9

POWER TOOL #2: REPARENTING

Until you heal the wounds of your past, you will continue to bleed.

—IYLANA VANZANT

 

THE CHILD WITHIN

We often tend to ignore how much of a child is still in all of us.

—ELISABETH KÜBLER-ROSS

When you look at yourself in the mirror, you see a grown woman staring back, right? But what you don’t see in that mirror is the little girl who’s very much alive inside you. A little girl whose needs probably weren’t met growing up. A little girl who may have been abused, abandoned, rejected, traumatized, shamed, or mistreated in subtle ways. And this little girl is likely the reason your resistance won’t let up. She’s scared. She needs attention. But alas, you continue to ignore her.

“The inner child is real,” writes psychologist and author Stephen A. Diamond in Psychology Today. “Not literally. Nor physically. But figuratively, metaphorically real. . . . a psychological or phenomenological reality, and an extraordinarily powerful one at that.”1

Yet, he explains, very few are aware of their indwelling child-self with all its pain, trauma, fear, and anger.

Most adults think “they have successfully outgrown, jettisoned, and left this child—and its emotional baggage—long behind,” Dr. Diamond explains. “But this is far from the truth. In fact, these so-called grown-ups or adults are unwittingly being constantly influenced or covertly controlled by this unconscious inner child.”

The existence of the “inner child”—many credit Carl Jung with introducing the term—makes sense scientifically. During the first seven years of life, when you’re most impressionable, stressful experiences are deeply and indelibly tattooed onto your developing brain. Whether you grew up in extensive poverty or even partial neglect, lived in a war-torn country or a strict religious cult, were bullied by your peers or belittled by your teachers, early life stress (ELS) causes a constant flow of cortisol to be released, adversely affecting your brain’s growth.

“The functional capabilities of the mature brain develop throughout life, but the vast majority of critical structural and functional organization takes place in childhood,” explains Bruce D. Perry, psychiatrist, author, and senior fellow of the Child Trauma Academy in Houston, Texas. “Simply stated, children reflect the world in which they are raised. If that world is characterized by threat, chaos, unpredictability, fear and trauma, the brain will reflect that.”2

In a riveting, though heart-wrenching, 60 Minutes episode on the subject, host Oprah Winfrey declared that we’re facing “a twenty-first-century epidemic of childhood trauma.”3

“If you’re a child who’s raised in a nurturing and well-cared-for environment,” she opined during an interview with Dr. Perry, “You’re more likely to have a well-wired brain.”

The trauma specialist nodded his head, “Correct.” But a child raised in a chaotic environment, he added, “will be wired differently. And typically, they have trouble functioning in the world in a way that makes them more vulnerable.”

ELS is so widespread that our world is filled with the walking wounded. Consequently, as one of the leading figures in the field of family systems and relationships, John Bradshaw, said, “I believe that this neglected wounded inner child is the major source of human misery.”

I couldn’t agree more. In case you’re wondering why I’ve devoted a whole chapter to reparenting in a book about wealth building, it’s because, in my experience, it’s often the wounded inner child acting out that causes otherwise intelligent, rational adults to create financial chaos.

A Course in Miracles explains that we’re never upset for the reason we think. It’s not the current difficulties that disturb us. It’s how they trigger old memories, rip scabs off old wounds, catapult us back into a previous era. Whenever you’re upset, the Course suggests, remind yourself, “I see only the past.”

There’s a wonderful metaphor commonly used to illustrate how this plays out. Imagine you are calmly driving the car while your inner child is safely strapped into her car seat in the back. Suddenly an angry driver screams at you. Your inner child, triggered by a threat that feels frightfully familiar, swiftly unbuckles her seat belt, leaps into the front seat, shoves you aside, and grabs the wheel, yelling, “I’ve got this!” Of course her feet can’t touch the pedals, nor does she know how to drive. You, meanwhile, sit there stunned, not sure what just happened, but feeling totally out of control. Because you are: Out. Of. Control. Just as Sandra was when I met her.

SANDRA’S STORY

Your inner child is waiting for a genuine, heartfelt apology.

—YONG KANG CHAN

After years working as a bookkeeper, Sandra built a successful consulting business, helping entrepreneurs manage their company’s money. She was financially savvy, earned a healthy income, and had plenty in savings, yet she was drowning in debt. She came to me for help, even though, on a practical level, she knew precisely what she needed to do.

“I know I should be using my debit card instead of credit cards,” she admitted. “But it’s crazy how much that scares me. I’m having a full-body freak-out moment right now just thinking about not using credit cards.”

At first, I was taken aback, “I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone as smart with money and as resistant as you,” I told her bluntly. But as she reflected on her past, her behavior made more sense. She had suffered a very painful childhood. Her father abandoned her. A stepfather abused her. Her mother was emotionally absent. Escalating debt served as an expedient (albeit unconscious) diversion from the constant angst swirling inside her.

“I might suggest some trauma therapy if we don’t make progress,” I said.

“That definitely feels like something I’ve been avoiding,” she chuckled.

“Why do you think you’ve been avoiding it?”

“The words that are coming up in my head are That’s just how we were raised, it wasn’t any different than anybody else. You just suck it up. I never thought of it as trauma. I always felt, This is the life I was dealt. This is the best I can do.”

“How does that feel to you now, as you say it?” I asked.

“I know that’s not true. Its black-and-white thinking. But I seem to be hanging on to it.”

My heart went out to her. Sandra’s minimalizing her past experience and refusing to relinquish her credit cards were signs of a serious addiction.

“Addiction and other dangerous behaviors,” explains author Lisa J Smith, in an article “Re-Parent Your Inner Child,” “are some of the more serious issues attributed to allowing the inner child to make adult decisions.”4

I urged her to go to Debtors Anonymous, a 12-step program designed especially for chronic spenders and compulsive debtors. I told her I attended DA meetings for years and explained how much it helped me. In our next session, Sandra told me she had checked out DA.

“Well, what did you think?” I asked, excited to know. She responded exactly like my ex did after he went to his first and only Gamblers Anonymous meeting.

“There’s no way in hell I’m bad enough to go to DA. I’m not at all like those people.”

What made me especially sad was that I knew how much she earnestly yearned to do for herself what she helped others do—take financial responsibility. Yet she clung to her debt like a life preserver, too scared to dive into the deep waters of healing.

“Most often, when we feel pain from a deep place within, it’s our inner wounded child who’s calling,” Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh said in his book Reconciliation. “Forgetting the pain results in more pain.”5

Or as Dr. Diamond would add, “Remaining unconscious is what empowers the dissociated inner child to take possession of the personality at times, to overpower the will of the adult.”

How do you know if your inner wounded child is acting out? Here’s a list of clues.

Rewire in Action

SIGNS OF A WOUNDED INNER CHILD

These are some indicators that your inner child may be acting out. Check any that apply to you:

Image You have weak boundaries or very rigid ones.

Image You distrust yourself and/or others.

Image You worry excessively.

Image You’re a people pleaser, craving approval.

Image You’re a high achiever, driven to be perfect, terrified to fail.

Image You steer clear of strong emotions, yours or others.

Image You’re addiction prone.

Image You’re energized by conflict.

Image You’re dependent on routine, dislike change, avoid the unknown.

Image You’re afraid to state your opinion.

Image You feel like something’s very wrong with you.

Image You’re highly critical, of yourself and others.

Image You stay too long in unhealthy situations.

HEALING YOUR WOUNDED INNER CHILD

Many of us are guilty of not taking enough time to dial into our inner child’s voice.

—KIM HA CAMPBELL

Healing your inner child takes courage, commitment, and motivation—all characteristics I’ve emphasized from the beginning of this book. Because the only way to heal old pain is to rewire the neuropathways sculpted by that pain. Thus we turn, again, to the three steps of The Rewire Response for nursing our young selves back to health.

•  First you must Recognize that you’re no longer in the driver’s seat, but your life is now controlled by someone with the maturity level of a five-year-old.

•  Then Reframe the situation. I particularly like Oprah’s reframe on 60 Minutes. Whenever you can’t control your impulses, she advised viewers to ask themselves this question: What’s happened to me? which she said “is a very different question than What’s wrong with me?

•  Then Respond Differently by reparenting your wounded child.

Trauma specialists seem to agree that traumatized children need to be heard and seen by someone who they feel sincerely wants to help. This could be a trained therapist. But I’ve found that do-it-yourself-reparenting is extremely effective.

I help clients reparent themselves either by taking them through a guided visualization—which I’ve outlined below—or asking them to communicate, on their own, with their frightened inner child, at the age when she experienced trauma, taking time to listen to her pain. When the child feels heard, reassure her that, from now on, you’ll protect her and she no longer needs to interfere in your life, firmly telling her, “I’ve got this. Get back in your seat. We’re safe.”

Rewire in Action

REPARENTING GUIDED VISUALIZATION

•   Get comfortable.

•   Close your eyes.

•   Take three deep, cleansing breaths.

•   Relax your whole body.

•   Picture yourself in a safe place—real or imagined, indoors or out.

•   In this safe place, bring in your little girl.

•   Greet her in whatever way feels right.

•   Find a place where you both can sit comfortably.

•   Then ask her, “What was it like for you growing up?”

•   Let her talk and you listen. Don’t offer any advice. Be compassionate and loving.

•   Assure her you love her and want her to feel safe and that, from now on, you will protect her.

•   Insist you don’t need her help anymore. You’re going to keep her safe by making healthier decisions.

•   Answer her questions and promise that you’ll never leave her but will be there whenever she needs you.

•   Before you leave, put her in the arms of a guardian angel who will love and heal her.

•   Say goodbye, letting her know you’ll be back.

As sociologist and author Martha Beck explained: “Caring for your inner child has a powerful and surprisingly quick result: Do it and the child heals.”6 Here are two examples of the power of caring for your inner child by doing the Reparenting Guided Visualization. In the first story, Amrita shows us how early trauma need not be physically violent, but can be subtle enough to be accepted as normal. Until she reparented her scared little girl, Amrita’s brain virtually could not see the solution to her problem, even though it lay in plain sight. In the second story, Gretchen demonstrates how, despite horrific abuse, reparenting helped her overcome an addiction and find compassion for herself. As a result, she ended up taking daring actions that, until then, felt entirely too dangerous.

Let’s learn from these brave and incredible women now.

AMRITA’S STORY

She held herself until the sobs of the child inside subsided entirely. I love you, she told herself. It will all be okay.

—H. RAVEN ROSE

Amrita had long avoided dealing with money or telling her husband about her mounting business debt. She joined my program because, she said, “I don’t want to keep living in fear. When I get scared, something inside me kicks in and I freeze.”

After several sessions, I began to suspect that it was her frightened little girl who kicked her adult self into freeze mode. I suggested we do an exercise to learn what her inner child had to say. After I took Amrita through the guided visualization, I asked her to share her experience.

“She said her parents could be very fun at times, but other times there were explosions of anger. She told me she learned to be quiet and on her best behavior, especially after her father left. Because she never knew when she’d see him next.” She paused briefly as if she was traveling back in time.

“He was so proud when he could show me off, in my pretty dress. But when I was noisy or broke things or there was too much chaos, he’d get very angry at me or at somebody else in the room. I felt responsible.”

“That’s a big load for a little girl to carry,” I remarked.

Amrita’s immediate reaction was to defend her father, dismiss the damage. “It really wasn’t a big deal,” she argued.

Still, she agreed to do the visualization again at home. “Next time, let her know how much you love her and you’re going to protect her by keeping her out of harm’s way.”

After repeating the exercise a number of times, she had an epiphany. As if a blindfold had been ripped from her eyes, Amrita looked at her accounts, and lo and behold, she saw she had enough money to repay every penny of her debt. The funds had been in the bank all along, but she hadn’t been able to see that until then.

Continually reassuring her inner child that she’d keep her safe rewired Amrita’s rational brain to start searching for solutions instead of allowing her primitive brain to keep repeating old patterns of self-protection.

“I couldn’t find a way to pay the debt off even though the amount I needed was always there in my personal savings,” she said in amazement. “There were actually multiple ways I could’ve paid it off much earlier. When I finally looked at the numbers, because that was my homework, I saw how much was in each account. It was like a big door opened.”

However, she admitted, she didn’t want to walk through that door at first, actually pay off her debt. “It didn’t feel good. It was hard to do.”

“That’s exactly what rewiring feels like,” I assured her. “In fact, if it feels good in the beginning, you’re way off track. If it feels like Oh, no, this is wrong, it’s not me, you’re definitely doing it right. Remember, your brain’s old wiring exerts such an intense force, it takes tremendous vigilance at the outset not to get sucked back in.”

On our final session, she excitedly told me: “I’ve started paying attention to all the other doors that have been opening and push myself to take action steps when I feel like I’m getting stuck.” After doing the reparenting work, her little girl was now happily playing in the back seat, allowing Amrita to feel safe enough to have an honest conversation about money with her husband.

GRETCHEN’S STORY

The first step in the undoing is recognizing that you actively decided wrongly, but can actively decide otherwise . . . your part is merely to return your thinking to the point at which the error was made.

A COURSE IN MIRACLES

Gretchen suffered from what I call SSA, Serial Seminar Addiction, often a sign of unhealed trauma. I see it all the time. People racing from one personal growth workshop to another, giving them the illusion of working on themselves without doing the deeper healing required for change.

Stephen King summed up this syndrome perfectly when he said, “It is, after all, the dab of grit that seeps into an oyster’s shell that makes the pearl, not pearl-making seminars with other oysters.”7

Like all addictions, SSA is a means of avoiding the discomfort caused by “the dab of grit” instead of using it for personal transformation. Reparenting, however, provides a gentle but potent tool for quickly unearthing buried emotions.

When Gretchen joined my Rewire program, she was about to sign up for two more self-help classes. She’d been trapped for years in an abusive relationship with a man who supported her financially. In exchange, she managed his legal practice. With little money of her own, and even less confidence, she felt powerless to leave. I urged her not to take any more courses.

“Let’s focus on rewiring your brain, instead of spreading your attention too thin,” I said. “So you actually feel more powerful and make more constructive choices.” She agreed.

In our sessions, Gretchen told me her father sexually abused her until he abandoned the family, leaving her and her mother in poverty. I began to suspect that her traumatized child was holding her hostage.

“Having someone take care of me financially felt nurturing,” she declared. “I realize now I’ve been confusing my need to be loved by a man with being financially supported by a man.”

I told her about reparenting, assigning it as homework. She had an immediate breakthrough.

“The process of reparenting myself gave me a lot of power,” she told me later. “And it gave me a lot of compassion for myself. I think a lot of times it’s easy for us to give that to other people, but not for ourselves so much.”

Gretchen practiced reparenting every single night when she got into bed. “Sometimes I imagined a loving father tucking me in. He was the father I would’ve loved to have had, who made me feel safe and took care of me and held me in his big arms.”

Other times, she saw herself as the parent. “I would picture the adult me picking her up and putting her in my lap and rocking her, telling her what I would tell my own children. She was loved. She wasn’t alone. She hadn’t done anything wrong.”

Occasionally, she recalled, “It was my grandmother or some imagined benevolent beings who tucked me in at night, and made me feel safe.”

After just a few months, she noticed a big difference. “Now, when I think of what my father did,” she told me, “I’m not triggered in the same way. I don’t feel the intense grief that I did. I don’t know if I’m totally healed. There are still remnants from the trauma that occasionally surface, but they don’t have the same sting. I’m aware of what happened to me, but it also makes me who I am, stronger for it.”

I watched as Gretchen transformed from a helpless child into a proactive adult. She downloaded an app to track the hours she worked, figured out the going rate for an office manager, created a spreadsheet of her expenses, negotiated a living wage with her soon-to-be ex-partner. She told him she’d quit as his manager if he didn’t pay her and also insisted he buy out her portion of the house and let her live there for free. After a lot of sometimes harsh back-and-forth discussion, he agreed.

“It was scary. He’s a tough negotiator,” she admitted. “But I got stronger through this process. I know I can trust myself.” And her inner child could finally relax, knowing the adult Gretchen would take good care of her from now on. In fact, the last we talked, she had mustered up the nerve to tell him she was leaving.

Eight months later, her life had changed in ways she never dreamed possible. After she told him it was over, he was angry at first, but then begged her for another chance. She insisted he work on his issues with women, but even then, he’d have to really step up to win her back, but no guarantees. He immediately found a therapist and began meditating daily. To her amazement, his behavior and their living situation “drastically” improved.

MOVING ONWARD

We may never know exactly when or how this began, but if we acknowledge this little one, she will somehow know that we are listening to her.

—BONNIE BADENOCH

I doubt you’ll find the topic of reparenting in any other books about money. But if you’re experiencing prolonged financial distress, accompanied by unremitting resistance, that little girl who lives inside you is probably the culprit. She needs to feel safe and protected by you before she’ll give you permission to move forward.

Reparenting doesn’t require a big chunk of time. When I take clients through the guided visualization in this chapter, it only takes about 10 minutes, often less. You can even commune with your inner child, eyes open, while in line at the store, driving to work, or taking a shower. It’s not the time you put in, but the degree of emotion you feel and the consistency with which you practice. Once you rewire your wounded inner child’s brain—because that’s what reparenting does—and become your own safe harbor, the next Power Tool will take considerably less effort to put into practice.

Before we move on, let me leave you with a few lines from a poem titled “My Child Within” by Kathleen Algoe that describes reparenting more poignantly than I ever could.

We hugged each other ever so tight

As feeling emerged of hurt and fright

It’s okay, I sobbed, I love you so!

You are precious to me, I want you to know

My child, my child, you are safe today

You will not be abandoned, I’m here to stay

We laughed, we cried, it was a discovery

This warm loving child is my recovery.8

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