As babies, we are innocent, open, trusting. As we grow older we are hurt in various ways, and we hurt others. Things that are precious to us are desecrated, whether through abuse, cheating, theft, violence. We develop our own private brand of shame, and may feel bitter about the big and little betrayals that seemingly strip our innocence away. We may turn towards religion, therapists or self-help gurus for the answers to getting back our innocence. Because who wants to be bitter?
In my recent experience of betrayal and violation, I came out of it feeling so…tainted, dirty. Like I had been naive and trusting when I should have seen the truth. Then maybe I wouldn’t have been vulnerable, couldn’t have been hurt. Part of me wanted to get tougher, less trusting, cynical. And another part of me desperately wanted my innocence back. I wanted to erase my marriage and make a different decision three years ago. Then I would have a clean slate, and I wouldn’t be a divorced single mom at 29, with wounds I never imagined having. I observed these parts of myself–the anger and the regret–and appreciated them and the pain they were grappling with. But neither had the answer. I won’t let myself get cynical, life is too good for that. And I won’t wish away the past three years of my life, because I have a beautiful baby and there were definitely good times. Oh, and because it’s actually not possible to turn back time (debatable, I know), so that’s not going anywhere.
So if I wasn’t going to get tougher, and I wasn’t going to reclaim my past innocence, what could I do? Well, figure out what being open and loving looks like now. Not let myself believe that I am tainted, but innocent and beautiful. But how can a person who has had sacred things violated feel innocent?
To start, by redefining what innocence is for myself. Innocence isn’t lack of experience, or not having hurt or been hurt. It isn’t something we have to gradually lose with age. It’s not a “garden” we need to get back to. We evolve, and change. Thank God. I don’t want to be like a baby, because I am an adult and get to think and do so many amazing things. I am grateful for my sharp corners, my soft edges, and the sandy stuff that has shaped them that way.
In each moment we choose to view the world through hurt eyes or through radiant eyes. Maybe that’s part of what innocence is to me. Knowing how ugly people can be, knowing that they could potentially hurt me–and knowing how ugly I can be, how I can hurt people. And choosing to love myself and the world around me with sweetness and confidence anyway.
So I’m committed to being sweet and loving in how I see the world. But I’m also not going to ignore warning signs, enable bad behavior, or put my own life substance (finances, health, reputation) in jeopardy. My innocence is a wise innocence that knows the depth of pain that can be inflicted if I’m not choosing carefully who I am with and what I am giving my energy to.
If innocence isn’t something we return to, and if it’s wise, growing, then it’s something I need to cultivate. If I don’t, I could end up perpetuating a destructive cycle. Here are the steps I’ve been taking to cultivate my wise innocence:
- Doing Shadow Work®: I create intentional safe space to access my emotions about the past and let them go wild, so that I’m not acting them out unconsciously in my daily life (or at least acting them out less). Then I can see people’s intentions and effects on me more clearly when I’m not being governed by my past hurts.
- Enjoying Little Things: I am letting myself be deeply moved by small acts of kindness, hilarity, and creativity. Babies are good for this.
- Loving Myself: Whenever I find myself wishing that things were different or beating myself up for the decisions I made in the past, I have a mantra to whip out: “I love, accept and forgive myself”.
- Forgiveness: I’m working on it. It’s important. This isn’t about forgiving someone else’s mistakes. I did a lot of that, and it just enabled. This is about forgiving a state of brokenness that is destructive. And that is at the very core of what is hurting in human consciousness. It is the same force that compels a high schooler to bring a gun to school and shoot a classmate. Brokenness is part of what we all share. Can I forgive and heal that in myself–that desire to cause hurt because I have been hurt? That’s the first place to start the change.
I invite you to consider your own innocent heart. Have you made decisions to not be innocent because you thought it meant being weak, naive, boring, or taken advantage of? How might you redefine innocence for yourself so that it is not something to return to, but something to grow into? If you were living in wise innocence what would you be able to say about yourself that you can’t say now? Are there ugly things that have happened in your life that you’ve taken on as a part of you, and are you ready to give them back?
I am available as a Shadow Work® coach for women, and as a group facilitator for men and women. Learn how to give back painful ways of loving, and embrace healthy ways of loving instead.
I am an Enneagram Type 8 (Leader). The 8’s greatest fear is said to be of being harmed or controlled by others. In this circumstance in my life, I’ve had a big opportunity to face that! The 8’s virtue is said to be innocence, and we have to consciously practice being open-hearted and not cynical because we fear being violated. Unhealthy 8s shut down emotionally because they are so afraid of being rejected or hurt. If you struggle to understand an 8 in your life, try to see that beyond the tough exterior and seeming confidence they may be terribly afraid of being destroyed, violated emotionally or physically. So they protect themselves and others out of love.
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- I am a coach and facilitator, passionate about living in the world in integrity. I share my victories and struggles candidly through my blog and lead processes for personal transformation through my Shadow Work coaching practice.