By Nancy J. Napier
Building Self-Esteem Through Imaging and Self Hypnosis
This book offers self-hypnosis exercises that allow you to heal past wounds and empower your future. Most importantly, they offer a way to make a difference in the quality of life you live right now, and allow you to cope more effectively in your present life.
Guided Audio Meditations:
(Previously Recreating Your Self: Help for Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families)
Table of Contents:
Excerpt: Chapter 1: Can the Self be Recreated?
Chapter 2 :Early Learnings: Laying the Foundation
Chapter 3: Self-Hypnosis: A Technology for Change
Chapter 4: The Self: Parts or Wholes?
Chapter 5: The Future Self
Chapter 6: The Child Within: Reclaiming the Self
Chapter 7: Bonding with the Infant
and Healing the Shamed Child
Chapter 8: The Power of Family Myths
Chapter 9: Giving Back Hand-Me-Downs
Chapter 10: Manifesting a New You
I have a love affair going on with the unconscious. I admit it. I also have an underlying faith in the unconscious as a creative resource, a friend who is always looking out for me, even if at times it uses old or outmoded strategies to keep me safe.
The approach encompassed in this book has emerged and evolved from my own process, both as a client and as a psychotherapist. As a client, I have made a long journey from experiencing life as a wounded, unevolved “child in an adultâs body” to being a healthier, more empowered person in my own right. As a clinician, I have made an equally long journey of discovery, theoretically and practically, to find ways to help others heal their own wounded selves.
Most influential in my journey as a psychotherapist have been my training and work with Ericksonian hypnosis and an interest in the concepts encompassed by the maturing field of self psychology. As an individual, what has been most important in my development is a long-held fascination with, and exploration of, human consciousness, particularly the realms of intuition and nonrational ways of knowing. I see the most promising and intriguing “new frontier” as the inner space of human consciousness rather than the outer reaches of the astronomical universe.
In this book, I will share with you some of the exciting, inspiring things I have encountered as I have explored the tremendous potential of the unconscious ö a potential that resides in all of us. It encompasses an inherent talent to express ourselves in creative and surprising ways. I will also share with you some of my own healing journey and that taken by my clients, workshop participants, and members of my self-hypnosis groups.
Examples drawn from my own life will be presented as they actually were experienced. The client stories I share here, though, are composites: none is exactly as it happened in sessions. In fact, any resemblance to actual people is purely coincidental. The cases presented represent common issues and descriptions derived from many hours of hypnotic work with individuals and groups, rather than specific instances from specific client work. And yet, it is only through the rich variety of experiences of real people dealing with real issues ö and through their generosity ö that any of this is possible.
Underlying the ideas and cases shared in this book is an assumption that the unconscious has the capacity to draw on a deep well of inner resources. These resources operate to promote a healing, integrative journey of reclaiming the wounded child within from the past and recreating the self in the present. Taking this journey evokes the potential for an internal, ongoing experience of “selfhood,” which is both empowering and satisfying. Every one of us has a right to achieve this, and yet, we often find ourselves thrown off track by wounds that were inflicted early in life.
The process of reclaiming the child within and recreating the self is undertaken with the firm belief that we humans are surprisingly resilient: the seeds of our potential to be whole, creative, and comfortable are ever-present. What these seeds need is a supportive internal environment in which they can generate.
The promise of change can be found, also, in a challenge that awaits us everyday, if we choose to meet it. Life experiences constantly invite us to let in new information and create new concepts about ourselves and the world, and to try out new responses and risk new behaviors. We are also given an opportunity to let go of once cherished beliefs, after they have served their purpose.
As this book has evolved, the same challenge has emerged for me. As a clinician, I have moved through phases of theoretical understanding, beginning with training in psychoanalytic approaches and evolving through cognitive and systems therapies. Included has been a long-standing interest in transpersonal psychology. As I look back over the last 15 years, I can see how some of my dearly held convictions have changed as new information has become available. At times, it was hard to shift my perspective on how people heal and what to emphasize in the therapy process. At other times, letting go was easy, as new information was more compelling and immediately useful.
And so, the ideas presented in this book have continued to evolve for me, even as I wrote them. In psychology, as in other disciplines, new challenges constantly arise and new solutions inevitably emerge. It is for this reason that some of what is offered here will look different to you, and to me, after the passage of time and experience. Thatâs fine. Itâs the way things are, the way the mind inevitably moves on to new understandings when life presents new experience. It is my hope that, as you read what is contained here, you will also allow your ideas to develop along lines you may not have expected. Itâs all part of the ongoing process of recreating yourself in better and more meaningful ways.
Chapter 1: Can the Self be Recreated?
Someone once said that it is amazing we survive growing up in families. Although this may seem like a strange statement on the face of it, if you think about the current revelations about child abuse, there does appear to be reason for concern about how we make it from here to there ö from childhood to adulthood ö in a reasonably healthy and functional way. Often, as I am walking to and from my office, I look at the many windows in the tall apartment buildings along the way and I wonder. I wonder what is happening inside those apartments, behind those outer walls. I wonder who is being terrorized. I wonder who is being berated verbally. I also wonder who is having a wonderful birthday party or getting ready for a delicious trip somewhere special. It is impossible to say what is really going on behind those walls. As I listen to clients in my office, I hear life stories that seem so very benign on the outside but, behind the walls of another time and another place, they are stories of terror and abuse.
In my work as a clinician, I have had the privilege and the heart-wrenching honor to share with many people the stories of their struggles in the journey from childhood to adulthood. I have also had the opportunity to participate in the discovery of healthy, creative, expressive selves, waiting deep inside for the proper environment of safety and respect to begin to emerge.
Much of this book will, by necessity, focus on healing the wounded child each of us carries inside. It will also look at family patterns of intimacy, family myths, family values and expectations that comprise the fabric of understanding that each child creates while growing up. These family “heirlooms” are powerful unconscious elements and play a significant part in shaping our view of the world and or place in it.
Even with an emphasis on healing the wounded child, there will be ample space given to the considerable resources we each bring to the process. No one is only a wounded person. The unconscious of each of us contains, at the very least, an inherent urge to be healthy and well. This urge is transformed into active participation when a context is created in which we are willing to listen to ourselves in a new way and discover parts of ourselves that we may not have guessed are available to us now.
Some of these parts may be familiar to you from approaches such as psychosynthesis and gestalt therapy. They comprise the parts of the self that function as guide, wise person, protector ö and many more. We will spend some time exploring the important concept of “ego states,” those parts that developed when you were young to keep you safe and alive psychologically and physically. Also, we will focus on aspects of the self that may be new to you ö particularly the future self. These are parts of you from beyond your current timeframe, from a time yet to come. These are the parts of you that have achieved already the things you seek, and they become important resources in the process of healing the wounded child and empowering you in your current life.
To make sense of these and other concepts Iâll be presenting, let me first share with you my current view of the unconscious. I say “current view” because when you explore a new frontier things are always changing as unexpected discoveries are made. I expect my perspective on the unconscious to keep evolving and changing as this fascinating terrain reveals more of itself.
If necessary, feel free to suspend any disbelief you may experience as we make this journey together. Ultimately, what is useful will make sense to you. The rest can just become something curious you thought about one time and then tucked away in that place of forgetting that seems to have all the room it needs to store seemingly non-essential pieces of learning that might be useful someday.
What is the Unconscious?
First, I want to define for you what I mean by “unconscious.” For me, the unconscious is the sum total of human consciousness that operates outside the linear, concrete day-to-day awareness we use to write a check or add up a series of numbers. I find it difficult to draw a distinction between conscious and unconscious, because Iâm not really sure where one begins and the other ends.
In hypnosis, we talk of going into a trance state and entering a realm of experience that is generally outside conscious awareness. Unconscious awareness seems a contradiction in terms; however, it is a valid and viable kind of knowing that often finds its way into conscious awareness through sudden insights, dreams, flashes or recognition. Ultimately, we need the “conscious” mind ö the rational, linear part ö to translate the unconscious and make useful sense of it.
Itâs rather like the right brain/left brain concept. We now know there is not such a definitive distinction as a left brain that is logical and a right brain that is illogical. In the whole brain, right and left share many similarities, with a bias towards verbal functioning in the left hemisphere and nonverbal functions in the right. Where one leaves off and the other begins is not clearly defined; that is true of conscious/unconscious functioning as well.
For me, the unconscious includes all we have ever learned and then forgotten, all that is stored away for future use. It encompasses unresolved conflicts and unrealized wishes. It reaches into realms of awareness called transpersonal and paranormal. It is the source of those creative breakthroughs and inspirations that become peak experiences and the seeds of new awareness. It is the repository of things positive and negative. Most of all, the unconscious is our ally and protector ö always seeking the best for us, even if sometimes misperceiving how to go about doing that.
In terms of how the unconscious becomes conscious, think of a prism. When no light is shining through the prism, what you see is glass, with no color at all. When light is shown through one of the facets of a prism, the colors are suddenly visible. They have been there all along but not in a way you could perceive them.
Or, think of a radio. Even though you re tuned to a particular station, that doesnât mean the others arenât still there, playing on frequencies that are all around you, passing through your body. You are just not tuned in to them. You can change the station or turn the radio off and all those frequencies still exist. Itâs the same with your conscious awareness. It is tuned to one station at a time, in a linear fashion, but the unconscious is there, operating fully, even though it is outside conscious awareness. Dreams are like a sleep-snooze alarm. You have turned off the radio ö your conscious mind ö and the unconscious wakes you up with a dream, turning on that awareness again.
So, when I say “unconscious” I mean a sum total of all the levels of your consciousness ö whether you are aware of them or not. And I mean the positive and seemingly negative, constructive and seemingly destructive elements of that consciousness. I say “seemingly” before negative and destructive because it has been my experience that unconscious impulses are often misdirected, intending to be of help but not knowing how.
My approach to accessing the unconscious draws heavily on the hypnotic techniques of Milton Erickson. This method of hypnosis has gained tremendous popularity in therapy circles in the past 10 years. One of the main things that originally attracted me to Ericksonian hypnosis was that, using this hypnotic approach, there is no right way to have a trance experience. There are as many ways as there are people. Accepting each individualâs unique trance abilities can convey a powerfully affirming message. In this approach, the conscious mind becomes a translator of the underlying activity of healing that the unconscious sets in motion in response to trance work ö healing that may only become apparent, consciously, long after the unconscious has received suggestions for change.
I value the conscious mind as the means by which unconscious resources can be brought into awareness. Such awareness is not always essential, however. You didnât learn to walk because you understood, consciously, about walking. You learned to walk because you followed your bodyâs unconscious impulses.
This kind of learning reminds me of the story of the frog and the centipede. One day, a frog was sitting on a lily pad in the middle of his favorite pond. Along the shore came a centipede, walking rapidly on all his hundred legs. Curious, the frog said, “Hey! How do you get all those legs to work all at once without tripping? It seems like a complicated business to me.” The centipede stopped in his tracks and said, “I donât really know, now that you mention it. Let me think about it.” As he was thinking, the centipede began to walk again. Much to his astonishment, he fell flat on his face!
And so, your unconscious takes care of some things a lot better than your conscious mind can. When you learned to read, you used the conscious mind to feed information into the unconscious. It was in your unconscious, though, that those three lines that looked like a teepee suddenly came together as the letter A. It was your unconscious that understood, all of a sudden, that the two bumps and a line were the letter B, and the half circle was the letter C.
You can trust your ability to learn unconsciously and discover those times when itâs just as well to leave the unconscious to its own devices and keep your conscious mind out of the way. You might wonder about this kind of learning. Itâs really second nature and you know much more about it than you realize. And, maybe thatâs a nice thing to discover as you begin this journey into your own unconscious.
The Timeless Nature of the Unconscious
One of the most important characteristics of the unconscious is its timeless nature. Everything in the unconscious is taking place in the “now.” There is no “then” or “when.” In our usual, everyday, linear awareness, we tend to think in terms of “yesterday, ” “today,” “tomorrow,” “this page,” “the last page,” “the next one.” We make rational sense of our world this way, organizing the natural progression of days into weeks, weeks into months.
In the unconscious, however, things are quite different. For instance, think of something that happened to you several weeks ago, or a long time ago, that was really upsetting. Maybe you were angry or hurt. If you think about that upsetting event and just let yourself drift into a reverie about the memory, chances are good that you will find yourself back there, feeling as though you were there again, right now. The anger or hurt or humiliation may even feel as strong as it did then. Whenever you drift into a reverie about something, you are entering the timeless unconscious and the “memory” becomes a current, immediate experience.
If you were to begin to daydream about an upcoming event, really to be there imagining yourself doing something you are truly excited about, or something you dread doing, chances are you would begin to feel as though you were actually there right now. Memories are not the only way to enter the timeless unconscious. Anticipations about the future can take you there, too.
It is the timeless nature of the unconscious that makes the approaches presented in the following pages possible. Entering the “eternal now” provides a framework for moving through time in any direction and interacting with parts of the self that exist in the past, the present, and the future.
The timeless nature of the unconscious is central to our consideration of the wounded child. Because the unconscious is timeless, the child you were actually exists in the present, psychologically. Think, for a moment, of times when you have had an interaction with your boss, or a colleague, and you suddenly felt intimidated, or frightened, or enraged, and you just couldnât get hold of yourself. Chances are good you were experiencing yourself as the child, that you engaged the current situation as if you were a child rather than an adult. You might remember a time when you were in an interaction with a loved one and suddenly felt powerless or overwhelmed by some emotion that you couldnât seem to control. Again, the child within was probably responding to some old pattern you learned in the family, as if no time had passed and as if the adultâs present were the childâs present.
In any of these cases, the timeless unconscious is playing out early learnings and responses as though it were still then instead of now. While this may cause problems at times, because the old patterns get in the way of current relationships, there are also patterns and parts of you in the unconscious that express in empowered and positive ways.
For example, think of a skill you have developed that you feel really comfortable using. How about a time when you were experiencing something in a way that everything felt just right? These are examples of resource states, developed within the unconscious and available to you at a momentâs notice.
The timeless unconscious is a treasure trove of resources and learnings that can be accessed consciously. One way to do this is by entering into a self-hypnotic trance, which you will be exploring extensively in the exercises in this book.
What is Trance?
Whenever you shift your attention from the outer world to your own inner awareness, you enter a state of trance. In fact, one definition of trance in Ericksonian hypnosis circles is “focused attention.”
You have a lot more experience with trance than you realize, even if youâve never done hypnosis. We all experience what are called “naturalistic trance states” throughout the day. Whenever you are daydreaming, staring off into space, youâre in a natural trance state. Whenever youâre swept up in a strong emotion or listening raptly to beautiful music and have forgotten all about where you are, youâre in a natural trance state.
Iâll talk more about trance in the chapter on self-hypnosis. For now, the thing that may be helpful to know is that youâre already familiar with the state of mind youâll be entering in the exercises in the book. As is true with many people, you may find trance so familiar that you wonât sense any difference between self-hypnosis and meditation or visualization experiences you may already have had many times.
Parts of the Self
In my work with clients, I emphasize a process of engaging the many parts that make up an individualâs psychological life. In later chapters, Iâll go into some detail about these parts and how to work with them. For now, let me simply say that your best resources are the many parts that come together to make up the intricate and complex creature you are, psychologically. Learning to communicate and cooperate with these parts opens up areas of potential that may have been unavailable to you for much of your life.
I have a favorite story about the desert in the Antelope Valley in California. When you visit this area during most times of the year, there is a vast landscape of dirt and scrub. It doesnât look like the kind of place where things can grow easily. For as far as the eye can see, the predominant colors are brown, beige, and dun. You may see some of the gray- or brown-greens that characterize much of the flora of California, but all in all it appears to be a rather inhospitable environment.
During the spring of most years, the rains come to the California desert. When the rains come in the desert, they arrive in a torrent, bringing a great abundance of water. Within that new, moisture-rich environment, something miraculous happens. Almost overnight, that arid, dusty desert landscape is transformed into fields and fields of colorful wildflowers.
To me, the message conveyed by the California desert wildflowers is a message of hope. It says to me that no matter how hostile an environment may appear, the seeds of our potential lie under the surface just waiting for the right time and conditions that will allow them to emerge and come into full bloom. For the wounded child in each of us, this message becomes a promise: all is never lost and there is always hope that you can become the best of what you have always had the potential to be.
Throughout the book, Iâll be emphasizing the fact that we are resilient creatures by nature. You have survived whatever your childhood brought your way. Having survived, you can now develop in ways that were not possible in that old context. If you are still carrying around that old context inside ö as many of us are ö you can develop a new internal environment that promotes and supports what is best in you.
A Few Words About “Functional” and “Dysfunctional”
In recent years, as the family therapy movement has grown, a great deal of research has been done on styles of coping and communication in families. Alcoholic families have been a main source for these studies. The burgeoning Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA) movement has emerged as another force in defining and describing family patterns and their effects on family members.
The terms “functional” and “dysfunctional” refer to the kinds of coping strategies and communication patterns a family uses. Functional strategies and patterns are those that allow the family to negotiate challenges and trauma effectively. Those that are dysfunctional get in the way of the familyâs ability to deal as effectively with stressful events.
Here are some examples of these different coping strategies:
In a functional family, children are encouraged to have friends, outside activities, independence. In a dysfunctional family, children are kept close to home. Strangers and outsiders are not welcomed. The family has secrets ö alcoholism or incest, for example ö that it cannot share.
In a functional family, children have reasonable privacy. In a dysfunctional family, a childâs diary might be fair game for anyone who finds it and wants to read it.
In a functional family, individual differences are applauded and respected. In a dysfunctional family, conflict is denied. Among ACOAs, thereâs the story of the elephant living in the house that no one talks about. If you grew up in a home where there was substance abuse or sexual abuse, you are probably particularly familiar with this kind of denial.
Functional and dysfunctional are not the same as good and bad. They do convey, though, the premise that dysfunctional responses tend to be maladaptive and not the best choices for coping with lifeâs challenges and stresses. Children raised in dysfunctional families are likely to have less resilient coping styles as adults. By identifying dysfunctional patterns from your own family, you give yourself an opportunity to review your coping skills and change them to more functional patterns.
About Parents and Parenting
If you are a parent now, there are a few things Iâd like to say to you before you begin to work with the material in the book. As you engage the process of recreating your self, you begin to realize the effects your familyâs patterns of communication and style of intimacy had on you. So often, Iâve heard clients and workshop participants express feelings of devastation or guilt when they realize how they have passed these dysfunctional patterns along to their own children. If you run into any feelings like these, please remind yourself that it is absolutely normal ö and nearly inevitable ö for you to do to your children what was done to you. The thing to keep in mind is that youâve done the best you could all along and that now youâre learning something new. And, do remember how resilient children are. Yours are no different. They, too, have the resources to heal the wounded children in them.
What may surprise you is how quickly you begin to experience your children in new ways, as you come to know the child in yourself. The approach presented in this book offers ways to break patterns of abuse and craziness that, most often, have been passed down through many generations. And so, you may discover things you wish you hadnât done. Please allow yourself to treat these discoveries as important pieces of information that are helpful to know about. Youâre on a journey of learning something new. Celebrate that journey, even as you find family patterns you want to eliminate from your own parenting style.
Even with all the awareness in the world, it is virtually impossible for parents to be consistently supportive to their children or to do the “right” thing every time. Parent training ö the most important training I can think of ö isnât commonly available to most people. From the beginning, parents are “thrown in the deep end” and are expected to have perfected their swimming strokes before having had any training or practice. Be gentle with yourself ö as gentle as I hope youâll be with the child in you.
About the Stories in this Book
Throughout the book, I use the male and female gender interchangeably to represent the generic person. My choice of when to use each is purely arbitrary.
As mentioned in the Preface, the stories of individuals woven throughout the book are composites created by me and do not reflect any one personâs experience. I chose to use composites for two reasons. First, I wanted to protect the identity and confidentiality of the people who have trusted their stories to me. Secondly, over the years, I have observed that there are primary themes that run through the experiences of adult survivors of dysfunctional families. Because these themes are so common ö and so many of us recognize ourselves in them ö I wanted to be able to present a broader picture of how these themes operate than is possible with just one personâs experience. Using the composite form allowed me to illustrate more elements of each theme.
Also, the stories Iâve chosen to share with you cover a wide range of experiences. They are not the most horrifying of the stories that have been shared with me. I chose less dramatic themes because of the tendency of those of us from dysfunctional families to discount our experiences. If we hear something that sounds worse than what we went through, itâs too easy to say our experience didnât really matter. I wanted to leave room for the whole range of childhood woundings ö from the most dramatic to the most seemingly insignificant. I honor them all as important to the child who had them. Iâd like to ask you to do the same as you proceed through the book. Pain and injury are relative ö they feel bad to the person having them and thatâs all that really matters.
A Technical Note: Exercise Format
The exercises in this book provide one way for you to develop a supportive internal environment. Most of the following chapters contain self-hypnotic exercises that guide you in developing new and healthier relationships with parts of yourself.
Each exercise is presented in two forms. First, youâll find a full self-hypnotic induction that guides you into trance and on to an exploration of some part of you. I recommend that you tape record the entire induction and then play the tape back to yourself as you do the exercise. Hearing your own voice on tape is a powerful way to connect with your inner process. In case you donât have a tape recorder available, youâll find a short version of every exercise at the end of the book. If you choose to use the second, shorter version of the exercise, I recommend that you read the entire induction first to get a feel for what youâre doing. Then, you can glance occasionally at the short form as you go along. Youâll find that the taped version of the exercise will probably allow you to go more deeply into your experience than the shorter form.
My Own Story
As a final note to this first chapter, I briefly want to mention my own process of healing the wounded child in me. A keynote to my childhood ö and to the child within who has accompanied me into adulthood ö has been a fear of humiliation. As strong has been a lifelong conviction of not deserving ö not deserving to get my needs met, not deserving reliable, trustworthy love, not deserving acclaim.
The seeds of these internal fears and expectations were sown early in my life ö as they were for most of us. I began as a cross-eyed kid, terribly self-conscious and embarrassed whenever I had to speak or perform in public. The ridicule of some of my schoolmates early on left an indelible imprint ö I was the “cross-eyed monkey born in a zoo” and I did not know how to see beyond that humiliation. That, accompanied by early sexual abuse by my father, and then the loss of him to divorce when I was six years old, left me with my fair share of dysfunctional patterns in life and relationships.
I began to work with the child within in the ways described in this book a number of years ago. Much of what has evolved in the work I do with my clients has emerged from my own process. Fundamental to the shifts Iâve felt in my own relationship with parts of myself has been the development of an underlying sense of self-acceptance. With the increasing self-acceptance Iâve experienced over the past few years, I have also discovered how to give myself permission to have a better life than I ever imagined possible.
Through the process of working with the child within and accessing resource parts I had not imagined were available, I have discovered a person inside whom I truly love. I am now comfortable speaking to large groups and conducting large workshops. In fact, I now enjoy sharing my ideas and myself with others without the grinding fear of being exposed to incapacitating humiliation.
My wish for you is that what is contained in this book will provide a foundation for your own process of reclaiming and recreating yourself. It is possible to develop a relationship with all the parts of you, a relationship that is an empowering, enabling one. You can become a friend to yourself in a healthy and comfortable way, giving yourself permission to have the best life possible. Your relationship with the parts of you can become one of cooperation, validation and self-affirmation in ways that give you an opportunity to be more comfortable within yourself and more available to others in positive and meaningful ways.
And so, I ask you to explore the pages that follow with the thought in mind that your unconscious understands so much more than your conscious mind does of what is contained here. Allow yourself to give permission to your unconscious to do the important learning for you and for your conscious mind to discover, in its own ways, the things you need to know to recreate yourself in the most powerful and positive ways possible.