those around us, we find ourselves wondering: Have I disappointed them? What can I do to make them feel better? Should I take more responsibility for the unfulfilled longing in their hearts? They are upset, surely that is somehow traceable back to me, right? I’ve failed somehow, right? As a little one longing for any sort of empathic connection, we’ll do anything to receive even a limited amount of psychic (and physical) holding.
Accessing, illuminating, and untangling the tentacles of this template can go a long way in healing chronic feelings of shame and unworthiness, where we begin to differentiate our worth as a person from the moods, suffering, and unlived life of others. To withdraw the projection of our own basic goodness from others and locate it inside ourselves. This withdrawal is a great act of kindness – for ourselves, the other, and for the world.
It is by way of this disentangling that we can truly love ourselves and others and act from the radical force of true compassion, not merely re-enact the old pathways of self-abandonment and empathic failure.
Photo by Andreas/ adage via Pixabay
The next book, The Unfolding Heart, will be published by Sounds True in early 2020, details to come
The next event is The Healing Shame Retreat: Spiritual Awakening and Transforming the Core Wound of Unworthiness, April 24-29, 2019 at Sunrise Ranch in Loveland, Colorado, with co-facilitator Jeff Foster