Most of us, including me, are feeling some level of fear and worry about the current pandemic.
Some of us may be in fear mainly about the health implications – will I catch this virus? will my loved ones? will lots of people die? people I know and love?
Others may be more worried about the financial implications – will I lose my job or my income? how will I feed my family? will the market crash wipe out my retirement fund? will the entire economy collapse into another Great Depression?
Most of us probably have a mixture of fears and worries. But, who is it exactly – what part of us is it – who feels the fear?
All emotions, including fear, originate with the Inner Child. Other parts of us may evolve and emerge whose only job is to worry. Remember this guy from the Pixar movie Inside Out? (Great movie if you haven’t seen it – I highly recommend it! And, hey, you’ve got plenty of at home time for movies now, right?) Anyhow, this guy, Fear, was afraid of EVERYTHING and always expected the worst to happen. I’ve got an Inner Worrier like that, too – my Catastrophizer, who can imagine all sorts of dire eventualities.
But at the core, it is the Vulnerable Child who feels fear and worry, because a child is dependent and powerless. A child depends upon his or her parents to keep them safe from harm, to get rid of the monsters under the bed and chase away the bogey man. A child does not yet have the capacity to study the situation rationally and then take appropriate action.
When I find myself spinning out in panic, it means this inner Frightened Child is in control of my thoughts and my actions. The Frightened Child is driving the bus – and that is never a good thing.
It’s normal to feel fear in the situation we now find ourselves in, but smart action – right action – comes from a more reasoned and more adult perspective.
So, how can I stop that fear spiral? How can I get the Frightened Child out of the driver’s seat and put a responsible adult behind the wheel? What would I do if one of my own birth children was feeling afraid and spiraling out in panic? My first instinct as a parent would be to try to calm and soothe them.
I can do the same thing for myself. Enter the Nurturing Parent. My inner Nurturing Parent’s only job is to nurture my Inner Child. It is the Nurturing Parent who speaks calming words to me, just as I would to my own children. She is the one who takes my scared parts into her arms and rocks them and sings to them. It is the Nurturing Parent who, in a situation like the current covid19 pandemic, sees to it that I am getting enough sleep, that I am eating healthy foods and drinking enough water. She is the one who takes me outside for a walk in the fresh air and sunshine. She is the one who says, let’s make some art, let’s journal about your feelings, let’s watch a funny show on TV, let’s listen to some music, let’s talk to that friend who always brightens your day. My Nurturing Parent calms me down and loves the fear out of me.
My Nurturing Parent’s more outwardly active partner is my Protective Parent. My Protective Parent is a Mama Bear who will do everything necessary to protect her cub – my Inner Child (and, by extension, me) – from harm. She is the one who sends my Inner Child to play in her room while she (the Protective Parent) tunes in to just enough news to stay abreast of the situation and the latest recommendations of the CDC and local government officials. My Protective Parent is also the one who says, “Enough. Turn off the news. Get off of Facebook. We know what we need to know and any more of this going down the rabbit hole is detrimental.” My Protective Parent is the one who reminds me to wash my hands, to stay home, to order the few things I need via the internet instead of going into a crowded store. My Protective Parent lets my Inner Child know that she is on the job and the child is safe.
When these two Inner Family parent parts are doing their job, my fears subside and I can make good choices. I can let go of the things I can’t control and do something about the things I can control. I can stay informed without panicking. I can take reasonable actions to take care of myself and my loved ones. I can be mindful of and responsible about my potential impact on my community. I can stay in a place of knowing that, while we are indeed facing challenging times, whatever happens we will come out the other side of this and we’ll be okay.
So, how do you activate and strengthen these Inner Family parent parts? Here are some ideas, in no particular order. Do whatever works best for you and whatever you can do in the moment that fear tries to take over.
- Ask for their help. “Hey, I’m spinning out here. My Inner Child is totally freaked out. I need some help from you, Protective Parent and Nurturing Parent.” (You can give them names if you like. Mama Bear and Lovey. Or Superman and Glenda the Good Witch. Whatever works.) You can do this by writing to them in a journal, by talking to them in your head, or you can talk to yourself and your parts out loud (not recommended in public places – but then, we’re not supposed to be in public places much right now.) Let your freaked out self tell the parent parts what you need to feel safe and protected. Let the parent parts, speaking from their own protective and nurturing wisdom, guide you into actions you can take.
- Psychologically distance yourself from the immediate experience of fear by imagining that it is one of your own children or your best friend who’s freaked out. Talk to yourself in the 3rd person the same way you might talk to them. “Hey, hey now, Claire. I know you’re scared, but I’m here for you and we’re going to be all right. Come here, let me give you a hug. Let me kiss away your tears. Tell me all about it. Let’s sort this out and make things better.”
- Think of role models for nurturing and protection. Imagine the most nurturing person you can think of. Talk to yourself and treat yourself as you imagine that person would. Imagine the most powerful superhero you can think of – the one who always saves the day. Imagine that super-hero has only one job – to protect you. What would they say or do?
- Create a visual of your Nurturing and Protective Parents. Cut out or download some images of nurturing and protective people, animals and places and make Nurturing Parent and Protective Parent collages. Put in a child image or even a picture of you as a child. Not keen on collage? Draw a picture of you as a child being protected. Draw another of you as a child being nurtured. You don’t need to be an artist – stick figure drawings work just fine. Write out a conversation or a story about each of your collages or drawings.
Practice these activities often. Practice them even when you’re not freaked out so that your Protective and Nurturing Parents can become more reliable and begin to take the wheel automatically in stressful situations. Just like building muscles, they will grow stronger with repeated use.