When your inner compass is broken

Trying to control my emotions did not work for me. But this was one of the most difficult surrenders of my recovery because there are a whole bunch of feelings I don’t want to feel, and a few that I want to feel all the time. Giving up my attempts to engcontrol this was one of the most difficult surrenders in my recovery.

Luckily, I had a great sponsor who constantly reminded me that feelings are not facts.

For example, sometimes I feel safe, when in fact I’m not. I felt safe in therapy, but in fact I was not in a safe environment at all. When I got a new therapist, I felt unsafe, but that wasn’t right either.

When you can’t trust your own inner compass to help you make the right decisions, life is chaotic and your feelings lead you astray.

I’ve been thinking this morning about how a person’s inner compass can be broken because I’m not the only person who has walked into an abusive situation with both eyes open and misinterpreted or ignored the danger signs.

I blame it on my childhood.

There’s was something very powerful about being told that my grandfather loved me, that he was just hugging me, that I was misinterpreting things. Even when I was a young mother, I understood that my most important job was to help my children develop a working inner compass; that I served as their compass until they were old enough and mature enough to internalize it and make it their own.

One of the things I’m feeling quite proud of this morning is how I never told my children that a shot at the doctor’s wouldn’t hurt. I always told them that it was going to hurt a lot. I said that they were allowed to cry but they must stay absolutely still. When they came to me crying with a boo-boo of some sort, I never said, “That doesn’t hurt.” Even if they were being ridiculous, crying like their leg had been hacked off at the knee when they had a miniscule scratch. I’d squat down to get at eye level and as soon as they took a breath (screaming kids can’t hear too well mid scream) I’d say, “That hurts a LOT.”

At which point they’d usually say, “Yeah” Then we’d proceed to discuss the injury. At length. After they were calm, I’d ask them what they were going to do to take care of themselves. Sometimes they’d want a band-aid, sometimes not.

Of course, sometimes the injury was serious – I remember one time there was blood everywhere and we were definitely going to need stitches. But the algorithm is still the same: acknowledge the truth and help the child take appropriate care of their injury. That means you have to help your child learn how to hold panic and fear at bay while you do the next right thing (stop the bleeding).

Ultimately your job as a parent is to make yourself obsolete. I hope my children will miss me when I’m dead, and I’m sure they’ll be very sad. But they won’t NEED me.

My mother dealt with boo-boos in this same manner.

That’s confusing. She was such a good mother – yet such a bad mother. Are all mothers like that? Am I like that?

But lest I get caught up in those confusing existential questions before my first cup of coffee, let me get back to my point, which is that having a broken inner compass can be a real disaster. As parents, our job is planned obsolescence. We owe it to our children to do the best we can to help them develop an accurate inner compass. But just because my compass is broken doesn’t mean I’m doomed to a life of poor decisions and self-destruction. Like all human beings, I am resilient. I can learn and grow and change. It’s not easy, but it can be done. Nobody’s compass has to stay broken. There is healing.  Since I’ve been in recovery — I find that my emotions are more in tune with reality.

I suspect my emotional responses haven’t changed, but my interpretations have.


One comment

  1. This is exactly what I struggle with – my inner compass broken and not knowing which direction to go in. You sound like even though your inner compass is broken you know enough to teach it to your kids -how awesome for you and them.

    So my question to you is – have figured out how to fix a broken inner compass and learn to trust your gut again? If so, what did you do?

    I find that I live in turmoil of confusion – indecision and insecurity rule me where confidence and passion used to be. I am trying to live a spirit led life because I obviously do not know how to lead myself to safe places.

    Would love to hear your thoughts of today and where you stand on this issue now that you have brought it the light for yourself.


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