ACE's and Masculine & Feminine first steps.
I have been thinking of this post for some time. Recent conversations with a number of people have prompted me to write.
My work has taught me one overriding thing - that the KEY to having an authentic and secure life is to have unconditional positive regard for ourselves. Love ourselves.
For so many people this statement will just draw a blank. What does it mean to love ourselves? There are certainly many, many people out there offering solutions and techniques and some of them are useful; no doubt about that. But loving ourselves is something that comes from within. It is something we were given by our parents and caregivers - an unconditional, positive regard that clearly communicated that we were worthy and valuable. It is given to us, by them, as a gift that we take into our hearts and walk through life with so that whatever happens we know, we just know, we are and will be ok.
However for a lot of us this wasn't the case.
This is the basis of my work. Learning to love ourselves - oh let's not be too ambitious - learning to regard ourselves highly enough to make better choices; is what I try to help people do. It doesn't have to happen through therapy but therapy is the opportunity to have a relationship where we are given that unconditional positive regard that we might not have had as we were growing. In relationship with a therapist we learn to see ourselves differently; as something valuable and important - because we are; we were the minute we took our first breath - and we can slowly start to let that in. When we see ourselves in that way; the choices we made before no longer seem right and we start to make changes.
I want to talk about ACE's. Adverse Childhood Experiences.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are stressful events occurring in childhood including:
parental abandonment through separation or divorce
a parent with a mental health condition
being the victim of abuse (physical, sexual and/or emotional)
being the victim of neglect (physical and emotional)
a member of the household being in prison
growing up in a household in which there are adults experiencing alcohol and drug use problems.
These are just the main categories - the reality of the experience can be far more nuanced and individual - just like us! There are a whole range of experiences that a young person could class an an adverse childhood experience. Neglect and Abuse come in many different shapes and sizes.
Also, how an adverse childhood experience affects us can depend on other, more positive factors:
the ability to talk about feelings and be heard.
the felt experience that some family are supportive
enjoyment and participation in a community
feeling of belonging in school.
feeling of being supported by friends.
having at least two non-parent adults who genuinely care.
feeling safe and protected by an adult at home.
Again - this too can be nuanced. The good news is it can be an experience of a small amount of the above that is enough to create some resilience.
The message I'd like to convey is that it wasn't your fault. There are a number of experiences that can have an effect on us that we interpret as us not being good enough; not being ok. That's not true. And that belief can be changed.
So our job, as adults, is to re-write those beliefs that tell us we are worthless.
How do we do this?
In my 'The Natural Year' Guide, I talk about the masculine and the feminine energies that we all possess and the qualities of both - the feminine being the creative 'being' energy and the masculine being the 'doing' action based energy. Many of us will be familiar with the masculine energy as we often busy ourselves and distract ourselves from our thoughts when we are hurting either consciously or often not. To be with the feminine energy would mean to sit with those feelings and feel them.
So how does this relate to ACE's? It is my belief that an essential part of the healing process is to learn to re-parent ourselves in the way we were not parented. This means internalising good enough parents. We can do this through the use of the masculine and feminine energy archetypes.
The qualities of healthy masculine energy are:
being strong, but gentle.
having an appropriate action of guidance and leadership without the need of praise or ego-stroking.
shows honour, honesty and diplomacy.
is confident but not arrogant, adventurous but not reckless.
is safe, supportive and protective physically and emotionally.
The qualities of a healthy feminine are:
kindness, generosity, wise and supportive.
Creative - the source of ideas
nurturing and healing.
Of course we can't be like this all the time - more on that in another post.
Step one of learning to re-parent ourselves and see ourselves as valuable is to imagine what a guardian or caregiver might have been like had they possessed the qualities above.
Even better, can you identify someone with those qualities and allow yourself to imagine what they would have been like as your guardian. What might they have said to you? How might they have treated you? How might you have felt to be safe, encouraged, supported and believed in? How different is that feeling? THAT is how you need to learn to treat yourself.
No rush. Slowly. These things take time. This is just the first step.