Preoccupied with attachment.

“Know this: it is okay to share how you feel, it is okay to be vulnerable and it is okay to take up space. There is healing in connecting.”
Alyssa Mancao

The way I find inspiration for each blog post has so far been a curation of relevant content; mostly Instagram posts and WordPress blogs. Subconsciously I feel a pull towards a particular topic and consciously I start looking for information and evidence that will back up my discovery.

This time around it has been an exploration of attachment styles and how they are formed very early on in our childhoods. It’s clear that there’s not much we can do about that. Especially when we may have been exposed to behaviours which shaped our level of dependency, before we were even self-aware. The beauty of re-parenting however, is that we can recognise what our attachment style is and how it is formed. Thus we can begin the journey of healing and hopefully form a secure attachment with others. Re-parenting will validate our inner child in ways that they weren’t seen or heard originally.

A blog I follow recently shared a post about the four attachment styles, focusing particularly on the disorganised attachment style (or what they referred to as fearful/avoidant). The other three are anxious/preoccupied, avoidant/dismissive and secure attachments. The writer also shared a link to a quiz from The Attachment Project, so if you’re not sure what attachment style you have, check that link out.

I was surprised to learn that my attachment style was an anxious/preoccupied one. I’m well aware that I suffer anxiety, at an obsessive compulsive level. Intrusive thoughts are at a constant battle with my rationality on a daily basis. Because of this, I am high functioning in social settings. I also experience long periods of time feeling burnt out and afraid to leave the house or even talk to anyone. Still, I assumed I had a fearful/avoidant attachment style. I feel safer staying at home and the thought of talking to others in any form (public, social media, phone calls etc.) is a paralysing fear for me.

Anxious/preoccupied people are usually afraid of being abandoned or hurt by the people they love; be it a romantic, familial or platonic relationship. They are either clingy or a chaotic mixture of needy and distant. Perhaps I’ve mistaken my tendency to keep a distance as a fearful/avoidant attachment style. My natural inclination to cling to someone as an outside form of validation (if they love me, then I am lovable) conflicts with my instilled fear that any clingy behaviour will push them away. Therefore, I keep a lot of people at a distance, emotionally and physically. Simply put, they are allowed to confide in me because they will most likely love me for that. In return, I cannot open up to them because there is a danger that they will retract that love.

This is in fact, an indication that anxious/preoccupied people are adept at putting other’s needs before their own. Hence the ‘preoccupation’ with attachment and the need to maintain it within relationships. More often that not, these types of people have subconsciously sidelined their needs at the expense of others or sadly, may never have learned how to practise self-care.

“Try not to confuse attachment with love. Attachment is about fear and dependency and has more to do with love of self than love of another. Love without attachment is the purest love because it isn’t about what others can give you because you’re empty. It is about what you can give others because you’re already full.”

Yasmin Mogahed

Life would be a lot easier for so many of us if we had been loved unconditionally as children. When the parent/s put conditions on their love it’s because they view their child’s ‘misbehaviour’ as something to discipline rather than a chance to identify what needs aren’t being met. As this post by Transforming Toddlerhood states, “[a child’s] behaviour isn’t inherently good or bad. That’s a judgement we place on behaviour. In reality all behaviour is communication.” Refusing to connect with a child who is momentarily dysregulated (having a melt-down or ‘acting out’) teaches them that expressing, what we generally believe to be negative emotions; i.e. anger, sadness, fear, is shameful or not allowed. Alternatively, for a child who does not feel seen or heard by their parent/s, throwing a tantrum might be the only time they receive attention.

Often we forget that a child’s brain is still underdeveloped. Therefore, the ways in which they communicate with us may be limited to what they’re capable of, at a neurological level. I truly believe most of the relational ruptures that occur between parent and child are borne from unrealistic expectations placed on the latter.

Something that was said to me a lot as a child was in regards to my tendency to be ‘argumentative.’ In fact, I was decidedly opinionated as a child and it had a lot to do with being celebrated as exceptionally bright as a young child. Over time, that same talent for knowledge and maturity beyond my years worked against me. I suddenly knew ‘too much’ and that threatened my parent’s authority. A particular comment I often heard in retaliation has stuck with me and still haunts me to this day.

“You’re such a difficult, argumentative child, one day you will end up all alone because no one will want to be with you.”

I cannot begin to describe the impact this one sentence has had on me. Somehow one of the many traits I possessed, be it learned or an intrinsic part of my nature, defined my worth to others. I was bad because I was argumentative.

Again, I am not playing a blame game. Rather than focus on the intent, I want to explore the impact. I fear I lived a great deal of my teenage years and young adult life living out this statement as a self-fulfilling prophecy. I grew into the label of ‘argumentative’ quite well. I used it as my weapon whenever, out of my fear of being alone, I ended up trapped with toxic people. It became a vicious cycle of never wanting to be alone but fretfully seeking out a person to re-enact a trauma bond with. I had convinced myself that no one decent or well-adjusted would ever want to be with me. I was a terrible person. I would push all that is good away. So I pushed it away before that could happen.

Indeed, the enlightenment that comes from inner child work can often be bittersweet. The ‘a-ha!’ moments are usually followed with the knowledge that what happened cannot be undone. Re-parenting is more of a healing process than a reversal. The child self has already walked through the suffering but she lingers within, not having had the chance to grow out of survival mode. When faced with an event that triggers past trauma, she reacts instantly. I need her to know it’s okay now and that I can take it from here instead. She doesn’t need to fight any more. Most importantly, her worth is not damaged by mistakes made. Her mistakes do not define her. She is argumentative at times but she is also many other things.

The more I make conscious decisions to think before I act, to choose assertiveness over aggression, the more my brain forges neuropathways. To me, it’s not much different to drawing a tattoo over a scar. The trauma is still there but I’m healing and look, I’ve also found a way to create something worthwhile from it. Already, I’ve learnt so much about myself by doing the work. Thanks again for joining me.

Sarah x

Let’s talk about food.

CW: Eating disorders, child abuse.

“Listen to your younger self about how their relationship with food was formed. There is often a story there that needs to be told.”
Colie Taico

I was scrolling through my Instagram news feed last night and came across this post by Colie Taico. For me, the concept of eating has always been a difficult thing to navigate. From an early age I’d developed an eating disorder that I will elaborate on later in this post. Only recently have I made the correlation between my experiences with food in childhood (as well as my teenage years, which I will briefly gloss over) and how I approach meal times now as an adult.

Before I go any further, I want to write a disclaimer here in regards to my parents. I don’t blame them for how they chose to parent. The parenting tools they had on hand were formed on the basis of their own childhoods and trauma. They did their best and where they could have done better, I’ve forgiven them for that. This is not to say that everyone should do the same, in fact I don’t encourage anyone to forgive those who have hurt them if they aren’t ready to or if they simply do not want to.

Years ago, I held on to a lot of anger and at times, even hatred, that I often directed towards my parents. Over time however, once I embarked on this re-parenting journey and became a parent myself, that anger dissipated and was replaced with empathy and understanding. Most importantly, I realised I was viewing my parents as only ‘mum and dad.’ But they were and are, so much more than those identifiers. They are people with their own wounded inner child.

Of course there are times where I feel frustration towards them, as anyone does to those close to us. I see this as a reflection of my current mood or whatever I’m going through at the present time. I can’t control their actions but I can control how I choose to react. Like healing, I don’t believe forgiveness is a linear process either. You may have made the conscious decision to forgive but there will still be times when that inner voice asks, “why me? Why did you do that to me?” That’s a perfectly valid thought to have.

“The cry we hear from deep in our hearts comes from the wounded child within. Healing this inner child’s pain is the key to transforming anger, sadness, and fear.”

Thich Nhat Hahn

Once in a blue moon, my family pull out the family videos. It’s always fun to get nostalgic and take a trip down memory lane. The last time this happened, something I watched struck a chord with me.

Around the time that I was visiting my family, I had recently self-diagnosed myself with ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder). Again, I will go into more detail with this later. A particular part of the family video allowed me to I recognise the reason why my eating disorder had been written off as pickiness or defiance. My parent’s response to meal times had certainly exacerbated my negative relationship to food. On the screen, my child self was somewhere between 2 and 4 years of age. She had been eating sausage rolls with tomato sauce as a snack. But now, she no longer wanted to eat them. Maybe she was full. Maybe she didn’t feel like eating any more, for no particular reason. Maybe the texture was making her feel yuck. Maybe it was cold – I’ve never liked eating hot food turned cold. Who knows? But she was crying and screaming hysterically while my parents were filming; mocking her, laughing at her. They still were when watching this. I laughed too but the laughter was hollow, in shock. Holy shit, I thought to myself, this was not okay.

Those few minutes of my child self captured on VCR cried out to me, because this wasn’t a once off experience. This was my entire childhood. I started to recall times family dinners turned into arguments over how much my child self had wanted to eat, how she wanted to eat or something completely unrelated, like a general disagreement. It more often than not resulted in physical abuse. She’d end up nauseous after experiencing abuse on a full stomach. Other times, she would throw up her food. And lastly, she may not have had the chance to eat at all, having lost her appetite. As a result, she formed an aversion to certain foods and even eating in general, because it had become a trigger. This is something that still affects me to this day.

Finally, elaborating on the subject of my eating disorder. When I was around 14, I was clinically diagnosed with an eating disorder of an unnamed variety. After years of wondering what exactly this disorder was I was relieved to have found the answer in ARFID. My symptoms had always fluctuated but were usually a combination of a loss of appetite, loss of taste, viewing eating as a chore and sensory issues with certain foods based on the texture, temperature and/or taste. I believe this was exacerbated by the fact I had also developed IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), in which I would avoid eating to escape the potential of feeling sick or physically reacting badly to food.

As a teenager, the impact of ARFID and multiple traumatic events resulted in feeling a loss of control over my feelings and my life. Therefore, I became obsessed with weight loss even though I knew I was underweight and saw myself as underweight. I restricted and avoided certain food not just because it nauseated me but because it made me feel like I could control something, in this case, my weight. This is how I was certain I wasn’t dealing with Anorexia Nervosa but an entirely different issue altogether.

For fear of rambling too much, I will add briefly that I went on to experience life in a low socio-economic environment, or poverty, if you will. Prolonged exposure to abuse in my family home forced me to move out of home at 17 and I lived with my boyfriend at the time in very appalling conditions. To add further complications to my eating disorder and poor relationship with food in general, I became malnourished from starvation and a diet lacking in nutrition. Over time, I adopted the survivalist approach that eating less would ‘shrink my stomach’ and save me spending what little money I had on food. This was an attitude I continued well into adulthood.

To conclude this backstory, it’s evident that in over two decades I have developed a rather problematic approach to food and eating habits through no fault of my own. So what now?

On a physical level, there’s not a great deal I can do to repair the damage done to my body because of ARFID and trauma. I take medication that helps in various ways to quell IBS symptoms, increase my appetite and fill in any gaps nutrition-wise. I should probably start taking probiotics again too if I’m being completely honest.

On an emotional level, I have found ways to cope with eating. For the sake of my inner child, I always have a distraction like something to read or watch while I eat. I try to eat food that I actually enjoy, like spicy food or sweet food. And I eat my food quickly, when it’s fresh and at the right temperature. I also don’t feel guilt if I can’t finish a meal or deem it not fresh or tasty enough to eat. It doesn’t serve my inner child to punish myself the way I was punished during meal times in the past. I want her to know that I’m sorry no one listened to her when she said no. I’m sorry that no one tried to look deeper than what was deemed defiance or pickiness. I’m sorry that meal times were a source of fear and stress when they were supposed to be fun and nourishing and a time to connect with loved ones.

I’m doing all that I can to be mindful of what triggers her food-wise and what makes her feel safe when eating. I have a mental list of green light food (always safe), amber light food (sometimes safe) and red light food (never safe). I find myself slowly regaining control over my attitude to food by cooking meals the way I like them to taste. Simple meals with lot’s of flavour. I’m actually enjoying the process of cooking food these days. Perhaps I’m preparing meals for my child self to enjoy eating on her terms. For the sake of re-parenting, when she’s wants to stop eating for whatever reason, I honour her decision.

On that note, I believe she’s waiting on a cup of tea now. Until then.

Sarah x

A brief introduction.

“The beginning is the most important part of the work.”

Without context at hand, Plato may have meant this literally. For the sake of this blog however, I’m interpreting it in a way that speaks to me. The work is re-parenting my inner child. The beginning is my early childhood which I feel compelled to re-visit.

Sharing my story isn’t an easy task. Perhaps some part of my trauma has taught me that it’s not okay to talk about. Is it safe? Is it allowed? Is it normal? Is it necessary? These are the questions that run circles in my head whenever I hesitate to disclose something of my self. Thus, it feels incredibly vulnerable to share a part of me here.

I recently read a blog post about happy childhoods and trauma as food for thought. Whilst I can’t say my childhood was an overly joyful one, I can’t say it was entirely miserable either. Yet the things I once thought normal, I now realise weren’t in fact normal at all. I witnessed abuse, I experienced abuse, I re-enacted abuse. Without going into too much detail, as I don’t feel ready to do that on a public blog, I can say that happy childhoods aren’t an absolute absence of trauma. So if you feel like your childhood was for the most part, a happy one, yet you did not come out of it unscathed, I see you.

I always had a vivid imagination as a child. I would disappear deep inside my mind for hours, creating fantasy worlds, alternate universes or interesting scenarios that I would play out again and again. Like a director working with method actors. The story line remaining the same for a day or two. Just a different approach for each cut. At times I would act out my daydreams as I went about my daily tasks. I would pretend I was somewhere different. School was not school. Home was not home. My family were not my family. I was not me.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realised I was actually constantly in a state of dissociation. For me, it was a coping mechanism that my brain had developed. A result of constant exposure to traumatic events for as early as my brain can remember. Something that has continued well into adulthood.

So how do I process this realisation? I have lived most of my life dissociating to survive any attack on my nervous system (see The Polyvagal Theory). So much so, that when I’m unable to tap into that dissociative state, I shut down. I become overwhelmed. I rage. I stim as an attempt to self-regulate. I actually do not have as Catherine Counihan would put it, a wide window of tolerance. Other than to either check out of reality or become incredibly dysregulated whenever my cortisol levels are heightened.

“We have to listen to the child we once were, the child who still exists inside us. That child understands magic moments. We can stifle its cries, but we cannot silence its voice. The child we once were is still there.”

Paulo Coelho

Healing my childhood trauma starts by acknowledging that I am still the child I once was. Physically, I may have changed but mentally, I am the same. The things I experienced growing up and never learned to cope with stunted my growth emotionally. I’m still the angry, misunderstood child. I’m still the hurt, unworthy child. I want to once more, meet myself in the midst of my childhood. I want to tell this child that she did nothing wrong. It wasn’t her fault. She only knew what she was shown. She did what she thought was normal. And I’m sorry that this happened to her. Already I feel the impact of me, the parent, reassuring me, the child.

Too often I feel that the inner critic is not my voice but an amalgamation of those I heard constantly in my childhood. I feel that it’s due time I gave an eviction notice to this voice. Too long it has enjoyed free rent in my mind. Many years ago, a psychologist once told me that accepting my family as not being the family I needed would be a freeing revelation. Now I see that not only can I accept this but I can also be the parent I needed. Incidentally, the loss of control felt in my childhood, is somehow handed back to me with this notion.

Well, I think it’s time for a breather and a cup of tea. I’ll be back another time to explore this topic in-depth. Thanks for following along.

Sarah x

Better late than never.

I created this blog a few days ago and then I never posted anything. I feel like that might be 98% of what WordPress blogs are though. Empty blogs that echo the failure of good intentions.

Well good intentions come and go. Just because you make a start and then fall off the face of the Earth doesn’t mean you can’t pull yourself back into orbit again. There’s no time limit on growth. I think that’s the most important thing to remember. Growth ebbs and flows. A flower doesn’t bloom all day, nor does it stay in bloom for every season. Maybe we should all treat ourselves like flowers. Beautiful yet delicate. Unable to thrive without the support of others or in the case of flowers, bees. At times, struggling to withstand the impact of a rainstorm, but in need of the rain to bloom once more. Some of us have grown thorns to protect ourselves from prying hands. Others attract the company of people with the sweet scent of confidence. I like to think of myself as a weed, some do after all, grow a few of the nicest flowers around. It’s the resiliency I appreciate. The ability to grow out through the cracks of concrete and say “I’m still here, you cannot keep me down.”

But enough of my philosophies about the parallels between flowers and people. I should explain why I’m here and what the objective of this blog is!

If you haven’t heard of inner child work or re-parenting the self, I implore you to look into it. In fact, I will share some information here with links to helpful resources to get you up-to-date. Be sure to check out Dr. Nicole LePera’s post about re-parenting. Follow along with Inner Child Coach on Instagram for short, succinct posts about inner child healing. And lastly, Catherine Counihan’s post about Cultivating Joy and Play is also a helpful perspective if you’re not sure you want to start with the heavy stuff. Even if you’re not a parent of children. You’re the parent of your inner child.

It’s probably clear now that my blog is going to be about re-parenting my inner child. Essentially, it’s a documentation of my journey to heal the wounded inner child within me. The one that carries the mental, emotional and physical burden of my traumatic childhood. It’s most likely going to be a lot of sporadic updates and may potentially be quite messy at times. So bear with me. As they say, healing isn’t linear. As much as the bad days don’t define us, they most certainly can force us to retreat back into our comfort zones. Those are the times for self-care. Like you would rehabilitate an injured limb, rehabilitating the mind is a similar process. Equal amounts of work and rest. Well I’m assuming this to be true, I’m not an expert in physiotherapy!

Nor am I an expert in mental health. I hope to be one day. But for now, I am an expert in my own mental health. So I can only share my experiences. If my insights speak to you then I hope you find them healing or at the very least, inspiring. But my thoughts and knowledge on certain matters aren’t for everyone. You’re welcome to navigate away. Most importantly, if you feel affected by anything you read here please reach out to helplines specific to the state or country you live in. Alternatively, you may contact me through this blog and I can direct you to some resources.

With that said, I’m going to leave my story for another day. I’ll make myself a cup of tea and revel in the fact I actually found the courage to write my first blog post. I hope it’s one of many. If not, that’s okay too.

Sarah x