There’s a beautiful poem by Penny Harter, When I Taught Her How to Tie Her Shoes, that begins like this:
A revelation, the student
in high school who didn’t know
how to tie her shoes.
I took her into the book-room, knowing
what I needed to teach was perhaps more
important than Shakespeare or grammar,
guided her hands through the looping,
the pulling of the ends. After several
tries, she got it, walked out the door
empowered. How many lessons are like
that — skills never mastered in childhood,
simple tasks ignored, let go for years?
I love how it reminds us that we all have places in us that are small and vulnerable, places in us that may bring up shyness or embarrassment – places where we feel we ‘should know better.’ And I love how the poem teaches us to offer these places care.
One of the most difficult parts of healing trauma is the shame and frustration that can arise when we face parts of us that are undeveloped, immature or wounded.
Trauma impacts our development; as my mentor Dr. Gordon Neufeld would say, “The brain can either protect you, or grow.”
Like the young woman in the poem, we all have areas of our being that are less developed than others – areas that may be at a three year old or thirteen year old stage of development. It may be that at one time, we didn’t get the full nourishment and safety we needed to grow. And so those young parts are here, a part of us.
As we heal, we unfreeze. Our eyes open and we see aspects of ourselves that we didn’t see before, like, “I get angry when I’m actually scared or sad.” Or “I get defensive and feel like I need to ‘plead my case’ when I speak up for myself.”
It’s easy, when we see these aspects of ourselves arise, to dislike and to judge ourselves. We can feel alarmed and ashamed.
In the wake of these feelings, we tend to get really frantic – or hyperconscientious – trying and working really hard to ‘grow up’ and change these parts of ourselves as quickly as possible.
(If you’re a parent, you may also feel alarmed when you see aspects in your children that need to grow, especially if you feel guilty or worried about how you’ve impacted them.)
This is where we could use some warm support, a place like the book-room in the poem where our vulnerability can be cared for, and perhaps seen with new eyes.
In your journey of healing with food, depression, trauma, or anxiety, it’s helpful to take the long view of yourself.
Healing asks for patience. It has its own timetable. Some things takes months. Some things take years. It may seem like nothing’s changing, after months and months or years of yearning, waiting, and hoping.
And then – voila! – the buds unfurl, and we see the ripe blossom on the tree after so many months of winter.
It helps, when facing our vulnerability, to remember that everything in us yearns to become; that the healing impulse is alive within us, just as it’s alive in all living things.
It wants us to get there, and is working on our behalf.
And this love that cares for us, that resides within, is also not looking at us to heal before we can be cared for and loved.
With this understanding, we can look at these developing parts of our being, the yet to be ripened fruits, with compassion, trust, and understanding. As another mentor of mine says, “We aren’t broken, rather, we’re developing.”
May we not look at our need for development as a character flaw or a sign of brokenness. May we know how we’re already loved.
And may we not battle against the alarm and shame that arises throughout the healing journey, all the worries we feel along the way.
All kinds of feelings rise up in our bodies and beings as we unfreeze and access parts of ourselves that may have frozen in self protection, long ago. It may be that all the original feelings we felt at one time – and that have been suppressed in the body – arise as we heal.
And so we feel the gamut of shame, rage, hurt, anger, terror, hatred, grief, jealousy, frustration, anger, disgust, fear, powerlessness, helplessness, aloneness, and more.
When these feelings arise, sometimes I find it helpful to gently remind myself, “This is part of healing, too.”
This softens and strengthens us – for alarm (or anxiety) is so dysregulating! It can feel like a part time job, managing the worry that lives in our nervous system.
And I find it helpful to remember: worry and alarm arise because we care. It’s our caring that gives rise to our worries. If we peeled back the layers of alarm, and journeyed through the layers of feelings, and looked behind and behind and behind, we’d find – underneath all our worries or alarm – that we care.
There’s a part of us that cares so deeply. When we don’t feel like we have what we need, or when we don’t feel like we have what we need to care for the beings we love, or when we don’t feel like we’ll be loved as we are, that caring comes out as alarm.
What a relief to know that the alarm points to the caring in our hearts, rather than a deficiency in our being.
I’ll close with a well known story about Mr. Rogers. When he was frightened as a little boy by the violence in the world, she would turn his heart to the help that surrounded pain and sorrow. She’d say, “Look to the helpers,” and point out all the people that were coming to help when tragedy arose.
When you feel ashamed of the wounds in your being, or when you feel worried about the parts of you that are young and still growing, look to the helpers: look to the caring that resides within your heart. And look for the outward helpers, all the caring others to companion you along the way.
Wanting more hands on help?
If you’re wanting more hands on help for food, I offer a few home study courses that you can take at any time. People have gotten so much help out of these courses, and they can be a great way to begin. As you go through these courses, you also have the option to add on additional 1 on 1 support with me.
- Emerge: Create a New Habit may be for you if you self soothe with sugar and want gentle, compassionate help to set limits with the amount of sugar you eat.
- Align: Heal your battle with your Inner Rebel may be for you if you struggle with resistance and parts of you that say ‘no’ when you try to set limits or make changes.
- And The Heart of Food is helpful if you have a lot of anxiety about your overeating and you want to start to understand the drives underneath.