“The truth about our childhood is stored up in our body, and although we can repress it, we can never alter it. Our intellect can be deceived, our feelings manipulated, and conceptions confused, and our body tricked with medication. But someday our body will present its bill, for it is as incorruptible as a child, who, still whole in spirit, will accept no compromises or excuses, and it will not stop tormenting us until we stop evading the truth.” Alice Miller

In my coaching practice, I use a model/metaphor for explaining the psyche that I adopted from my own coach—that within all of us there is an inner little kid, an adult, and a higher self. The easy, in a nutshell way to explain these three pieces is that the inner little kid governs emotions; the adult is functional, logical, rational; the higher self is that knowing beyond knowing feeling that descends when we are acutely in the present moment.

This model for understanding the personality is the most helpful one that I’ve seen. It’s how I can make sense of things such as feeling like you logically have forgiven someone, and then getting around them and feeling hurt and angry, all over again. The adult side of you understands that everyone does the best they can. It’s the inner kid who is still pissed. To a child, it does not matter that anyone has done the best they could.

So how to heal this, if you recognize yourself in these words? Start feeling.

At first this idea seems dramatic. Cry? Get angry? Emote? What’s the point? “It all happened; there’s nothing I can do about it now.” True, there’s nothing you can do about the past, but if the past is influencing your right-here-right-now, there’s something you could do about it now. You can stay a victim because you’re mired in those feelings, or start processing them out to get to the other side.

The Garbage in the Basement Metaphor

When explaining this to coaching clients, I often like to use the metaphor of a basement. If someone has been throwing their garbage in the basement instead of taking it out to the curb, the garbage might not be seen but you know it’s in there. It smells. Things start to get crowded. And one day, the basement is full, so perhaps you decide to take one or two bags of trash out to the curb, but that’s it, and then some more garbage gets thrown down there until it’s full again.

The body is presenting its bill. It’s time to look at this stuff.

A decade ago, I began sifting through my own garbage. I began crying whenever the tears came, and screaming into a lot of towels and punching the air and pushing against walls and sometimes getting Andy’s help as witness. It was terrifying. I realized that I was a way more pissed off person than I had ever realized. Also, a way sadder person. I questioned why I was cleaning out this shitty mess, because it was seeming way stinkier and sadder than I’d bargained for.

But then some glimpses came, and I saw that without as much unneeded trash hanging around, there was something lighter, more powerful. It was something I liked. I liked how, instead of starting a fight with my partner when I felt tension, I took care of myself. I liked how, instead of letting things spiral when I was sad, I started looking around and wondering aloud about my options.

It’s a fantastically imperfect process, one that I have danced with and wrestled with and am starting to love in my own way, because I’m loving that little kid who is emerging. I’m seeing more sides of who she is, not just the angry stuff but also the super spunky parts. I’m digging how we are feeling just a bit more like a team.

What would you most like to clean out of your basement?