Over the years, I've often received, and often enough given, the advice to "comfort your fearful child part." It has always sounded like good advice, but for some reason it has never seemed to be very successful, when I tried it myself.
I've had therapists ask me what I would do, to comfort a child. After some hesitation, I generally reply that I would hug the child and tell them that things will be okay. Yet, imagining situations where those things were done to me, either by others when I was a child, or by me internally towards myself in later years, those actions have always seemed somehow ineffectual. I never felt comforted.
That inability to comfort myself, and to feel much comfort from others, has always made me somewhat concerned. And an idea came to me recently about how that might have developed.
Some of the most stressful times of my life were when I was living in Africa as a child. It was a French-speaking country, and there were no English-language schools. So every morning was scary, and I was only eight. And every morning, my parents tried to comfort my brother and me.
The thing is, whether or not they succeeded, we still had to go, catch our ride to school, and get through the day somehow. So it often seemed as if the attempts at comforting didn't matter at all, because either way we still had to go, and at a preset time.
Sometimes we would feel sick, and during the first few months they let us stay home sometimes, but it eventually became clear that we always felt more sick on days when there was extra stress, like a test or something. After that, we had to go, despite our feelings, unless we actually had symptoms.
So, instead of being in a situation where my fears were soothed and I felt ready to meet whatever challenge there was, I had to put my fears away whether I was ready or not. The result was that instead of the child bravely facing the day, it was locked in its room, exiled, just so that some other part could do what was required.
The fear wasn't gone, just hidden. The child wasn't safe (after all, he was still riding along with the rest of me); he was just put away where his fears couldn't make things worse. And of course, once or twice the fears came out anyway, but the embarrassment and ultimate futility of such outbursts quickly put an end to them.
Eventually, it became routine to put the child away instead of even trying to comfort him. And then, it was easier not to let him out again in between.
And now I'm not even sure what "comfort" would be.