How did you feel as a child? I mean, when you think back to being tiny, what is the emotion that comes up most readily for you?
When I travel back to those days, I meet myself feeling lonely, craving, but not getting, the attention and emotional availability of my mother. I see myself feeling guilty – with that child’s default assumption that whatever is wrong in a family must inevitably be my fault. I feel how powerless and frustrated I was, and how silenced. What I have come to realise is that I spent my formative years feeling fucking furious.
Put me in a vulnerable place now, belly up to the world, and things happen in my body; things that may not be obvious to you. If I am interacting with someone who has more power and authority than me in that moment – like a doctor, for instance, the emotions can be powerful and beyond my conscious control.
I feel very small. Very powerless. Voiceless and vaguely ashamed. And sometimes very, very angry. My heart will be beating very hard in my chest and my palms will be sweaty. I’ll feel flighty and shaky and tense.
I can’t help it. My inner child is coming out from under the table, where she has been hiding, listening to her parents row, or where she has been lying in bed, hearing her mother cry, or coming in from school to find all hell has broken loose in the house, or sitting on the sofa, being told by adults to be quiet, in case she makes her mother ill again. That little girl, dragging her scuffed shoes back into the house from a moment of respite down the end of the garden, is angry. She is truly incandescent; railing against the injustice of being so small and powerless, rebelling against having no choice, no agency, or control. Allowed no opinion, she withdraws, boiling mad, fists held tight against her sides, or nails nibbled down to the quick.
Her anger boiled out of her in the form of chronic cold sores and ear infections that leaked green pus. It melted her insides and began a lifetime of stomach aches and back pain. It turned healthy cells into something else.
She worked on it; once that little girl grew big enough to escape – each life stepping stone taught her compassion, understanding, self knowledge and awareness. Yet everywhere the grown woman went, along came that little girl, walking alongside, carrying a large backpack of shame.
So if you are a doctor, nurse or midwife and you meet the voiceless, or the loud, the angry, the numb or the tearful ones, when you encounter terror or fury, remember, you are more than likely the trigger, not the cause. I know you are hurting too – overworked and under appreciated. I know you carry the weight of fear and the trauma of loss.
But I know we can find a place to meet. Perhaps you can reach out to that inner child and show her you are not a threat. Perhaps you can make eye contact, uncross your arms and turn to face your patient (however patient or impatient they are!). Perhaps you could soften your voice, use feeling words instead of doing words. Maybe you could ask open questions and show you have a genuine curiosity for the answer. Maybe you can make it really clear, in simple words, that the person with authority in this room is not you.
Maybe just maybe, that inner child will relax, as the world goes fuzzy around the edges and all that matters is this one moment of human connection, this gentle touch of soul to soul, this invitation for self-love and hope. Because in those moments ancestral demons are slayed, inner child meets adult and true healing is achieved.