NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, June 16, 2014

Having Compassion for the Child That You Were

In a prior article, Psychotherapy and Compassionate Self Acceptance, I discussed some of the challenges that people often face when they start therapy.  In this article, I'm focusing on having compassion for yourself for who you were as a child.

Many people come to therapy feeling ashamed of their problems, even when those problems started when they were children.   Rather than having compassion for what happened to them as children, they have a chronic sense of shame and harsh self judgment.  Often, they believe that whatever happened to them was their fault.

Having Compassion for the Child That You Were

Shame and Self Criticism Often Develops in Childhood
Young children are naturally egocentric, and these feelings of shame and self judgment often develop during childhood and continue into adulthood.

Having Compassion for the Child That You Were: Self Criticism and Shame Often Start in Childhood

As a therapist, when I ask adult clients who feel this way about themselves if they would be as judgmental about a close friend who was struggling with the same issue, they usually say they would not.  Instead of being judgmental, they often say they would feel compassion and would try to help their friend to be more self compassionate.

And yet these clients are often unable to muster the same compassion for themselves.  They're stuck in chronic shame and self criticism.

Often, when I'm working with a client who is feeling such chronic shame that originated in childhood, I help him or her to remember and feel again what it was like to be that young child.

Usually, when a client is able to experience those feelings of sadness, disappointment and anger, as he or she felt those emotions as a child, an emotional shift takes place.  Instead of being ashamed and judgmental, the client feels a certain tenderness for the child self.

The following scenario, which is a composite of many cases with all identifying information changed, illustrates how this emotional shift can take place:

Mike came to therapy because he was struggling with crippling shame and self judgment.

To hide his negative feelings about himself from others, he put up a good front.  But putting up this front often left him feeling exhausted and disingenuous.  It also felt it was getting harder to do over time.

As he described his problems, I could feel that Mike was "reporting" his history without emotion as opposed to feeling it.  He recounted one childhood trauma after another, which included physical abuse from an alcoholic father and neglect from a mother who was emotionally disengaged.

Over and over again, Mike blamed himself for not being able to overcome his problems on his own, saying, "I should be able to get over this on my own" and "I'm just too weak to be able to handle my problems."

Gradually, as we worked together in therapy, Mike realized that his negative feelings about himself originated when he was a child.  Many of the negative things he said about himself now were said to him by his father when he was a child.  Without realizing it, Mike had taken on these critical feelings about himself, which made him feel ashamed.

Before we processed the early trauma, I helped Mike to develop the emotional resources that he needed to deal with his traumatic feelings.

After he developed these resources, I helped Mike to slow down and, instead of just "reporting" what happened, to feel what it was like as a child to experience the abuse and emotional neglect.  At that point, Mike was able to say and feel how disappointed and sad he felt that his parents were unable to give him what he needed as a child.

When he was able to experience himself as a child, he was no longer dissociated from his emotions, and he developed a sense of compassion for himself.  This was the beginning of a healing process for Mike.

From there, we went on to work through the trauma in therapy so that he could let go of the shame and harsh self judgment.

Getting Help in Therapy
Developing a sense of compassion for yourself can be challenging, especially if you developed a harsh, judgmental attitude towards yourself and you feel ashamed.

Having Compassion for the Child That You Were

Rather than suffering alone, you can get help in therapy with a licensed therapist who has experience in helping clients to overcome this problem.

Developing a sense of compassion for yourself can help you to lead a happier, more fulfilling life.

About Me:
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

Also, see my article:
Healing Shame in Therapy