Rewriting your childhood

You can't rewrite your childhood. It's there, traumas and all.

But you can rewrite how you feel about it. I have been responding to the mini-traumas from my childhood most of my life, having never been taught how to deal with feelings. 

But by re-imagining those episodes I can change how I still feel about them.

Is it easy? No.

Is it possible? Always yes.

Is there healing in the end. Yes. That's where I am now.


I always knew there was something wrong with me, but that was part of the story I had been led to believe. It was eight years ago I realized it was wasn't me, but the way I was raised. I've been at it a long time.

I still have a lot to process, (seems like a lot, but when I count out the episodes on a hand it's not so many), and others might show up, but I know how to deal with them. Keith Louw in North Orem helped me a great deal in re-imagining those episodes, which takes the emotion right out of them. Thanks, Keith!

Please Hear What I'm Not Saying by Charles C. Finn

Please Hear What I'm Not Saying

Don't be fooled by me.
Don't be fooled by the face I wear
for I wear a mask, a thousand masks,
masks that I'm afraid to take off,
and none of them is me.

Pretending is an art that's second nature with me,
but don't be fooled,
for God's sake don't be fooled.
I give you the impression that I'm secure,
that all is sunny and unruffled with me, within as well as without,
that confidence is my name and coolness my game,
that the water's calm and I'm in command
and that I need no one,
but don't believe me.
My surface may seem smooth but my surface is my mask,
ever-varying and ever-concealing.
Beneath lies no complacence.
Beneath lies confusion, and fear, and aloneness.
But I hide this. I don't want anybody to know it.
I panic at the thought of my weakness exposed.
That's why I frantically create a mask to hide behind,
a nonchalant sophisticated facade,
to help me pretend,
to shield me from the glance that knows.

But such a glance is precisely my salvation, my only hope,
and I know it.
That is, if it's followed by acceptance,
if it's followed by love.
It's the only thing that can liberate me from myself,
from my own self-built prison walls,
from the barriers I so painstakingly erect.
It's the only thing that will assure me
of what I can't assure myself,
that I'm really worth something.
But I don't tell you this. I don't dare to, I'm afraid to.
I'm afraid your glance will not be followed by acceptance,
will not be followed by love.
I'm afraid you'll think less of me,
that you'll laugh, and your laugh would kill me.
I'm afraid that deep-down I'm nothing
and that you will see this and reject me.

So I play my game, my desperate pretending game,
with a facade of assurance without
and a trembling child within.
So begins the glittering but empty parade of masks,
and my life becomes a front.
I idly chatter to you in the suave tones of surface talk.
I tell you everything that's really nothing,
and nothing of what's everything,
of what's crying within me.
So when I'm going through my routine
do not be fooled by what I'm saying.
Please listen carefully and try to hear what I'm not saying,
what I'd like to be able to say,
what for survival I need to say,
but what I can't say.

I don't like hiding.
I don't like playing superficial phony games.
I want to stop playing them.
I want to be genuine and spontaneous and me
but you've got to help me.
You've got to hold out your hand
even when that's the last thing I seem to want.
Only you can wipe away from my eyes
the blank stare of the breathing dead.
Only you can call me into aliveness.
Each time you're kind, and gentle, and encouraging,
each time you try to understand because you really care,
my heart begins to grow wings--
very small wings,
very feeble wings,
but wings!

With your power to touch me into feeling
you can breathe life into me.
I want you to know that.
I want you to know how important you are to me,
how you can be a creator--an honest-to-God creator--
of the person that is me
if you choose to.
You alone can break down the wall behind which I tremble,
you alone can remove my mask,
you alone can release me from my shadow-world of panic,
from my lonely prison,
if you choose to.
Please choose to.

Do not pass me by.
It will not be easy for you.
A long conviction of worthlessness builds strong walls.
The nearer you approach to me the blinder I may strike back.
It's irrational, but despite what the books say about man
often I am irrational.
I fight against the very thing I cry out for.
But I am told that love is stronger than strong walls
and in this lies my hope.
Please try to beat down those walls
with firm hands but with gentle hands
for a child is very sensitive.

Who am I, you may wonder?
I am someone you know very well.
For I am every man you meet
and I am every woman you meet.

Charles C. Finn
September 1966

You can read a collection of stories about the poem's impact in Please Hear What I'm Not Saying: a Poem's Reach around the World

My process of healing

My process of healing (sorry, this is long):

These are the events and books, in the order I found them, which had the greatest impact on understanding who I was and teaching me how to heal:

I grew up as well as any kid could, was smart, and thought I had a pretty good life. I didn't seem lonely, though I was always alone.

I had a very poor interaction with a woman, and began to realize there was something seriously wrong with me. I had no idea what, but it was big enough and so painful that I said the most heartfelt and honest prayer of my life: "GOD, FIX ME!" That was five years ago.

No More Mr. Nice Guy by Robert A. Glover

This book validated the feeling I had that in some fundamental way I was "broken." No particular way to heal, though. Before this I thought I had a good upbringing and my problems were my fault, like the inability to talk to people, especially girls. I had elaborate daydreams/fantasies which I used a lot to aswage bad feelings. I also had long experience of finding distractions (hobbies, mostly, I could throw myself into). This book helped me understand the covert deals I'd make with people: if I do you a favor by going out of my way to help you without complaining, you'll see how I was helpful and return love to me. No one but me knew this was the deal I was making, and of course I was continually disappointed, so I'd fantasize more about being loved and go back to my hobbies.

My Dreams

I had two very revealing dreams. One taught me very early on that there was a major part of me that I didn't know about. I saw a big, sleek black cat, a disembodied old cat's head that was still alive, but could not talk, and a small dog waiting to have fun. They were all parts of me, though I was only aware of the old cat's head, the intellectual part of me which could not really communicate.

Another dream was very revealing. I saw myself as twin babies, both sleeping. One I could see, the other was wild and I didn't look at it. I witnessed the dream from my grown up point of view, in charge of the infants. Then a devil came in through the front door: short, black, wispy, dread, sucking the light out of it's vicinity. It started toward the babies, and to protect them I moved to the side, toward the couch, to attract it away from them. I sat, and pulled my knees up like I was giving birth (I'm a guy, so that was strange to me). The devil surrounded me and I was filled with despair. Then a being of light emerged from within the house, bright, good, loving, with an effortless light that immediately lightened and loved all around, dispelling the darkness. It went to the babies to protect them with love, as the devil settled around me, engulfing me, and I had no protection against it. It took me years to understand all the parts of it, as you'll see below.

Articles at

These are great articles, most by philosopher Alain de Botton. It was here I read about the work of child psychologist Donald Winnicott, who identified the development in some children of a "false self," constructed by the child to respond to the emotionally distant adults around him, and the suppression of the true self. This idea resonated strongly with me, though I had no idea how to deal with my false self. I could then acknowledge my true self, but by false self was still in charge. I began to develop confidence in being true to myself, I was just very bad at it. The big black cat of my dream was my true self. The being of light was my true self, and my point of view was my false self, powerless to resist evil, powerless to protect, could not love, it could only follow orders and obey or disobey.

I got married to a fantastic woman. She has problems she's mostly dealt with, and her kids have problems, but we have a house with love in it, which makes the process of healing better.

Secret Attachments by Peter Michaelson

A minor book centering on the idea that the way we were raised sets the standard for how we recognize love, and that standard can change.

Running on Empty by Jonice Webb

This is the book that opened everything up to my understanding. It explained me. It explained that puzzling halo of symptoms of childhood emotional neglect that I could never put together myself. The advice the author gives didn't help me to the end of my healing, but it was a very good start for someone with loving people around. Everyone who is shy should read this. It's important, with the best set of explanations I've read so far.

The Emotionally Absent Mother by Jasmine Lee Cori

Another of the great CEN books. Essential reading. This book recommends journaling and using sentence roots to open your inner world to you. Very effective for me. The idea of the Good Mother is explained in this book. That was the figure of light in my dream. It was that part of me which knows and understands love. Love dispels the darkness, not through any effort it takes, but just because of the nature of love.

Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents by Lindsay C. Gibson

The third of the essential CEN books. The author makes two big points that really struck home to me: CEN victims entertain elaborate healing fantasies invented by us to give us hope of feeling loved, and that we all take on self-roles. these self roles are behavioral roles we invented as children to earn love. Mine was that I'd do things for those around me, and they would see and respond with love. It never happened, but these are the same covert deals that nice guys use. The really interesting thing is that once I knew what these fantasies were about, they had no more audience and dissipated as soon as they started. I am now far more in the moment now.

I'm not completely healed, but happiness has returned to my life. God is fixing me.

Say, who's in charge here?

I've been chatting with my True Self. I know, it sounds crazy. My false self, my conscious self, has been in charge since I was five. Though I've known about my True Self, my authentic self, for two years, my false self remains in charge.

But we were chatting this morning and I realized something important: my false self ABSOLUTELY SUCKS at life. "Thinking" my emotions, thinking through a conversation, thinking through life, just doesn't work. We need emotions to guide us, and it's vital to feel them, recognize them, name them, and listen to what they are telling us. The false self can only think. And that's all a false self can do, existing exclusively in the conscious.

All this time I'd been expecting my True Self to somehow merge with my false self to make me whole. That's all wrong. The false self may have an advantage in the classroom, but nowhere else in life is that an advantage. Well, maybe as a spy, or as a narcissist.

No, what I want is to have my True Self come forward, be totally in charge, and to suppress my false self. A big change, but that's what my goal really is. I'm afraid to do it, because I'm am not sure what my life will look like when it happens, but I know and feel it's for the best.

The blessing of "seeing" my true self

I realize, reading the posts in the Childhood Emotional Neglect Survivors group on Facebook that I'm in an almost unique situation: I'm healing well and fast.

Maybe it's because I went through a sequence of realizations that worked really well for me:

I realized I suffered from "Nice Guy" syndrome.

I saw, in a dream, three parts of me: a grey cat's head (my false self, I realized later), a big black cat (my emotional self) and a small quiet dog who was patiently waiting to play (an aspect of my true self).

I realized I had a false self, when meant there was a true self buried down inside me somewhere.

I "saw" my false self in a moment of realization/revelation, sitting quietly in a chair beside my dresser.

I got married to an extraordinarily supportive and wise woman, which is the best part of this list.

I realized I was a highly sensitive person, and felt things more intensely than most.

I realized that my emotional self had been neglected as a child, and that's why I suppressed my false self.

I am healing fast. Lots of grief and mourning to go, sure, but lots of fun, too. But an important part in all this is how clear my True Self is to me, how vivid he is to me. That's important, I think. It's given me a very certain framework to describe what's been going on, with few self-doubts.

Feeling integrated

On Saturday, at EMDR therapy, I was dealing with my inner child. After that I didn't feel much, but in reading one of the Psychology Today blogs I wanted to establish a relationship with my inner child, because if anyone can care for him now it's me.

I started feeling something I've never felt before. I spent Saturday and most of today working on what the feeling was. It was complex, and was a combination of many emotions. Here are the ones I identified over the course of a half hour this afternoon:

Heavy, pleasant, sad, lonely, invalidated, forgotten, helpless, vulnerable, innocent, lovable, sensitive, caring. It's not complete, but you get the idea.

I think I am feeling the feelings of my inner child. It's the first time since I was a little kid. I'm not sure what to do with it yet. But for the first time since I became aware of him, I don't cry when I think of him. That's got to be a good thing.

Inner Child

I've told you about my inner child, the five-year-old I saw once. He is my true self, the one I developed a false self to protect. I've integrated him, but I haven't been taking care of him as I should. And he needs a lot of care. He's been in there a long time. This is probably my main job for a while. (I'm the Good Soldier)

Childhood Emotional Neglect

How many of these questions seem to define who you are?

Do You...

1. Sometimes feel like you don’t belong when with your family or friends ?
2. Pride yourself on not relying upon others ?
3. Have difficulty asking for help ?
4. Have friends or family who complain that you are aloof or distant ?
5. Feel you have not met your potential in life ?
6. Often just want to be left alone ?
7. Secretly feel that you may be a fraud ?
8. Tend to feel uncomfortable in social situations ?
9. Often feel disappointed with, or angry at, yourself ?
10. Judge yourself more harshly than you judge others ?
11. Compare yourself to others and often find yourself sadly lacking?
12. Find it easier to love animals than people ?
13. Often feel irritable or unhappy for no apparent reason?
14. Have trouble knowing what you’re feeling ?
15. Have trouble identifying your strengths and weaknesses?
16. Sometimes feel like you’re on the outside looking in ?
17. Believe you’re one of those people who could easily live as a hermit ?
18. Have trouble calming yourself ?
19. Feel there’s something holding you back from being present in the moment?
20. At times feel empty inside ?
21. Secretly feel there’s something wrong with you ?
22. Struggle with self-discipline ?

For me, it was 21/22.

Adults who have been emotionally neglected are complicated people. We can't look back on our past and see any neglect. Our childhood seems ideal. But we are messed up, in a bad way, because out emotions were not validated. We have learned to distrust them.

Here are the ten consequences of not trusting our emotions:

  1. Feelings of emptiness
  2. Counter-dependence (not independence, but actively refusing help)
  3. Unrealistic self-appraisal
  4. No compassion for self, plenty for others
  5. Guilt and Shame, What's wrong with me?
  6. Self directed anger, self blame
  7. The Fatal Flaw (a thing we hide, which if known would repel others)
  8. Difficulty nurturing self and others
  9. Poor self-discipline
  10. Alexithymia (poor awareness or understanding of emotions)

My fatal flaw is that I don't feel a lot of emotions. Mom says, "I love you," and I know she's lying because I feel nothing. Sometimes emotions breech the surface, but it's rare, and I suppress them all until I am alone, when they torture me.

I'm working on them, though. Daily exercises where I try to give a name to what I feel. Allowing myself to experience feelings, even the negative ones I used to think defined who I was. Learning to say , "no," and ask for help. Allowing time for myself.

I think the activities to conquer emotional neglect are the same as nourishing my inner child/true self. It's going to take a lot of work. It'll probably take years, and there will be many small epiphanies, but It's nice knowing just how I'm screwed up. Finally.

My early path to understanding

2014: Nice Guy (No More Mr. Nice Guy)

2016: False Self (Donald Winnicott, as described by Alain de Botton)*

2018: Secret Attachments (Peter Michaelson)

2018: Sensate Focus Technique

2018: Childhood Emotional Neglect (Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect, Jonice Webb)*

I'll add more later.

Asterisks* indicate important resources to me.

The real task of Integration

It seems the reason I formed a false self to please my folks is that I wasn't getting the necessary instruction on how to handle my emotions. Some emotions were too powerful to just ignore, though I probably tried. I formed a false self who didn't respond to emotions, counter-dependent is what they call it, where I became the opposite of dependent, which isn't independent. I would refuse help, and make it a point of pride never to need help.

I never learned to deal with emotions. When I start to feel a negative emotion, I could quickly push it down to where I didn't feel it. I'm very good at it. Thing is, ignored emotions never just to away. They linger, and some make me angry. But I have no one to be angry with, so I was angry with myself. Being counter-dependent, I was the only one around. [Again, if your kids are not angry at you, they are angry at themselves.]

My job now, in integrating, is to feel emotions. It's a tricky thing. I have a hard time feeling good emotions, just as I suppress the negative ones. So I spend time just trying to feel emotions, and learn that feeling them isn't a bad thing, the way it was when I was five. then some strong negative emotions seemed very dangerous (like concluding your mom wanted you dead). But now the emotions aren't bad at all. I just need to let myself feel them. Practice.