Throughout my EMDR therapy journey, I’ve come to realize that all of our incarnations and former selves still live on within us, and the way that we treat/think/talk about them still affects them. If it affects them, it also affects us.
Today I worked on the fact that I always keep a part of myself back from people in order to avoid rejection and hurt, which I see as being inevitable. I’ve had many instances of abandonment and supposedly loving, accepting relationships ending with a click of the fingers when I’ve voiced my opinion or brought my needs to the table. I start any type of relationship already visualizing its ending.
It’s extremely hard to trust in people and to feel part of any group when you assume you won’t genuinely be liked and accepted. I often don’t know what to say to people and shy away from a conversation, scanning for criticism in any interaction. I replay conversations, worried that I talked too much about myself, or said something I shouldn’t and offended someone. I have trouble fully investing because then it will hurt less when the relationship(s) end. The message I give myself is that I’m not good enough, a belief that’s been internalized over many years by abusers and my inner critic, continuing the mistreatment of myself because it’s what I’m used to.
In therapy, I met the part of myself that I’ve kept exiled, and cried hard as she sat with us. I said sorry to her. I felt huge sympathy for her, as she’s been pushed down and not allowed to show herself or take part in my life for so long. That part of myself was too vulnerable to let out into the open and too painful to commune with. It feels as though I’ve perpetuated the bullying of myself. I hugged her (in my mind) and told her I wouldn’t hide her anymore, and now I can feel her walking alongside myself and my younger, child self. I’m more affected by this session than any I’ve done before, very shaken, as though I’m feeling through the exiled version of myself. She’s feeling her way around the life that she hasn’t been allowed to be fully involved in for a very long time, because the pain she experienced was too hard for me to confront and allow to surface. In a way though, she’s the brave part of me. She was rejected for speaking out against manipulation and abuse. I wasn’t actually going to write tonight because I felt that I needed to rest and give myself a break, but the words had to come out. I think she’s making herself heard, and I don’t blame her.
I want to make it clear that this isn’t a case of Dissociative Identity Disorder and other personalities taking over from me. I’m still myself and very much present, but I’m now aware of the parts of myself over the years who’ve been disenfranchised by abuse, and my own need to try and forget about them. It’s buried emotions from past memories rather than actual personalities that are bubbling up and showing themselves. This type of therapy is known as ‘parts work’.
I’ve come to realize that my child self often makes herself known, and was actually at the forefront of my mind, I just didn’t realize where those feelings were coming from. I often felt overwhelmed by adult life, as though I didn’t have the necessary skills to cope with it. A classic case of arrested development – a child playing at being an adult, who somehow found herself with rent to pay, heating bills to keep an eye on and a house to keep. I sometimes wondered how I’d got here because surely I wasn’t old enough to be dealing with such difficult, boring adult problems? I spoke harshly to myself (her), told her to pull herself together and grow up, because this was adult life and she must be stupid if she couldn’t deal with it. And I felt those words. They hurt, but in a subconscious place, I wasn’t aware of. I just knew that I somehow felt them.
My way of self-harming is emotional, and sometimes I’d deny myself an offer of lunch from a friend, or something pretty and easily affordable from a shop, for reasons I couldn’t even explain. I’d then feel a deep sense of sorrow and frustration that I couldn’t understand. The depth of that feeling seemed out of place, considering how minor my actions were. Denying myself (her) comforting things felt good as well as distressing and torturous. Maybe because it’s a familiar feeling, and this is how I learned that I should be treated. My inner critic bullying my inner child. I still have a tendency to do this, but now try to keep in mind the little girl I’m denying too. I try to accept the offer of lunch from a friend instead of insisting on buying my own because it makes my current and younger self feel special and loved (and makes my friend feel good too). Something as simple as buying a pretty trinket can give me such pleasure, because it’s a present to myself, just because.
A strange thing is happening whilst I work with these former incarnations of myself. I can feel myself becoming more capable, and feeling more like my actual age when it comes to coping with adulthood (let’s face it, most of us are coping with it and not skipping happily along with it). I’m the oldest and therefore the guardian, maybe. They’re compartmentalized and I can recognize them as they pop in and out of my mind or react to certain things, instead of being confused by suddenly changing moods and triggered reactions. My confidence in social situations is growing and I’m realizing that I am liked by the people around me. It’s a very logical way of dealing with my emotional reactions and thoughts, which I’m not used to, but it feels healthier and is definitely helping. It’s almost like having a referee in my mind, reassuring everyone, listening to them and keeping them in line.
That isn’t to say that things are perfect now when it comes to my emotional regulation. I still have mornings when I wake up depressed and obviously triggered for a reason I can’t seem to place. My moods still change extremely quickly and still affect my everyday life, but now I take the time to search back through the annals of my memories for a trigger or a reference point and try to soothe and reassure myself.
I used to think of my past selves with disdain and embarrassment. I think it’s natural for most of us to cringe at ourselves at various ages, but for those of us with abuse in our past, there’s so much more to unpack. My own behavior in the past has felt mortifying – reactive cruelty, being passive-aggressive, selective mutism in triggering environments, cutting words toward those who really didn’t deserve it, and other emotionally triggered behaviors. Looking back at all those previous incarnations of myself, they all felt confused and bewildered by mood swings they didn’t understand and were at a loss to control. None of it was done from genuine malice.
It’s so easy to look back at our former selves in memories or photographs and disparage them. We perhaps didn’t behave as well as we should have, or we were awkward or lashed out at people because we didn’t know how to deal with our own pain. We weren’t able to develop the self-worth or coping skills that others have because of the abusive childhoods we experienced. We literally didn’t know any better. If we have remorse for our actions, acknowledge that we were wrong and (if possible) apologize to those we hurt, we should go easy on our past selves who were trying to cope as best they could with the resources they had. Hating who we were then doesn’t do us any good if they’re still residing within us, it’s just another form of hating ourselves. It’s a much more pleasant experience to feel that they’re walking alongside us and helping us on our journey toward wellness.