When doing inner healing work, we tend to take on many different roles. Like detectives, we’re conducting an investigation on the origin of internal processes. Before undertaking an investigation, we need research to fully understand the problem.
As my own personal ghost of Christmas past, I guided myself through the haze of forgotten memories that held the key to changing the present and illuminating a brighter future. My mental health and self-love journey first began out of the need to fix myself. Now I understand that what I achieved was much more than that.
The beginning of April marks one month since I officially started making calls as an Investigator for the COVID Tracing Team at UNLV. In this field there is terminology used to describe different aspects of an investigation. We first begin an investigation with a “pre-investigation.” In this step we try to gather as much information on file for a person under investigation (PUI). This helps us know what to expect during a call and ensures we get all the information we need to complete a thorough investigation.
In trying to figure out why growing up and even today I had a difficult time connecting with others, I conducted a “pre-investigation” on my childhood experience. The goal was to find the root source of my low self esteem, negative self image, nonexistent self confidence, and poor self worth.
My first initial thought on the theme of embodiment was the relationship I had with my body. What I experienced as a child not only affected my self-esteem and self-image but conditioned me to want to lose weight, as all fat people are told to do. “Just lose weight,” they’d say. If only it was that easy.
I’ve always been on the heavier side and people around me would never let me forget it. Growing up, my parents always had pet names for me like “mi gordita” that highlighted yet another way, I was different from others. I knew they never meant any harm, I understood it was just a pet name, and there would be times when I wouldn’t react. How was I supposed to react anyway?
My parents would try to reassure me by telling me,
“ You know it's just a nickname, right?”
“ You know we love you, regardless...”
Regardless of what? That I’m fat? Thank you for your brave service to the world.
In the moment, as a young child at the age of five, maybe six years old, I wasn’t thinking much about their remarks. You don’t know what you don’t know. It wasn’t until years later when I chose to embark on my mental health journey, that I began by taking inventory of all the negative beliefs I had about myself and I realized how these experiences in my early life impacted me years later as an adult.
When thinking about the origins of a negative self body image, I also thought about all the inner child work I was doing with my therapist. In these sessions I came to realize that I embodied the many characteristics of an insecure attachment style.
Avoidant Attachment Style
Now, I’d like to start off by saying that I love my parents, a lot. Taking care of an entire human being, is one of the hardest things one can do in life. Had my parents decided to give up on their responsibility of taking care of me, I’m not sure where I would be today. For their sacrifice, I will always be grateful.
But in trying to heal the inner child, I came to recognize all the ways that my parents failed me. Fat phobic comments, lack of physical affection and touch, physical and emotional neglect, to name a few. All of these experiences contributed to an avoidant attachment style.
However, when I originally learned about the attachment styles sometime in 2019, I was still a business major, and I had just begun my mental health journey. At this point in time I was looking for resources to help myself feel better anywhere I could find it. I probably stumbled upon the topic of attachment styles while conducting a google search for causes of low self esteem and low confidence.
Nothing like a good old fashioned google and Webmd search that leads you into self diagnosing yourself with numerous health conditions and psychological problems, all telling you that there’s no hope.
In all seriousness, at the time I was also unaware of the idea of inner child work let alone how to conduct this work. Initially I didn’t make any process in healing my avoidant attachment style because I was blocked by anger, frustration, and resentment towards my parents. I was having a hard time trying to understand how they could be so incompetent as parental figures in my life, that I was left with what felt like irreparable damage to my self-esteem, self-worth, and ability to connect with others. I felt like they ruined my life.
Attachment style is the emotional bond that forms between children and their caregivers. Later in life, the attachment style formed during infancy is usually the same attachment style used to interact with close relationships and significant others. Essentially through attachment style, infants learn the internal working models of the dynamics of close relationships (Kassin 371; Weiten 346).
There are 4 attachment styles:
Secure attachment: Infant feels safe and emotionally soothed by their caregivers. As an adult, a person with secure attachment style has healthy relationships with others and positive self esteem.
Anxious/Ambivalent attachment: Infants received inconsistent care from parents. Sometimes parents would be nurturing. Other times they would be insensitive. The infant appears stressed in the presence of their caregivers, yet wants to cling onto them when separated, but still does not feel comforted when caregivers return. As an adult, anxious types are insecure of themselves and are dependent on others for reassurance yet their self doubt is never relieved even with this constant reassurance.
Avoidant attachment: Infants do not seek out emotional comfort from caregivers due to their emotional needs being ignored or dismissed by caregivers. As adults, these people have learned to suppress their emotions, are extremely independent, spend a lot of time in isolation, and as a result are uncomfortable being close with others.
Disorganized attachment: Infants who experience abuse by their caregivers, have an unclear and confused sense of attachment. The caregiver was often a source of comfort and fear. As adults, these people express both characteristics of avoidant and anxious attachment.
Revisiting the attachment styles years later at the beginning of 2020 in psych 101 and still recognizing the characteristics of avoidant attachment within myself, made it clear to me that I needed to do inner child work. Even though I didn’t receive the care I needed as a child, as an adult, I can learn to connect with my inner child and re-parent myself in ways I would have wanted.
I avoided my parents for months. I couldn’t stand to be around them, near them, or look at them. Being around them would immediately usher in a million negative thoughts about them and myself into my mind. At the same time I also felt guilty for feeling angry. No one wants to hate on their parents but I couldn’t stop feeling this way towards them.
A solution I found was practicing mindfulness. The first hurdle was reaching awareness. First I had to become aware of the thoughts I was having. I would take a pause when I felt like I was in the middle of a negative stream of consciousness and just try to observe these thoughts. I tried to not attach any emotions to these feelings which again proved to be difficult. Anger and guilt would cloud my judgement, prompting me to go sit and sulk alone in my room. I kept practicing mindfulness until I could finally view my thoughts in a neutral way. I started to recognize it was the same thoughts that kept repeating over and over again.
Learning about parenting styles also helped me be more compassionate and forgiving towards my parents. I connected their uninvolved parenting style with their frankly traumatic childhood experience back in their country of origin. Despite their own wounds, in addition to the many difficulties immigrants face, my parents were still able to provide some stability in my life by modeling a fairly healthy relationship between themselves and meeting the majority of my physical needs. I realized, my parents did the best they could with what they had.
Since beginning my mental health journey in 2019, I feel like I’ve finally made progress. First and foremost, there is nothing wrong with me. Even If my outside environment hasn’t changed much, my internal mindset sure has. This was the real success of the mission. I know that taking the time to go on this journey was vital in helping me establish a foundation capable of supporting new life.
Embarking on this journey gave me the tools I needed to support my mind, body, and spirit going forward. Mindfulness is something that I still practice today. Being able to view my thoughts in an objective way has helped to disconnect my thoughts from who I am. If something doesn’t go as planned, I don’t go into a state of self loathing anymore.
Although I don’t journal as often as I once did, journaling will always be a part of my mental health routine. A journal can’t ever judge me. I would try to reach out to others about the feelings I was having towards my parents, and no one understood the resentment since my parents help me out on a daily basis. I had to journal these feelings out.
Now that the “pre-investigation” is complete, I’m ready to work on new personal development goals. For the first time in my life, I’m looking to bring more movement in my life and connect with my body. I have always avoided the gym and exercise like the plague even though I knew the endless benefits of an active lifestyle. To further my mental health progress, bringing more activity into my life feels right and for once, comfortable.
Kassin, Saul, et al. Social Psychology. 9th ed., Belmont, CA, Wadsworth, 2011.
Weiten, Wayne. Psychology Themes and Variations. 10th ed., Boston, MA, Cengage, 2015.
About the Author:
Jamie Rauda-Sanchez is a Senior Psychology major at UNLV and a Blog/Newsletter Intern for LYF. In 2019, Jamie started her journey towards bettering her mental health and increasing her self love. With firsthand experience on the healing power of art, music, and writing, she now hopes that sharing her experiences will help others in their journey. After graduation she hopes to pursue a career in mental health counseling.