Phoebe maps our her journey from childhood to adulthood.
I grew up in a pretty normal family in many respects. My parents are both nurses- compassionate, and caring (think big hearts, big emotions). There was often conflict at home when I was a child. Little Phoebe was young and sensitive, also with a big heart. Somehow, she learnt to try and take care of others (no one’s fault but the result of her own sensitivity and the events that surrounded her upbringing). Plus, she was good at it. Teachers, friends, and family responded well to her empathy and goodness. She took this ability with her as she grew older.
So, it’s not so strange that I ended up in a helping profession. My dad is a mental health nurse, and I remember hearing a lot about his work- it seemed both interesting and a beautiful way to help others. So, I embarked on studying psychology.
Our training did give us everything we needed to be competent and caring professionals, but it wasn’t until I met a clinical supervisor who was warm and validating, that my professional approach changed. For the first time I experienced appropriate self-disclosure from a psychology professional, and their authenticity changed the way I practiced going forward. So, when you work with me, you get truth, authenticity, and vulnerability.
It was many years after I had completed my training, that I had my first episode of Depression. It was a really strange experience for me. I thought I deeply understood depression, having helped others with theirs- however, I came to know depression in a dark and intimate way. It was triggered by the breakdown of a relationship, in which I had become incredibly self-sacrificing. I attended a lot of therapy with a psychologist, seemed to get back on my feet (after years) only to be struck again years later.
The next episode of depression also was triggered by the breakdown of a relationship; there were similar themes of giving, and also a big fear of abandonment was triggered (he left our committed relationship without a goodbye). A close friend and colleague have said to me a few times, whilst I did have depression, I was really suffering from attachment trauma. And I think a lot of us can relate. More than being depressed, I was scared of being alone and exhausted from giving out more emotional care than I was receiving.
However, I still didn’t learn my lesson. It wasn’t until the breakdown of another relationship which had been slowly depleting me, that I was really prepared to look deeply at my stuff. This time, I was basically sick of making the same mistakes
(I thought I had chosen a better partner who was there for me, but it wasn’t the case at all). It’s so hard to break what was set up long ago: Little Phoebe, the carer and nurturer, was trapped and I had to help her out.
Fortunately, Healthy Adult Phoebe was there to look out for Little Phoebe (my inner child); so, we found a very skilled Schema Therapist and a Relationship Coach/Schema Therapist and got to work. I connected with my inner child in the therapy room and then most days over and over again and began to practice the work of comforting her- offering her self-soothing, and self-validating when she was scared, anxious, and sad. You see, Healthy Adult Phoebe (like your healthy adult) has resilience and strength, and ultimately knows that she can face whatever life throws at her. And Healthy Adult Phoebe is always going to be there for Little Phoebe if she ‘freaks out’. Healthy Adult Phoebe longed for a like-minded partner for an intimate, romantic relationship, and so there were many, many times on my dating journey that Little Phoebe was triggered. If you date, you’re going to face things like your fear of abandonment, self-sacrificing, shame and failure.
What I have come to know, is that most of the time, when we are triggered, it is touching on a wound from long ago (often childhood). A lot of us haven’t taken the time to really heal those wounds; in fact, we are often at the whim of our wounds and conditioning. It’s not until some event in the present causes us big distress, that we look at those wounds. In my case, these wounds were contributing to perpetuating the same relationship themes, feelings, behaviours, and patterns. The same patterns over and over again stopped me healing.
This past year or two, I have learnt the power of healing your inner child. In particular, I stopped shaming her for her emotions and vulnerability. These are in fact her superpowers that help her connect with others. I also started listening to my feelings- sometimes with trauma we discount or own anxiety. This time, I used my anxiety to ask: is this anxiety about an unhealed part of me that I can work on soothing? Or is this anxiety telling me this person is not safe, reliable, and consistent? And I used my anxiety to seek clarity in my relationships by voicing concerns and asking questions. In a safe relationship these concerns were heard and taken seriously; when I wasn’t safe, these concerns weren’t heard.
I learnt to manage my fear of abandonment more: I had to ask what reasonable distance was from a partner, and what was unreasonable or a sign of unsafety (low emotional maturity, toxic traits, chemistry rather than a grounded, healthy connection). Plus, I soothed and validated little Phoebe over and over again when she was scared, with words such as “I’m here for you; I know you’re scared; let’s breathe through this and spend time with puppy; we’re going to find relational safety for you and in the meantime, I’ll take care of you”.
And so, here I am with so much more wisdom, relationship confidence, and happiness. Out of the darkness and into the light, because I worked on healing what needed to be healed. As my work with a relationship coach was so powerful for me, I have become more passionate about helping other women on their relationship and dating journeys. I hope this raw story helps and offers hope.