Who Will Protect Your Younger Self?
Something interesting happens when we work with arrested self protection. It doesn’t happen with everyone, but it can with those of us who felt unable to speak out and protect ourselves. We make excuses like “other kids had it worse”, “my parents couldn’t help it”, or we fall into core deficiency beliefs of feeling that it happened because we were bad. Children rely on their parents for protection and connection and for whatever reason, it didn’t happen. We work with arrested self protection from this starting place.
Our primitive brain is 100% committed to our survival, and when we feel threatened, it takes us into some combination of fight/ flight/ freeze/ fawn to keep us safe. When we knew in our gut that we would be in more trouble if we fought back, we don’t. This is arrested self protection. When we are treated unfairly as an adult, we are flashed back into that feeling of hopelessness and powerlessness that we had as a child.
As adults, we have options that weren’t available to us as children. We can move out and establish our own home. We learn about boundaries and tell our parents that we will leave if they continue to speak to us with contempt. We get skilled at avoiding situations with a high likelihood of conflict, like when a certain relative visits or when people are drinking.
As we work with healing our own trauma, we begin to understand what might have been happening for our parents and why they acted as they did. It is helpful to really know and accept that we were not the problem and there was nothing we could do to fix it. We might feel a lot of love and compassion for them and not want to shame or blame them. We can do both — hold them with kindness and not throw ourselves under the bus.
Parents have a duty to their children to take care of and protect them, to get to know them, and to help them thrive. It is wrong and illegal to hurt, abuse and abandon them. Some children have fairly well regulated parents who are able to do this and they develop into adults with a healthy sense of identity and self protection.
Pete Walker outlines the process in his book Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving. Click here for the guided inquiry from our Sunday class. He begins with “If time travel is ever possible, I will go back in time and put a stop to my parents’ abuse.” In the inquiry, we stay grounded here in the safety of the present moment and in our adult self and go back. We go back and let our younger self experience that we are protecting them.
For inquiry, we pick an incident that was typical of the hurt, abuse or emotional neglect. Bring to mind a place in your childhood home where it often happened. Visualize yourself there at whatever age comes to mind. See your parent or parents there with you. Do this with your eyes open to help you remain aware that you are an adult and you are safe now.
Do you need more protection than just your adult self? Who do you want to go with you? Maybe you bring someone to handcuff them and take them to jail. It might be that you need a friend with you. Bring whoever you want to protect you and now watch them come into the room with your adult self. Take a moment to experience that. You are back in a situation where you were hurt and scared and this time you are not alone.
Let your adult self and whoever else you bring protect you. They are strong and have power. They aren’t fooled and they are not afraid of your parents. They will help you. You could have them tell your parents what you’ve been too scared to say, or you could use the safety of having them with you to say it yourself. Take a few deep breaths. You won’t get in trouble for this.
We bottle up our fury at the unfairness of it. They hurt us with words, their body or their indifference. We get to be angry! It’s not fair.
It can be scary to revisit this because we might go back to feeling powerless. This exercise is an “if it were different” practice. What if your adult self or other strong people could go with you and confront them? To comfort you and let you know you are now safe? This is something we can do for ourselves now.
We need to update our adult perception of threat to be more accurate. It is true that as a child we couldn’t have stopped it. That is no longer true. Our younger self needs some time to feel that. This powerful inner child work helps us realize we are now safe and we can let down our guard. Because this happened over time, it takes time for that scared defiant child to adjust to the new reality. We are adults now with options. For this work on arrested self protection, we focus only on protecting ourselves in a way that wasn’t possible when we were actually a child.
We have complex emotional relationships with our parents. Doing this work will free us from festering resentment and possibly make our relationship with them better. At the least, it will bring us more ease and freedom.
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