Frightened Child Imagery: 10 tips for healing
- Category: Psychotherapy and Recovery Work
An emotionally painful recurring image of a frightened child described in a comment on my site stays with me. I'm responding here because this type of imagery affects many people in or near doing deep recovery work. Eating disorder behaviors create a false promise of rescue. What follows are ten tips for genuine resolution.
The commenter wrote:if I could just rid my mind of the image of myself as a little girl..it's a constant image...I am alone, I am scared and I am silent. It feels like I am drowning sometimes when I see this image. It is so profound to me. I think if that image would go away, I would be fine. It's amazing how powerful that image is.
Education and understanding do not create recovery. Recovery work creates recovery. But.... education and understanding guide us to doing the kind of recovery work that heals, strengthens, promotes healthy development and eventually brings us to recovery.
So here's a short hand lesson in personal imagery using the above example of the image and the response to it.
- 1. Memory occurs through processes other than words. We can remember in words. We can remember in images. We can remember through our body sensations with no cognitive awareness.
2. If you stay with physical sensations with patience and curiosity you may discover associations to past situations that include those sensations. For example, one woman found herself jumping with great determination, to reach a low hanging branch of a tree in her garden. Her intensity aroused her curiosity, and she kept jumping. She remembered being locked in a dark closet when she was a child, jumping for the pull chain to the ceiling light bulb that was just out of reach. She remembered being able to touch the chain with her fingertips just as she could reach the tree branch with her finger tips. This is an example of a memory held by the body and retrieved through patience, curiosity and determination.
3. The image of the frightened child is not a picture in a book or movie. It's an image that the woman's psyche pulls out for the conscious mind to consider. It's a part of her that needs tending.The image is like a psychic magnet that pulls and holds emotional information about herself. The emotions are painful, but they are hers.
4. So often a client will say to me, "I threw away the image." And I respond, "Where did you throw it?" This leads to a conversation about awareness and the fact that we can't throw anything away that is in our psyche. It's our psyche. Maybe we can move things around, bury them or raise them up. But there's no exit. What we can do, and this is fundamental to recovery and healthy development, is work with the image, transform it, resolve the issues associated with the image and integrate that energy into our lives in a healthy and useful way.
5. If this process is not known or understood then a reasonable response to something painful is to escape from it or make it go away. And that is sometimes the best choice for external causes of pain, like getting out of a fire or having your watch dog bark to chase intruders away. But when it's internal pain, like a frightened child image, that choice will cause your own psyche to feel feel rejected and abandoned. This image needs to be held and understood The feelings it carries need to be resolved and integrated. The image needs to be transformed.
6. Another way of saying this is that a hurt, wounded, frightened part of yourself needs to be embraced, protected and healed.
7. If this doesn't occur, what gives you relief causes you more pain. You are caught in a paradox. If you find a way to get away from the image you will get short term relief. But the image represents something in you that doesn't disappear. It only gets hidden. That part of you will feel hurt, angry, rejected, unloved, unworthy, guilty for trying to get help, ashamed for not being able to take care of itself, at home in the dark and lonely place of banishment, terribly lonely with a sense of hopelessness and despair. Sound familiar?
8. If the unconscious healing forces in you are sturdy and you use your courage to heal, that image will find its way back to your awareness. It's an opportunity to use your patience, curiosity and determination to resolve and integrate.
9. To reject this image is to reject part of yourself and maintain the need for your eating disorder behaviors, like binging, starving or compulsive exercise.
10. To embrace this image with courage and the willingness to understand is to move forward into recovery as you heal and integrate.
How do you respond to scary images from your own mind?
Do you recognize the feelings of rejection and abandonment?
What could be your first step toward bringing patience, curiosity and determination to your frightened and frightening child images?