Older Child returned to college this week. This house is filled with people grieving.
When our body and mind experience pain, Punisher–one of our protectors–begins a long-establishes process of self-harm.
Punisher ranges from a newborn to age 3. Punisher often initiates chaos and then becomes an infant, with whom you cannot plead, bargain, reason.
Punisher’s goal is to protect us by putting us in charge of the pain. If we are causing our own suffering, then we could theoretically stop it. So Punisher is the boss.
There are many consequences to this schema: Punisher regularly guarantees the worst outcome for us, which means we suffer regularly. Joy does not come when you guarantee suffering.
Also, suffering makes us jaded, paranoid. We think everyone is a predator, our dreams become battlegrounds, and now we are looking through shit-stained glasses again. Confirmation bias that everything is a threat. It is a vicious and familiar cycle.
How to stop punishing ourself for having feelings, for having been abused decades ago, for trauma, and then blaming ourself?
1. Name it: We are in pain. Love you and miss you, Older Child. Hope we figure out your health challenges, Younger Child. We also feel shame from trauma, shame with which other people infected us.
We are scared. Fear rules our world. The worst fears are disappointment (hoping and then being dashed), persecution (systems are hard to change–health care/insurance, schools, pharmacies–these are the institutions we struggle to communicate with), and perfectionism. We are told by therapists and authors and The Buddha that we can’t act ideally in every situation. We have not accepted that Truth. We judge us by our least skillful acts, which leads to more self-punishing. It’s easy to find flaws. We are practice at it. Taught early how vicious people can be. And not always.
2. Practice, when not in crisis, recognizing our needs and how to meet them. Feelings are not facts, so sometimes the thing to “do” is nothing except watch the feeling or body memory float by like a leaf in a creek (we pronounce this “crick”). Sometimes we need to know now is safe. We can do this by using our senses in the present–interact with our Now by looking, tasting, touching, seeing, smelling.
3. Accept. When things hurt–and they will–if we can avoid judging us for being a human being, then acceptance becomes easier. Shame spirals and anger both start with and feed on judgments. Loving-Kindness is open and accepting. This takes practice, practice, practice.
4. Be patient and present so that time melts away. Time is a construct. Delay is an excuse. Now is the only reality. It’s safe to schedule a therapy appointment, and it’s unsafe when we attend that appointment in a delusion in our mind outside of its time. It’s unsafe to do one task while our mind is in the next task. We want to populate more Nows. Not all. No perfection required (or possible).
This is as close to describing being alive as we can get. If we try these things, we are trying to live our way, and then our values can shine and love can emerge. There is no need to Punish. We’ve suffered enough.
Pain will come. This is life, after all. Suffering is optional. We want to practice choosing restraint, choosing to not Punish.
Can we try it, Punisher? We can go back to your way if you hate it. Therapist says you sound scared. Let us care for you some. You don’t have to protect so much. Others of us have more resources now. You can rest and play and be a kid.