Joe Biden and Kamala Harris striding confidently along with the caption “the adults have arrived” (meme on Facebook after the election results were announced)
Life is chaotic when the rules of truth and civilized behavior are ignored or ridiculed. It’s like a bunch of immature, greedy, entitled twelve year olds are in charge of the country and nuclear codes. Children, especially in a pack led by a bully, can be heartless and cruel. They are not equipped to make good decisions about adult responsibilities. This also applies in our personal lives.
We know now that one of the effects of trauma is profound disconnection. For me, the most intense public shaming came from age 12 through my teens. I have been inquiring into this lately with curiosity about my daily lived experience during that time and how that relates to disconnection. What do I remember? Was I “there”? What beliefs did I form about myself and other people?
Looking back, I can see that denial of danger played a big part in my defense system, rooted in arrested self-protection. I feel sad as I connect with those feelings and my naive hope that this guy who actually had harmed me through malicious gossip would somehow protect and cherish me. I kept trying for connection and I kept being betrayed.
I am in good company with this. We all have crisis points and memories of painful experiences. Some we remember with detailed images and words. Others we remember in our nervous system but we don’t have recall memory (details).
What was going on inside of you during painful times? It might have been a shock trauma or long term, the water you swam in. Can you tune in to your felt experience day to day?
Connection wasn’t entirely missing for me, and at school I hung with a group of friends who were also misfits in some manner. My inner circle was a couple of other smart kids, a gay guy (obvious now but we didn’t have language then), an Indigenous guy, and a singer who was the daughter of a locally infamous mentally ill woman. I had different friends at concert band where I was a talented flute player although I was always also dealing with harassment about my reputation. Then there were parties which were chaotic and at times dangerous.
What is the through line? Who are we in these different environments? How do we trace our experience now when we were so often disconnected then? One constant for many of us is objectification. In our culture, boys are raised to believe they have the right to use girls and our bodies however they please. For a girl living in an emotional desert at home, my longing was to be seen, not used to build a boy’s stature through his lying and bragging. I don’t remember being angry at them. That came later, in my twenties, when I became a feminist and activist.
Disconnection from our bodies could also be seen as a form of objectification. Emotional safety is our priority and we neglect or abuse our bodies through our actions and inactions. We are in denial about the impact on our body of our compelling need for safety and inclusion.
Disconnection from ourselves is a protective mechanism that helps us make it through painful, overwhelming situations that we can’t otherwise handle. When we don’t have secure attachment with a trusted person, we have few options. We suppress our feelings, disconnect from ourselves, and our primitive brain runs the show. This is adaptive in an evolutionary sense. Instinct takes over to protect our physical body. We go into fight/ flight/ freeze/ fawn and try to make it through to safety.
We all have an adult self, although truthfully I didn’t feel like an adult until I was in my fifties. Looking back at my life prior to that, some of my “decisions” about life now make sense. Developmental trauma shows that some healthy development of our brain and nervous system didn’t happen when we were children. This is common in families with unhealed trauma — where the parenting was done by emotionally developmentally arrested adults, where there was mental illness, violence, addiction and emotional neglect or a lack of emotional attunement.
Children feel like they are not known, they don’t matter and that they are on their own. Our perception is based on our experience and was accurate at that time. AND we are not doomed to having our six year old or thirteen year old in charge. We can bring ourselves to safety and heal.
For me, having my adult in charge and present now means I am connected with myself at all ages. Gradually we come to know our lives and ourselves. We see through core deficiency beliefs. We feel safer because we are truly no longer alone. We have a felt sense of maturity and make better decisions. Our twelve year old is no longer parentified and making decisions based on fear. Having an adult on board is greatly calming to our whole nervous system.
A practice to increase the time your adult is taking care of things is to focus on connection within yourself. Watch for signs of disconnection, like certain kinds of thoughts, or impulses that ignore your longer term health. When I feel like I need relief, to numb a bit, or to get away from something, I have that flash go through my mind with a “helpful” suggestion that usually involves sugar. When I inquire into that, I remember that I have many healthy ways to soothe myself and self-regulate my nervous system. As I feel into the energy in my body, I look to see if there a sense of age. It is almost always my early teen self that is looking for reassurance. Spending a few minutes resting with that is enough. I am now able to welcome and love myself at all ages. It is safe to stay in connection.
We can rest easily when our trusted, compassionate adult is present.