Empathizing 2.0: Soothing our Younger Parts when Overwhelmed

Part Two in Three-Part Series

Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

Part Two by guest blogger Dorset Campbell-Ross CNVC Certified Trainer, Australia 

Note from Dian: In part two of this series on connecting with younger parts, Dorset Campbell-Ross offers practical tools to soothe these parts and give them an opportunity to be heard.  I invited Dorset to write on this topic after we exchanged some ideas on the CNVC Certified Trainers list and discovered that we each had developed, on opposite sides of the earth, similar and yet distinct practices. 

If you missed Part One, you can see it here.

What is going on when you find yourself in a conflict, and your partner suddenly turns into a monster? When all the normal love and caring in your relationship suddenly disappears, and is replaced by horrible behavior — belittling, condescending, arrogant, contemptuous, and dismissive?

At this moment we are both triggered. We feel pain, but the other person did not cause it, they simply reminded us of what was there already. We both want help, but we are thrashing around like wounded lions, and no one can come near us to give the comfort we are longing for. One of us is attacking and the other is withdrawing.

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Something somebody said or did reminded us of an unhealed wound from our past. It could be the tone, body language, or actual words. We are reminded of a time when we did not have the power to avoid being wounded, and that wound is still raw. 

When we feel all those painful childhood feelings, we can feel overwhelmed, afraid, and/or angry. We are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and what our scared, jangled nervous system needs most at this time is soothing and regulating. 

In an intimate relationship, we recreate our family of origin dynamics as soon as we feel love, care, and a sense of safety  and trust, and commit wholeheartedly to each other. We recreate the familiar (from “family”) feelings from our childhood, both the good and the bad, and that signals our inner child that now is a good time to address those suppressed and repressed feelings that have been locked away for so long. If as a child we were hurt by our caregivers, we can unconsciously project our trauma onto our partner, making them out to be the monster who hurt us as a child. This is called transference. 

Photo by Xavier Mouton Photographie on Unsplash

How best to soothe and regulate ourselves when we’re in overwhelm?

First, we need to remove ourselves from the trigger to connect with ourselves. Taking some time out is sometimes called taking space. Meditating on, and empathically connecting with our feelings and needs (what is alive in us), creates soothing and regulation for the nervous system, a feeling of relaxation and relief in the body. 

People also find a lot of relief using EMDR, EFT, and Wim Hof’s breathing and cold integration techniques.

How do we discover the source of triggers that cause us to react unconsciously with anger or fear and disconnection? 

If we become aware there is this unhealed wound from our childhood that is crying out for attention, we can dialogue with our inner child to find out what is needed. 

One way to do this is to write your questions (from an adult you) with your right hand and then allow your inner child to answer them with your left hand. 

You can start out by asking “Who are you?” to find out what the child likes to be called. Then ask, “How old are you?,” and then “How are you feeling?” Eventually we can gently discover the original painful event that was triggered by your partner’s response, and that caused you to react in a way that was out of proportion to the stimulus, and created separation rather than connection. 

Doing this work revealed old resentments towards my mother that I have been carrying inside me for over fifty years! 

I was angry for her constant criticism of me, which was her way of trying to make me a better person, but it backfired. I learned that I was simply “not good enough.” This negative thought has been the bane of my life, leading me to become a perfectionist who was never satisfied, so never really happy because he can’t accept anything as being good enough — including the people he is with. So I became the critical parent that has been nagging me all my life. I blamed my mum for instilling this critical parent’s voice in my head, and that blame and criticism slid over on to every woman I met who triggered these childhood feelings of inadequacy. I unconsciously repeated my mother’s strategy — I criticized and complained — until they felt beaten down and crushed, just like I did when I received this from my mother.

I was also angry with her for sending me away to boarding school at nine years old (which I interpreted as betrayal, abandonment, and rejection, and which led to ongoing mistrust and occasional anger towards women throughout my whole life). I had no idea how angry I was until I did the written dialoguing exercise described above. 

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

When I hear a message that I interpret as ‘You’re not good enough,’ or “I’m leaving you and I don’t care how you feel or what you need,” I am easily triggered into attack or defense, and the emotion I express is out of proportion to the stimulus. It is an over-the-top expression because of all the old unresolved and unexpressed pain that has been stimulated.

Note: In the next blog, Part Three in this series on empathizing with younger parts, Dorset will explore the Love- Fear Spectrum of Feelings.


Thank you Dorset for contributing these guest blogs! To learn more about Dorset and his work, visit https://nvcworks.com/

One thought on “Empathizing 2.0: Soothing our Younger Parts when Overwhelmed

  1. Pingback: Empathizing 2.0: The Love-Fear Spectrum of Feelings | Work Collaboratively

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