In much of my life, I've struggled with conflicting thoughts...
“I know I should be healthy and lose weight, but DANG I want that pizza.”
“This person is really bad for me, and I should not be in a relationship with them BUT I cannot stay away.”
I know what's good for me... I can see it clearly. So how is it possible to have conflict inside your my mind, and end up making self-destructive decisions?
It took me some careful observation, and deep reflection, before I something became very clear to me...
From a practical standpoint, the human mind has TWO important aspects-
- The Parent ( or rational mind ) - which is rational and proactive, good at calculating, abstraction, and visioning, and can plan for a good future, and…
- The Child ( or emotional mind ) - which is emotional, reactive, and easily distracted, but purely expresses its fears and desires.
When we have conflicted thoughts, where one thought is helpful, and one thought is unhelpful, these are both coming from our mind. Just from two different parts.
The Parent asks the question “what’s good for me and my future?”...
... and the Child asks “what do I want?”
They often find conflicting answers.
Self destruction happens when the answer you are most frequently choosing is clearly not what’s the best for you and your future.
Most often, this means that you are letting your Child run your life, and the Parent is sitting back and… not parenting.
Imagine a grocery store, where the Child wants something, and the Parent is ignoring them. What happens? Does the Child relax and chill out? Not at all. It gets louder, and begins screaming and tearing things off the shelves, because it's not being heard. This is exactly the way emotions & neurotransmitters work... if you're not listening, they don't fade... they get stronger.
To have a happy, united mind...
Both the Parent and Child have to communicate, and work together.
- A Child [emotion] without a Parent [rationality] will self-destruct, and destroy your house.
- A Parent [rationality] without a Child [emotion] is a psychopath, and cannot experience any joy in life.
So How do I Parent My Inner Child?
The process is surprisingly similar to raising a real child. Being a good Parent to your Inner Child has a lot to do with the situation, and the context, and knowing your Child well.
But there are a few basic principles-
When Dealing with a Craving
Lets suppose your Inner Child says I WANT ICE CREAM.
You cannot say YES every time, because it's not healthy for you.
You also cannot say NO, or ignore your Child every time, because your Child will feel abused, angry, and neglected.
Instead useful parenting approaches include-
- Delay. You can say "not right now... but you can have a some for dessert after you eat your dinner."
- Moderation. You can say "OK, but just one spoonful."
- Replacement with a Healtier Option. Or you can say "How about a piece of your favourite fruit instead, with a bit of honey?"
When Dealing with an Aversion
Suppose your Inner Child is afraid of something, like STAGE FRIGHT
You cannot say "OK we'll avoid the stage", every time, because your Inner Child will never grow without challenge.
You also cannot force your child every time.. "TOO BAD, get up there you whiner." without the Child hating you.
- Listen. Reflect carefully, listen to your fears, and let the Child know you're fully aware of it's fears.
- Make it Safe. "We'll go on stage, but you've rehearsed well, and you're with 20 of your closest friends. I won't make you do this alone. Afterwards... ice cream."
- Reward the Child. "Yeah, this hard, I'm proud of you for sucking it up. Aftewards, let's get some ice cream."
This has been such a useful model to me in managing my emotions and directing my energy usefully towards what I want in life, that I'll go a lot deeper on this in future musings. It's the foundation for building self-discipline, without hating yourself.
Explore this on your own, and let me know what you discover.
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Does Time Heal All Wounds?
I used to think so, but... it seems time doesn't help as much as you'd expect with mental trauma.
Except when you die, of course, we assume.
I recently coached a man who was still missing his girlfriend from high school. They dated for only 2 months. He last saw her 34 years ago, and has not had contact with her since. 34 years... mind-blowing.
The mind reinforces what you choose to think about consciously, and it surfaces memories and imagery attached to what it wants & needs emotionally.
When you experience trauma, I see people heal much faster and more completely if they approach it the same as, say, a broken leg. Get it set right, attended too, care for it. Don't walk on it for awhile, then once it's sound, re-strengthen it and rebuild the muscles with exercise. Done right, it will be stronger than it was before it was broken.