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  • Writer's pictureAnnelisa MacBean


As a child I was in the position of being the emotional caretaker of the adults around me. This was taking place during those early developmental years when I needed more than anything to have my own inner experience mirrored back. Sadly, my experience was not unique, and for many of us who grew up in these conditions, an inner template was formed which controls the way we see ourselves and engage in close, intimate relationship. In my relationships with my parents my sense of self became all tangled up in their moods, anxiety, unhappiness, and well-being. My job, the focus of my existence, shifted from unstructured play and discovery to attending to the unlived lives of Mom and Dad, a task that is not intended for young nervous systems or tender little hearts. When I pay attention now, I see how the template I formed long ago continues to play out in my adult life. In my resistance to having/expressing needs, in my fixations on whether I’ve disappointed someone and what that means about me as a person; in the tension between the disbelief that I could truly be loved and the longing to be loved and seen and known; In the confusion about boundaries . . . which experiences are mine and which are another’s; In the insidious assumption that caring for another requires a deeply rooted disavowal of my own psyche, body, and heart. I did come to see myself and my worth through the fluctuating emotional reactions and reflections of those earliest relationships, vigilant at all times: Have I disappointed someone? What can I do to make them feel better? Should I take more responsibility for the unfulfilled longing in their hearts? They are heartbroken, surely that is somehow traceable back to me, right? I’ve failed somehow, right? There must be something wrong with me. As a little one longing for empathic connection, I was willing to do just about anything to avoid rejection or shame, and possibly receive even a limited amount of holding. Indentifying the grasp of this early patterning on my current perceptions and behavior is helping to heal chronic feelings of shame and unworthiness. I can differentiate my worth as a person from the moods, suffering, struggle, and unlived lives of others, withdraw the projection of my own worth from others and locate it inside myself. I am learning that this is a great act of kindness toward myself, toward my friends and spouse, toward my clients and toward the world. This process of clarification and differentiation is a path, first, to seeing what and who I truly am, and ultimately to loving my existence as it is. From there I can accept others as they are, and experience true compassion.

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