Parents and orphans

20-3-17I don’t always keep my promises to myself. I think many of us don’t. I would like to eat only healthy foods, drink less coffee, exercise more, spend less money, and all the other things that my rational mind says are good and sensible. I would like to be good and I often disappoint myself.

I try to be gentle to myself afterwards, but there is always a stern little voice inside me saying, “See? You just don’t have the discipline!” It’s a very familiar voice. Our Critical Parent voices always sound like a parent we grew up with. If you have read my book, Passage of the Stork, you will know that I love my late mother dearly. However, she criticized me more than she praised me. I grew up hungry for praise, but I also internalized her criticism and now criticize myself.

So you are going to say, “But Madeleine, you healed your childhood wounds long ago! That’s why you are now wise enough to teach us through your writings… aren’t you?” Well, I have sad news for you: we never really heal the wounded children inside. We learn to accept the fact that they are there and we learn to enter into a dialogue with them. But they resurface again and again, in the deeper levels of our psyche, with new faces each time.

Bill Plotkin, author of the insightful book, Wild Mind, speaks of the wounded children subpersonalities and gives them names like Orphans, Outcasts, Escapists, Rebels, etc. In fact, they are incomplete versions of the wise innocents and wild indigenous ones we can become. But only if we can balance these qualities out with the qualities of a nurturing adult and one who is not afraid of his/her own darkness. His book contains practical advice on how to develop a balanced Self.

If I were to be very strict with myself and only allow myself those things that are good for me, the Rebel inside would take over and I would end up doing the exact opposite. So the voice of the Critical Parent needs to become the voice of the Nurturing Adult. If I tend to act out because I don’t feel seen, heard, or acknowledged, I need to take that feeling seriously and give myself the praise I long to hear from others.

When are we being kind and nurturing with ourselves and when are we rationalizing and deluding ourselves? Ah, there’s the rub! All we can do is be very still inside and listen to the inner dialogue that rages. Feel our way, let our bodies be our guides. Our bodies are wiser than we are.

Time and time again, I return to Mary Oliver’s beautiful poem, Wild Geese:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.


  1. Perfect Maddi, and it made me cry.

  2. Mary Lou Gillette

    I read this aloud to my dear husband. He applauds you, as do I.

  3. “Entering into my cave of quiet, calming, and self-composure.” I sent this text to another very recently as I face major life challenges. Wisdom: seeking, growing, living. It is not an easy process.

  4. Pingback: Tracing the thread – Madeleine Lenagh

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