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Keeping Your Outer Child In Line During the Holidays

December 29, 2010 Leave a comment

I don’t know about you, but my outer child has been really acting up lately – and I think it’s the holidays. For me, the issue is, as usual, food.

All year long I remain on an eating plan designed to keep me slender and fit, but during the holidays, Outer Child rises up within me and has a plan of its own: to chow down.

On Thanksgiving, My outer child not only wanted to binge on turkey, stuffing, potatoes, and gravy – but also insisted on consuming lots of pie. Our course, Outer wasn’t straight forward about its motivation: Outer rationalized that eating all of the pies was a way of honoring all of the family members who made them – it had nothing to do with gluttony.

Not all of our outer children are con artists about food. A lot of people write in to me about their Outers going on other types of rampages. Its mission: self-sabotage.

A popular Outer Child event during this time is over-shopping. We’re in the malls anyway, inundated with well-marketed items all designed to compete for Outer’s attention. It’s a challenge to keep Outer in line. Many of us just give into this inner demon and buy far more than we can reasonably afford – to hell with the consequences.

Outer developed within our personalities during pre-adolescence (and continues to gain strength over time). Outer acts out the anger, need-deprivation, hurt, lust and impulses of our inner child. Inner child is the feeling-part of the personality – the innocent child-part. Outer is the BEHAVIOR – the acting out part of the personality. Outer is the part that shows on the outside – it contains all of the warts and bulges – the part that breaks our diet, goes into crushing debt, and is attracted to all the wrong people.

What to do to keep Outer in line?

Since Outer is so good at rationalizing and changing disguises, I advise against trying to deal with Outer directly. To tame Outer, it is necessary to work behind the scenes. This work is about helping your adult self to get stronger – and this can only happen when you learn to deal with your feelings.

When there is a strong coalition between your adult self and your inner child (between your conscious mind and your feelings), Outer loses its power.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, there is an exercise that accomplishes this coalition – the Big/Little dialogue. I have written and spoken about it at length. I have given workshops all over the country to teach people experientially how to do this exercise.

Why am I so committed? If you do the exercise 3 times per week for 3 months, your life changes. It is no longer your outer child calling the shots, but your ever-stronger, ever-wiser, and ever more self-compassionate ADULT self guiding your behavior. Your adult, fueled with self-nurturance and self-respect, steadily guides you in the direction of accomplishing your goals – in the direction of real fulfillment (not the quick fix supplied to food, shopping, sex or romance with the wrong partner. or other immediate gratifications)

In case you’re wondering, why would a relationship specialist write about food and shopping? Because these things are related to fulfillment – and fulfillment is often related to need to fill a void– and this void is often related to self neglect – and this self-neglect is often related to self-abandonment – and self-abandonment is often related to the quality of our relationships (past and present).

The Big Little exercise helps to heal these relationships – you learn to heal from the inside out – so that Outer has no room to sprout new behaviors of self-sabotage.

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What Is It About Holidays That Tug at Our Abandonment Strings?

December 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Maybe it’s the smells. A few whiffs of cinnamon, butter cooking, turkeys roasting, chocolate melting, and pine needles and we are brought right back to earlier times — times when we were nestled into our families and their traditions. The holidays are just around the corner and soon we will be inundated by those familiar tastes, smells, sounds and sights that tug at our heartstrings. This helps to enhance the spirit for the folks who are happily tucked in with their mates and families. But for those of us who are alone, the holidays can arouse a sense of longing for deep connection. This can inspire creative change or trigger a kind of seasonal depression.

There are so many people out there who face the holiday season without a special someone to share it with. We may have a family to visit, but may feel emotionally alone. Maybe we are going though a breakup, grieving the death of a loved one, having trouble finding someone to love, or involved in a relationship where we feel a loss of love. We may show up at family gatherings attempting to put the best face on it, but somewhere inside we may feel some isolation, apathy, or disconnection, all the while surrounded by reminders of earlier times when we felt connected to people we loved and belonged to.

People ask me how to cope. Drawing from an old list, I’d like to pose a challenge: Allow your holiday emotions to inspire creative change. Choose Change over Depression. Here’s how:
1) Don’t underestimate these feelings. Embrace them as part of being human and be extra gentle with yourself. Don’t try to push them away. Ignoring them just drives them underground where they drain your energy and mood from within. Instead be prepared for nostalgic feelings. Validate your vulnerability and give yourself extra care. In short, be your own physician: Tend to your own wound caringly.
2) Share your feelings whenever you can with people you trust. In some cases, this may have to be a professional counselor. Sharing helps to soothe the primal abandonment feelings that underlie the depression and also helps you feel less alone.
3) Create new hope in your life. Take initiatives designed to reap some benefits later on. At the very least buy a lottery ticket, but also initiate new undertakings that will help you reach your goals, such as joining a dating service, sending out an application to get a degree, signing up for an exercise program, or rewriting your resume so that later you can take advantage of new job opportunities. You have to really get creative here. And you have to follow through.
4) Create events that you can look forward to in the future such as planning a trip to visit a friend.
5) Reach out to people. Create a connection with new people and reconnect with people you’ve lost touch with. Spend time with someone you love who makes you smile. Talk to people who have been through abandonment and have come out the other side – positively. These connections often times involve taking positive risks. Now is the time to take them!
6) Approach people with the spirit of giving – not with gifts (necessarily) but with your interest and caring for them. Being generous means being in the moment with them, being fully present. Demonstrate an earnest desire to listen to them. Be in empathy with their lives. Make them feel their special importance in your life.
7) Do some community outreach to help others. Now that you’re feeling lonely, you can appreciate how difficult it is for folks who are isolated within hospitals, prisons, shelters, nursing homes, or on the streets. Help them feel a little less lonely by letting them know someone cares. Come bearing gifts or just your company. Lend a helping hand.
8) Nurture yourself. Put a lot of thought in what little things might feel pampering and luxurious to you. Probe yourself by asking, “What do I want?” Watch inspiring movies – go to net flicks or spiritual cinema.com. Visit a new place (that you have not been to before), one that has special holiday spirit or a transporting ambience. Give yourself as many indulgences as you can afford, and remember, self-indulgence is not the same as self-nurturance. We don’t want a credit card debt to have to repay later.
9) Don’t depend solely upon being invited to other people’s parties, plan your own gatherings. Be ready to laugh and enjoy. This is another positive risk that is worth taking!
10) This one is the most important: Recognize the temporary nature of all things. As for your loneliness, remind yourself, “This is only a feeling and this too shall pass.”

Intimacy, He Keeps Holding Back

December 7, 2010 2 comments

One of my clients is in a relationship with a guy who is attentive, sensual, and seemingly committed (exclusive with her), but she wants to move forward into a total relationship with him – i.e. live together and eventually, possibly marry.

He, however, wants to keep it like it is. At present they go back and forth between their two apartments, getting together mostly on weekends. During the week, he claims to need “down time” with his hobbies and friends.

The struggle between the two of them sometimes causes mini-breakups, but the connection is strong enough that all he has to do is send flowers and give into some of her needs for a few weeks and they’re back in their not-so-total relationship. The relationship reverts to “his terms” because she is the one who wants to get closer.

There are so many people out there going through this same struggle! Maybe you know someone? Maybe even you?

Women tend to struggle with issues around merging. They tend to want to clamp on, and risk losing their boundaries when they get into a relationship. Their task is to establish separation and avoid losing SELF in the expectations and needs of the other person.

Men also have issues around merging, but they tend to have boundaries, sometimes boundaries so strict as to prevent them from establishing intimacy. Their task is to loosen the boundaries so that they can merge enough to get close and share lives.

These romantic wars keep some couples in dynamic equilibrium. The couple stays connected but remains in parallel lives rather than intersecting into marriage living together.

Can you connect to these generalizations? What if we reversed the genders? I tend to say “tend to” when I speak of so called gender differences between men and women because gender stereotyping can so often be off base, since so many of us are exceptions to the rule.