We all have parts of us that we hide for whatever reason. We may hide our feelings thinking that will keep others from hurting them. Maybe we act the clown, or the peacemaker (bless ’em), or like nothing gets to us, all in an effort to hide pain, shame, grief. Whatever it is we think makes us unlovable.
Of course, the more we push down those heavy, hurt, and unlovable feelings, the stronger they become. We become or attract the very thing that tortures us. The victim of abuse becomes an abuser or ends up living with one. The person who can see nothing positive about their body, punishes their body with disordered eating. We can all think of a million ways to punish ourselves, but few to care for that neglected part that is in pain.
So what to do? One thing I’ve learned in trauma informed therapy is the value of self love. If we never are taught that we are OK for being a normal, flawed human being, if we never see unconditional love modelled for us, how can we ever be OK with ourselves or anyone else?
Exploring these feelings isn’t the easiest ask to make of ourselves. But it doesn’t have to be horrible either. In fact, healing, freedom, and our share of human joy is there for us if we have a little courage and develop some crucial skills.
The first element is self-soothing. This is the part when we learn how to calm our bodies and minds and just be in the present moment. My favorite technique is simple. Breathe in for 3 to 4 counts, hold for a moment, then sigh the breath out for double the count. Usually 3-6 rounds is enough.
Then I feel into the body. Not judging, just noticing what is there.
Can I feel my toes? What sensations are in my toes? Are they warm, cold, tingly, itchy, ticklish? I slowly move my way up the body. What do I feel in my legs? Hips? Stomach? Chest? Throat? Neck? Face and scalp? Can I soften any tight spots? If that’s difficult, tensing and releasing muscles helps. Or I just simply imagine what it feels like to be relaxed. Head to toe, toe to head. It really doesn’t matter. Just slowly relax and release.
There are many techniques to let yourself tune in to how you feel. All with the goal of having a slight sense of detachment, curiosity, and to let feelings come and go. Show up, shake hands, say “Hi thought/feeling,” and let it go. Not invite it in to tea or chase after it.
The self love practice I did recently began with this self soothing. Right now I’m struggling with having a broken crown on a front tooth. That tooth broke when my X shoved me out the door onto the street in the snow. I hit my tooth on the concrete steps. I eventually climbed back in the house through a window, but my front left tooth was shattered. That’s the crown that broke.
Aside from the memory of that moment, it looks like the stubby teeth Gollum had in The Lord of the Rings. I have always had nice teeth. No more. It’s taking a while to get fixed. So I’ve been masking everywhere, including when I walk my dog. And I’m broke, so I used Christmas money I was saving to take an Uber to the dentist. And, a month later, it’s still not fixed. Just the sort of situation that makes me feel crummy, ugly, alienated, and is no bueno on the mental health side.
So, in this practice, I was guided to relaxation, and then asked to picture my wounded/pain/shame self. Sure enough, it looked like a female Gollum. Scraggly hair, emaciated, grasping, a few stubby teeth, pale, greenish yellow skin, dark sunken eyes, and a sort of vicious hunger, and long unkempt nails on a boney hand.
Then, similar to an inner child soothing practice, I was guided to feel for this creature. And I did feel a lot like you see Frodo react to Gollum. Grossed out, not wanting to be touched, disgusted. But, similar to Frodo, I began to understand the creature me, and see how that was me, or a reflection of me, and feel for it.
I didn’t try to keep some evil bling. But I did feel a bit like Frodo dangling over the lava in Mt. Doom, when Samwise reached down and said “Don’t you let go.” But it was me reaching down to me. Telling myself not to let go. To remember the Shire and the taste of strawberries; the good things that make life worth living. That I didn’t have to follow my pain into the pit. That I could lift myself up from what I feared and to a sort of freedom. Gollum-me served its purpose. It did protect me and keep me alive when my life was about survival and lack. When I was alone and curled into a ball, howling, holding myself, staring into The Nothing.
I recognized the shadow me. And I felt a great lifting afterwards, and a clarity. Not that I want to carry the metaphor forward in the book version, or even the film version that still has Frodo marked with his wounds and dying an early death. But, if nothing else, Frodo represents just a very average Hobbit who had to carry a very heavy burden. He’s no doubt based on Tolkien’s young comrades he saw transformed by World War I. The first PTSD case in fantasy fiction.
Mind you, my brain may have been a bit off due to a Covid infection, but the practice really helped shift something in me. I’ve always identified a lot with Frodo. And regardless of what your inner/shadow/creature self looks like to you, I offer my experience as hope that, with time and loving kindness, we can all find freedom from the monsters inside.
Namaste, you legends!
– JL ✌🏼💚🖖🏼💐😷😁
If you’re considering suicide, self harm, or have a mental health crisis: call or text 988 any time to talk or text with someone from the National Suicide Prevention and Crisis Hotline. Help is always available in English or Spanish.
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