The Fearful Self

Little shoe

(Photo credit: asteriosm)

A Part of you was left behind very early in your life: the part that never felt completely received. It is full of fears. Meanwhile, you grow up with many survival skills. But you want your self to be one. So you have to bring home the part of you that was left behind. That is not easy, because you have become quite a formidable person, and your fearful part does not yet know if it can safely dwell with you. Your grown-up self has to become very childlike – hospitable, gentle, and caring – so your anxious self can return home and feel safe. […] Be patient. When you feel lonely, stay with your loneliness. Avoid the temptation to let your fearful self run off. Let it teach you its wisdom; let it tell you that you can live instead of just surviving.

Henri Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love

A couple of weeks ago I felt completely overwhelmed by life. There was a trigger, but it was a relatively small one. I was at my desk when I received an email criticising something I had – accidently – done that had offended someone. I had a reaction so completely different to the usual that it took my breath away. Normally I would fight – inwardly if not outwardly – but my gut reaction was intense shame, followed by a physical desire to get under my desk and hide. It was so strong that I “told myself off” – a grown woman does not, after all, go under her desk. I am bigger than that, stronger. And I know God.

Later the same day something much bigger happened, something that needed my attention right away. It was scary but I was grown-up and I dealt with it the best I could.

And then I went home, washed the dishes, fed the dog and then calmly went upstairs. I shut the door. I allowed myself to sit under the desk. There was some crying, and then silence.

Sometime after the crying stopped, I let the fearful voice speak to me. I let her in.  I let her speak, I asked her gentle questions – why don’t you feel safe?

She answered. I cared for her. I tried to be like a mother – soothing, gentle, calm. Loving.

She is a child and she doesn’t know all the answers. But she has a voice and I am happy to speak with her, to find this part of me and “bring her home.” She’s not always there but sometimes she is – I picture her skipping alongside me. She notices things as we go, things that I would never notice. She likes stopping to stroke the horses on the path through the fields. She is good at writing stories and she sometimes asks to go look in shops – just looking.

I am aware that this probably sounds all kinds of crazy. I thought it was, until I read that passage from Nouwen above. If he is right, she is the part of me, left behind, that can teach me how to love instead of surviving.

I would dearly like that.

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