Step 8: Learned self-forgiveness and made amends to our inner child.The 12 Steps to Self-Parenting for Adult Children
A racing mind can make you feel like junk. It robs you of your self-efficacy by interfering with your abilities—not only to think helpful thoughts, but also to make positive changes in your life, in the lives of those you care about, and in the lives of those you may be serving if you’re any type of essential worker.
God doesn’t make junk …Author Unknown
Because I’m a mental health care professional, I’ve signed up to offer free mental health services to health care workers in New York City. But I, like others, haven’t received calls. The reason offered by experts who deliver trauma treatment to frontline workers is that people are afraid to stop, fearing that they will crash if they do. Why? Because they can’t turn off their minds, which are racing. They can’t forgive themselves for not “being enough” to stop the horror they fear, the horror they see. They can’t stop their minds from racing, and they can’t forgive themselves for only being human.
Self-Defeating in More Ways than One
Mind racing is a type of obsessive thinking that makes us miserable, makes us doubt ourselves, and can make us feel crazy. It tells us we have to consider every option: If this, then that; If that, then …
This obsessive thinking happens at warp speed, all the time, all with no off button. The result is that many sufferers cannot turn off their minds during their day or when they’re trying to rest and sleep.
There are many causes of this repetitive, obsessive thought pattern that is a symptom of anxiety and trauma. But in life today, where almost everyone is being affected by the novel coronavirus pandemic, anxiety has become a norm, a common response felt even by those who don’t have a previous history of anxiety.
The reason for this anxiety-driven mind racing is enormous uncertainty. If you are anxious, you have lots of company.
More than Anxiety
But all this internal energy doesn’t produce a positive result. Instead, we pay an enormous price for mind racing, becoming not only anxious, but also watchful, dreading what will next transpire and potentially harm those we care about. In this way, mind racing also makes us responsible for others in a way that sets us up for failure as we take on too much responsibility or something over which we have almost no control.
Codependency is a type of learned helplessness where our energy is consumed by the needs of another while we simultaneously lose sight of what we need to do to keep ourselves going. Mind racing is a byproduct of codependency, which intensifies our need to do something.
What mind racing results in is feeling worthless, feeling like junk; and to compensate for this we try to connect to others by being responsible for them. But the more we try to be responsible for another, the less successful we can actually be. Mind racing not only puts us in the center of the lives we interact with, but also makes us responsible by pressuring us to see, to anticipate, to fix all that we see—or fear—happening.
Mind racing actually creates the opposite of the intimacy we want to create; rather, it creates a distance between ourselves and others. By filling us with the needs of others and making their well-being dependent upon our actions, we take away from ourselves.
Mind racing interferes with our acceptance of ourselves because it puts us in the center of situations where we eventually feel out of control. Further, it takes away our ability to rectify this by draining the energy we need to separate and gain some perspective—all under the guise of caring for another.
We may tell ourselves “But it’s my job.” But despite their most dedicated efforts, even doctors on the front line cannot always produce the results they desperately want. The mind racing that results is not helpful to the doctor or to their patient.
Most of us are not doctors, but we do have people in our lives who we are desperately trying to keep safe. Diverting the self-care and attention we need to someone else who may not even want this gift of our intense involvement (or appreciate the sacrifice we are making) can make us feel incompetent, worthless, or even like a victim. This is, of course, magnified if we are, or were, quarantined with this person.
What to do? Here is the paradox. If your mind is racing, you need that to stop, but it not as easy as saying no because your mind is an agile beast that will go on to another dark thought. As someone shared with me, “It’s like taking a trip that you always know will lead to the same awful place, but you do it anyway, like you can’t stop.”
If your mind is racing, the struggle to stop your runaway thoughts often feels impossible. The result is often the conclusion that I’m worthless because I can’t [fill in the blank]. As a result, you feel overwhelmed, and you resort to the defenses you had a child, in effect putting your inner child in charge of life (Step 4).
But you can make amends to your inner child by putting your adult in charge of how you deal with the stress that confronts you on a daily basis.
Self-parenting is about learning to do self-care. Begin now by trying some rescue techniques.
One of the keys to stopping mind racing is to give your mind something else to think about. The following are four possibilities to get you started.
God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Saying the Serenity Prayer is a common destressing technique used by those in any of the recovery programs. It is not unusual for those who are in pain to say it repeatedly. I offer it to those of you not in recovery as a proven technique to break through unhelpful thoughts.
Mindfulness is frequently spoken about but can seem esoteric for many. Mindfulness is actually quite simple. It is placing your attention within your body. For example, as you wash your hands for the suggested twenty seconds, your attention could be on the feel of the bubbles sliding across your skin, the warmth of the water, the gentle friction you feel as you slide your hands against each other. Twenty seconds of relaxation—and freedom from mind racing—while those possible COVID-19 viruses slide down the drain; a double win!
My grandmother was an immigrant who, despite speaking little English, was able to communicate with those English speakers who surrounded her. Not surprisingly, one of the ways she so effectively communicated was to understand what to do to help others who were overcome with emotion.
I remember that she would pull out her little package of smelling salts, break open an ampule, and quickly put it under the nose of someone who was overcome with emotion. I saw this most frequently at funerals (which at that time were days long), but I also witnessed her power during other heartbreaking moments when family members were overcome with grief, terror, panic, even rage. It was almost magical to see someone suddenly emerge from whatever horrid place they had just descended into. What my grandmother didn’t know was that she was inspiring me to learn to take care of myself and others by introducing me to a very basic technique of caring for those who are in a traumatic recall.
You don’t have to source smelling salts to use this technique. I am sure you have other strong scents in your home right now that can help pull you back into the present when your anxiety, fear, even rage take you back to a scary place.
Planned Rescues for Creating Intimacy
Though they take some planning on your part, planned rescues are a good investment of your time and energy, and they can even be fun because they invite you to do some things that feel outlandish and can prove to be productive, as you’ll see.
Silently Zooming Away
Being quarantined at home can have a disquieting effect on our brains, and those of us prone to worry tend to worry more because of the often-intense quiet and fewer distractions. Add in the lack the comfort we derive from being with other humans, and bingo—our minds start to race. So why not schedule a silent Zoom meeting with coworkers, family, and even friends?
Sound crazy? I promise you that it’s no crazier than other things that living with COVID-19 has forced us to do.
Try the following:
- Coworkers: Schedule a time where you will work together in silence; plan a debriefing for a later time. Silently Zooming is a way to help get you back on track with projects that have been looming by creating a discrete time to do the work through accountability as you Zoom with others who are similarly challenged.
- Use the time to read. This is great jumpstart for book clubs that are struggling with how to meet, as mine is.
- Or use the time to write. I’m working on a murder mystery and have found it difficult during this pandemic, but scheduling a quiet time with others on Zoom, I realized, can give both my writing group and me the time to do what we regularly did, which was to use time together to write first, critique later.
- Or use the time for recovery work. Quiet Zoom time can also afford you an opportunity to do personal step recovery work with others in your program.
- Have dinner with your family on zoom. Create a shared menu, set the time, set the table. Eat, speak, enjoy.
Exercises for Today
- In Step 6 you began your own Personal Safety Plan by writing out your body scan. Turn to that plan in your journal.
- Write about which of the previous exercises worked for you.
- Next, do some planning.
- Set up that silent Zoom call.
- Think about setting up a physical medicine chest.
- Make an inventory of what you have in your home now that has a strong odor:
- orange or lemon peels
- coffee grounds
- heavily scented lotion
- cinnamon sticks
- Make an inventory of what you have in your home now that has a strong odor:
I recommend staying away from household cleaning products with strong smells because a very little of these goes a very long way, and some can even be toxic.
The next time you find your mind racing, you will be able to:
- take a small whiff from one of the scents in your personal medicine cabinet,
- then take a deep breath,
- ease the tension from whatever part in your body you are feeling it, and
- repeat as needed.
Make a note in your journal about how this works for you, and feel free to share it on my new Facebook Group, Self-Parenting in the Age of COVID, which I invite you to join by clicking on the link. There you can post your struggles and solutions as we create community. I invite you to share the blogs and posts you find on the Facebook Group by tagging those you know and care about, whether they are in recovery or just loved by you.
This is the eighth of a twelve-part series based on The 12 Steps to Self-Parenting. More tips will be available in my new ebook (to be published later this summer), and are available on my blog, The Powerful Woman.net, and in my books: Healing Trauma Through Self-Parenting, The 12 Steps to Self-Parenting for Adult Children, and The Resilient Woman. Learn more Learn more about my work as a consulting psychologist and speaker at www.patriciaogorman.com.