No one lives his life.
Disguised since childhood,
from voices and fears and little pleasures,
we come of age as masks.
Our true face never speaks.
Somewhere, there must be storehouses where all these lives are laid
away like suits of armour or old carriages or clothes hanging limply on the walls.
Maybe all the paths lead there,
to the repository of unlived things.
The repository of unlived things, I like that image. It suggests that we all put something or many somethings away, for safe keeping. It suggests that somewhere inside you is a treasure chest, just waiting to be opened. You are not all that you see on the surface.
We are often frightened to do the work of looking beneath the surface of ourselves but you will not be disappointed. What we have put there was once rejected by others but now we are complicit in the that rejection of ourselves. We reject those parts of ourselves too.
We have to do the work of looking in our repository and loving what we find. We have to give to ourselves that which we never got. That's how we grow up. That's how we heal. That's how we find our treasure, hidden among the things we rejected.
What does that have to do with our wounded children and outcasts you ask?
Your wounded child or your outcast is a name given to one of the parts of ourselves that we tuck away, reject, deny, try to keep out of site. But our wounded child/outcast is also the part of us that can hijack us, it can have us acting in ways we can't believe or imagine and it will not stay hidden forever.
So, just what is our wounded child?
It is the unripe part of our psyche that often feels hurt, angry, guilty, sad, jealous or ashamed and will often act these feelings out in non-direct, impulsive ways. We learned these patterns in childhood, which served us well and helped us meet our basic needs for love and belonging, but the problem is that we keep using these same strategies long after they stop serving us. Long after they affectively got our needs met. These wounded parts of us have been injured, traumatized or rejected by others, by ourselves or just by the circumstances of life. Outcasts are the parts of our psyche that WE rejected in order to be accepted by the ones we needed to accept us. These are versions of ourselves of which we are ashamed, but that doesn't mean that they are only the so called 'negative' aspects of ourselves that we wanted to keep hidden like our anger, sadness, fear, embarrassment or sexuality. They could also be things like our gentleness, our joy, vivaciousness, our need for touch or compassion, humour, dance, love of poetry etc. We locked away the versions of ourselves that the primary caregivers in our circle couldn't accept either in themselves or in us.
But here's the thing, we can't reject and lock away parts of ourselves without their eventual turning against us. Things that are locked up, like wild animals that are mistreated, turn against their captors and become something they are not. Same goes for our insides. Lock away your angry one and it will come out in some other way, turning the anger against the host...that's popular in our culture, or maybe erupting in rage and taking out everyone within a miles range and then wondering how that could have happened.
In Bill Plotkin's book, Wild Mind, which I highly recommend reading, he has given us 4 archetypes to work with for our wounded child/outcasts. They are Conformists, Victims, Rebels and Prince or Princess. We can find ourselves predominantly acting from one or perhaps we are super creative and use a different one for every area of our lives. We're that good. When we live from these parts of our psyche, we are attempting to get our needs met in immature emotional ways. We are not able to directly ask for what we need, we may not even know, but in any case, since we need to get our basic needs met, we use one of these previously effective strategies.
The Conformist is described by Bill Plotkin as a fearful insider. I should add that each archetype is characterized by its emotional strategy, fear or anger and whether it is an insider or outsider in whatever culture/family it finds itself in. So, the conformist does whatever is necessary to meet the membership requirements of whichever group gives him the most desirable status. He could do this by being submissive or perhaps compliant, obedient, dutiful, biddable, docile, passive, subdued or docile. So many options but at the heart of it is the desire to adopt whatever behaviour will make sure the conformist will not be abandoned again. The conformist doesn't know who they are but they know how to act on the basis of what's acceptable. This is a super popular role in our culture. We need people who conform to make our culture operate and, there are rewards for the conformist. For their obedience, they receive security, comfort, money, consumer products, professional prestige and even power over others.
Another archetype for our wounded child/outcast is the victim. Victims are fearful outsiders. They are motivated by the fear of perceived future abandonments but have little hope of obtaining the socioeconomic rewards of the conformists. Victims present themselves as being injured, incapable, or unlucky and therefore need to be rescued. Luckily for them, our culture has many rescuers. This works for the victim, until it doesn't. They have to keep finding people to rescue them because the rescuers get tired. Victims believe themselves to be ineligible for social or economic success. This could be because of their class status or because they see themselves as losers, misfits or oddballs. So, what rewards does a victim get? A lot of sympathy from the rescuers, release from their responsibilities, perhaps even money from government programs without really having to be injured. They can also have a certain kind of power over others, and, if they sue the right person or organization, financial reward.
That brings us to the next archetype, the rebel. Rebels are angry outsiders. That is to say they are angry about childhood abandonments but they don't believe they can acquire the rewards of mainstream society in any of the “legitimate” ways. This anger can lead him toward aggression, theft and coercion and leads him to rebel against almost everything parents, culture, schoolteacher or religion stand for. And, if abandoned by peers, rebel against them too. At his depths, he may feel that he doesn't have a clue who he really is but is 'not going to act anything like them'! Benefits you ask? Well, the rebel has a fair amount of energy, self respect and freedom. He's not a slave to the man, has fellowship with other rebels and is eligible for rewards or status within his clique or gang. Plus, he gets to act out his anger and perhaps steal or swindle, usually without feeling guilty, especially if his victims are conformists or prince/princesses in the wealthy culture. The irony is, the rebel usually conforms to the behaviours and styles of his fellow rebels.
Ok, last one, the Prince or Princess. This one of us is usually characterized by being an angry insider. They are angry about their childhood abandonments but they are eligible to reap the rewards of the mainstream culture and are not afraid to use condescension, intimidation and control to get them. They feel entitled, perhaps like people owe them. They don't really have a clue who they are either but they are angry and want to be compensated. This isn't really how they wanted to be but the rewards/bribery made it worthwhile and they want what they've been promised. They want the money, privilege, power and possessions and they have had to betray themselves to get them.
People who are stuck using these roles have had to unintentionally betray themselves and their authenticity in order to get their needs met in some way and don't know who they are or how to find out.
So, what do we do if we recognize that we have been using one of these wounded child/outcast strategies?
First, our subpersonalities are not wrong or shameful. They are just using a really limited way of trying to get our basic needs met and they limit our ability to meet our higher needs such as love, integrity, authenticity, meaning, fulfilling participation in our world, self-realization, soul encounter, or spirit realization. Their roles are about survival and what helped us to survive as children no longer works for us as adults. Plus, there is vitality hidden in these parts of us and when we reclaim the parts, we reclaim the vitality. It takes a lot of our energy to sustain the long term banishment of these parts of ourselves, not to mention the toll it takes on your body. Our outcasts' pain and sense of inferiority can be a chronic condition that steals our confidence, joy, energy and spontaneity.
We need to bring these ones out of banishment so we can heal them.
How do we do that?
Well, you will need access to your Nurturing Generative Adult, your best parenting self who can receive this one of you and give it what it never got, love, compassion, understanding, mirroring. You will also need your Wild Indigenous One, that embodied one of yourself that is not afraid to feel all the feelings, to experience them in your body and see them digest instead of be suppressed. That way, they become food for the journey. Suppressed and managed emotions are not digested ones. Managed emotions result in depression. Bill Plotkin has a definition of depression in his book and he describes it as a “bad case of suppressed emotions, emotions that have been managed instead of felt, digested, understood, assimilated and acted on in a way that preserves and improves our relationships”. As children, this may have been what we had to do as at one point our emotions were too much for us to handle but our healthy adult self is capable of digesting our undigested emotions. Our emotions don't go away, they just go underground.
Ok, here's Bill's 4 steps to working with your wounded child. This can be when you have a situation come up and you know the emotion is coming from somewhere other than from the specific situation as the emotion is more than the situation warrants, or it can be because there is a specific childhood situation you would like to work through.
Step 1: What emotion is your wounded child feeling. Start with mad, sad, bad, scared.
Step 2: What does she think happened that started the emotion. This is where you need your good Nurturing Adult skills. Talk her into her emotions, not out of them. You can say, “Oh, I see that you are mad and that you think it started because of.....tell me more.....draw out the whole story. Make sure she feels seen and heard, just as she is, knowing she is allowed to have her particular emotion. Don't interrupt except to draw out more of the story.
Step 3: Now is your chance to reassure your wounded child. Let her know how it makes total sense that she would be feeling this way and under these circumstances. Show her you totally understand. This is important. This will help her to feel more fully. Try to be specific. Why do you understand what she is feeling? This is giving to ourselves what we never got. Someone to validate our experience. We are allowed to have our experience. It counts.
Step 4: What does this tell you about her (that means you)? This reveals some good things about you. Can you see what they are? Did you just realize that you really wanted to be helpful to those you love or that you want to get things right or that you wanted to give love or receive it? Can you receive these things about yourself?
Step 5: Is there an action that needs to happen? As adults, we need to act for our wounded child, not from them. She needs to know that you will act on these emotions and what they tell you. Your wounded child needs to know what you will do on her behalf. She needs to know there is an adult on board, looking after her.
Some final thoughts. When you catch yourself acting from your wounded child, it suggest that there is a basic need not being met. Consider why you used that particular orphan role under those circumstances. What basic need was your orphan trying to meet? Why didn't you use a more mature strategy? Is there something you are afraid of? Are there some skills that you lack? Could you meet those needs more directly and effectively?
Sometimes we need the help of a therapist to help us become aware of the orphan strategies we use. After all, they have been operating under the radar for a really long time and a large portion of us seems committed to the continuing use of those strategies. Plus, sometimes we need a compassionate witness to validate our inner child and all of her experiences and emotions before we can effectively access our Nurturing Adult and do it for ourselves. Once we get the hang of it, however, we can do it by ourselves much of the time. Remember, this one of you is trying to help you in the only way it knows how. Our best response is, “Oh, Sweetheart, I see you and thank you for trying to get our needs met in this way....but here is a better way that we could do that...”
The work of looking in our repository of unlived things seems like a daunting, never ending task, and sometimes it is. However, it is also the most rewarding thing you will do for yourself. You have a host of inner characters that have been locked away, banished. Why not try making an elaborate feast, setting a beautiful table, metaphorically, and inviting them to dine. You've tried the banishing idea, why not try the inviting, the welcoming.
What have you got to lose?
Welcome, Little One. You are welcome at my table. Tell me what troubles you....