Last week, we took a look at anxiety and how it is the symptom, not the problem. We identified the need to look deeper to uncover what is beneath this anxiety. Normally, the root of the problem is nothing to do with the here and now. In fact, it often goes back to our past and our childhood. This week, I read an article that really struck a chord with that. It addressed the intense emotional pain often felt by adults who have experienced childhood trauma.
In this study, they looked at that emotional pain as being unmet needs. They put it into three different categories of needs that were not met in childhood:
1) Safety and Security
We have a need to feel safe and secure. When we don’t have this need met in childhood, we are left with feelings of fear and insecurity.
2) Love and Connection
We have a need to feel connected to others and to feel loving warmth and affection. When this need is not met in childhood, we are left with these feelings of sadness and loneliness.
We have a need to be recognised and “seen” by others. When this need is not met in childhood, we are left with a feeling of worthlessness and even shame.
The article went on to talk about how, as an adult, you have these painful feelings (created by unmet needs during childhood), but often obscuring those feelings is another surface layer of emotions and feelings. So, a client may come to therapy experiencing anxiety but what they discover through the therapeutic process is a layer underneath of fear and insecurity. The unmet need, the source of the insecurity and fear, is that at some point during their early years they did not feel safe and secure. Another example would be if you have had a very critical parent, or one that was emotionally unavailable. In that case, you may have feelings of helplessness, intense loneliness, or an inability to make meaningful relationships with other people as a result of not having the need for validation being met. Therapy is a process of working back through the layers to discover the source of the pain and distress.
What I really want to say on this topic, and something that I talk to clients about a lot, is that acknowledging and grieving the fact that you had needs that were not met, can be a really tough and painful thing to work through. First of all, you come with your feelings. Be that anxiety, or feeling lonely, or feeling helpless. You have to work through those feelings to get to the bigger emotion underneath that. With the example of anxiety, the underlying emotion is fear. The next step would be working through to find the context for that fear. Why? Where? Going back through your life to locate the times when you didn’t feel safe and secure and when that need for safety and security was not met. Part of therapy is digging down, peeling through the layers, working through those feelings to put them into context. This is how we can make sense of that feeling of anxiety that you are having in the present.
However, the other crucial part of the therapeutic process is having to come to terms with the fact and face the truth that those childhood needs will never be met. A lot of clients comment that “You can’t change the past and if you can’t change it, what’s the point in looking at it?”. In a sense, they are right. You cannot go back and change the past. For example, if those needs for safety and security were not met when you were a child we cannot go back and change that. If you have not had the opportunity to really look deeply at your feelings and where they originate from you may be left with your inner mind desperately seeking that missing part, looking for that need to be met in the here and now in an attempt to remedy the past.
Sometimes people do this quite literally and as an adult will keep going back to their parents, who didn’t provide them with safety and security when they needed it as a child. They are left searching and looking for that reassurance, which may or may not be forthcoming. Some people seek it through work. They will find a job that maybe they don’t particularly enjoy or they don’t find satisfying. However, it gives them security and a sense of safety. So, they create a life where there is not much change so that they can have this sense of safety. The problem is that it doesn’t actually change or resolve the underlying fear. Your mind is attempting the impossible. It is trying to fulfil a need from childhood that actually no longer exists because you are now an adult. Your mind doesn’t see this; it only feels a pain and wants to ease it. Your inner mind believes that if this need is met now, all will be well. But of course your mind’s efforts will never be successful because the problem is not of the present.
I think that what is really hard for people is that even if in adulthood your parent turned around and was reassuring and said all of the things that you so desperately needed them to say when you were a child. Even if they said it now to you as an adult - yes it would give you some validation and comfort, but it would not take away that feeling of anxiety. It would not eradicate the fear or sadness or shame. The real nub of it, and the thing that is so hard and painful is that these needs that you had as a small, vulnerable child were not met. You have suffered as a consequence and no we cannot go back and change that. This can bring up feelings of anger, bitterness, guilt, grief and sadness.
If you haven’t looked at the past; when you don’t know where these feelings are coming from, your mind will be left to forever seek out the solution in the present and the painful emotions will remain unresolved. The answer that you are looking for can be found by uncovering and really recognising those unmet childhood needs and grieving that loss. Yes it can be painful and challenging work but the benefit, the payoff, is that you are setting yourself free. Instead of chasing after unmet needs that will never be fulfilled, you are free to pursue your dreams, your desires, your heart-felt ambitions. You are free to channel that energy into achieving your true potential.
If you have any questions, struggling with something and not sure about the best approach or how Analytical Hypnotherapy could help then email me on email@example.com or find me on Facebook @KirstyWickHypnotherapy. You can also find lots of information on the website www.kirstywick.co.uk.
Want to learn more? Check out my weekly Facebook live #thursdaytherapy every Thursday at 1pm here on the Kirsty Wick Analytical Hypnotherapy page @kirstywickhypnotherapy. Each week I chat about therapy, without the jargon, and look at different techniques, tools, share information and look at specific issues such as anxiety, relationships, self-esteem and confidence. Get in touch with any question you would like answered or an issue you are struggling with.