My recovery work has taught me that the original traumatic experiences are about 5% of the total problem. Almost all children experience traumatic events, but if they have supportive parents, they can come to understand what they experienced and recover from it in healthy ways. When the trauma is coming from our parents (or those who are closely tied to family), the trauma is horrible, but it is the manipulation and gaslighting which make recovery seem impossible. The games played by enablers become impossible to reconcile. And this doesn’t end when we become adults. As a matter of a fact, the older we get, the more important it becomes for our family to keep us confused about our reality. Lately, I have been thinking about how our families “up the ante” when we become independent adults. And I came up with five examples to illustrate it for you.
They deny the abuse. That doesn’t sound surprising at all. It may be so obvious that you are wondering why I wrote it. But when we become adults, the denial shifts. Don’t get me wrong, they still deny the trauma and call us crazy, but the denial develops nuances. For example, they may add some more adult terms into the gaslighting. They may start bringing up defamation of character or libel cases. They may make sure you know about “false memory syndrome”. They may point you to psychological and legal cases that support their denial tactics. They will claim you have disorders you don’t have or blame it on traumas that occurred in your adulthood (which were usually a direct reflection of your childhood trauma pattern.
They will act like the perfect family. Once again, I know they probably did this when you were a child too. But I am not talking about the mask to the outside world here. I am talking about how they act in front of you. Now that you are an adult, you aren’t triggering their trauma the way you used to. And since you aren’t with them every day, all day, they can put up a good front when you’re around. The nicer they act toward you, the more confused you get. You start questioning how bad it really was. “Maybe they weren’t so bad.” “Maybe I don’t have to work on recovery or alienate them because they are so nice now.” Deep down inside, your traumatized inner parts are screaming for you to validate their pain, but you are confused by their current outward behavior. Of course, this will dissolve if things get tough or you share a space for too long. But believe me, it is on purpose. It is meant to confuse you. read more…
One of the most frustrating aspects of trauma recovery is the constant feeling we are torn in multiple directions. It renders decision-making almost impossible. And it feels like we are crazy. As a matter of a fact, many people believe that holding two opposing opinions simultaneously is not possible or is the basis for a psychological disorder. Cognitive dissonance is often touted as a problem that needs to be solved. But let me tell you a secret. Everyone struggles with it.
When I first discovered my own inner parts, it was amazing to me how many things suddenly made sense. I could explain the unexplainable things in my life through the existence of inner parts. As time went on, I discovered that my own inner parts had taken over at times (often referred to as switching). This is also known as dissociative identity disorder (D.I.D.). In my case, I had stopped switching by the time I discovered it. But the presence of such a strong inner parts system has led me to deep understanding of my inner landscape. So for that, I am grateful.
But the presence of inner parts is not restricted to those with D.I.D. and severe complex trauma. Everyone has parts. The separation of parts of self is a natural response for children growing up in a traumatic world. Everyone has had a traumatic response in childhood. It is a given. And these inner parts are responsible for the dissonance that lives within us. It is there whether we see it or not.
You may be wondering what it looks like, so I will give some examples of how dissonance shows up through our inner parts. I have three examples of how our parts fight with each other, creating all sorts of dysfunction in our external lives. read more…
Most people who decide to work with me have been journeying through recovery for many years. They have been struggling to reduce their traumatic pain for decades. They have tried many approaches over the years. Some have worked a little. Some have worked well, but only for a while. And some have brought them permanent relief, but they seemed to hit a wall. Despite all these efforts, there is one statement that is all too common when I talk to survivors. “It feels like I’m getting worse.”
That statement isn’t a dramatic exaggeration coming from years of trying to heal to no avail. It isn’t coming from the inner tantrum thrown by the controller. It does feel like it is getting worse because we are getting closer to the trauma. It feels like it is getting worse because the traumatic emotions are rising to the surface while our defenses are dropping. Let me explain what is happening from an inner parts perspective.
When we were growing up in a traumatic environment, we developed defenders. Our defenders are the protectors of our inner children and their secrets. The goal of our defenders is to keep everything as safe as possible. They do this by keeping the emotions squelched and the memories repressed. They push the inner children away with invalidation and scathing insults because they believe this is the safest route. They are willing to sacrifice our integrity to ensure safety. And the controller is the leader of the defenders. Their goal is to ensure we are safe no matter what. They employ many different defenses, including extreme levels of dissociation, to avoid risk.
While these defenses served their purpose in childhood, they are not working now. They are holding us back from who we are meant to be. But most importantly, they are not sustainable. We cannot use these defenses to push down the truth forever. Eventually, the defenses will not be able to squelch the innate power that comes from our core being. So while our controller may have been firmly in charge in our twenties, showing up as high levels of productivity and the ability to plow through almost anything, it won’t last forever. read more…
I have been taking steps to heal myself for most of my adult life. In my twenties, I learned yoga, meditation and Reiki. I went on special diets to heal my aching body. I sought out therapy in different forms with mixed results. When my children were born, they brought a level of urgency to the process. I knew I had to take it up a notch because the panic attacks were unbearable. So 11 years ago, I started the recovery work which led to memory recovery. It has been 11 years of emotional expression, recovered memories and body aching as I have transformed myself. I can honestly say that I am not the same person I was. Of course, my true self is the same. But now, I can actually see it.
This recovery journey has been amazing. It has opened my eyes to many things about myself and the world around me. I am glad I decided to take this path. I would never want to go back to the life I was leading when I started. That said, it has also been hard. It has been miserable at times. And honestly, if you had told me how long it would take at the beginning, I might not have signed up for it. What a tragedy that would have been. But back then, I would not have had the perspective to understand the timing was not the important part. And there have been many tantrums because of that. There have been so many tantrums. And no, I am not talking about the tantrums from my external or internal children. Those are separate. I am talking about the tantrums from my controller.
If there is one thing I have learned over these years, it is the resourcefulness of the controller. The controller will stop at nothing to stop recovery. They hate it. And while there are some more obvious defenses, there are other defenses that are incredibly stealth. Some of the controller’s defenses are so stealth, it is almost impossible to see them as trauma-related. And one of those defenses comes in tantrum form.
What do I mean? The controller hates recovery. They hate it because there is no timeline. They hate it because it is unpredictable. And most of all, they hate it because they can’t control it. Recovery is not controllable. Honestly, you know you are doing it right when you feel like a sitting duck. You have no idea what is coming next. In recovery, the inner parts are in charge of what they share. Any organization to the process (which is surprisingly organized) is happening by the higher self. And the controller hates the higher self if they will admit they exist. They think it is another part who cannot be trusted, making promises to be broken. read more…
Anxiety has been my lifelong companion. While it has been debilitating at times, my recovery work has helped me so much. I don’t have the same responses to life that I did in my younger years. I don’t get paralyzed in the same way. I can breathe through oncoming panic attacks. I can write from the emotions under the surface. I have come to a place in my recovery where I can stop anxiety before it overtakes me. I am proud of that. I love how anxiety is not always in charge anymore. But I have to admit, the past two days, it has been in charge.
I am paralyzed. I have a mile-long “to-do” list and none of it is getting done. I just keep scrolling through my Facebook feed reading articles and watching news streams. But here’s the thing. I know with all my being this is the wrong thing to do. I know all the ways to break out of anxiety and this is not it. But I do it anyway. When I do break away from my computer, I feel like I am on the verge of grieving all the time. That makes sense. The anxiety is meant to keep the grief away. Grief is about the uncontrollable and my controller wants this to be controllable. My inner rebel feels trapped. My inner children feel scared. And my inner mean kid wants to punch someone. So I scroll. I look for answers to make everything okay. But it isn’t okay. It was never okay. This is the world I live in. My controller can’t pretend right now. And that is terrifying.
I live an hour from Charlottesville, Virginia. I live in a town called Richmond, Virginia which might become news for similar reasons in the future. But 23 years ago, I graduated from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. I lived there for four years. I loved Charlottesville. It is one of my favorite places. Maybe it is because of what it represented. It was my first taste of freedom. I had escaped my family. I was living on my own. But as you might imagine, all was not rainbows and unicorns. I was terribly dissociated and my trauma manifested a ton of messy situations and relationships. But in my mind, I was free of that family and I was never going back to that house (and I didn’t). Charlottesville and I have a special connection.
Needless to say, I was heartbroken by what I saw on Friday and Saturday. Watching those terrorists walk through my college town around my Rotunda and down my lawn was horrible. And I didn’t realize until just now what that represented. It represented my family coming to my safe place and messing it up. It felt like my safe home was invaded by my abusers. It felt like that other shoe dropping like I always knew it would. And now my system has hit the ceiling, and honestly, this might take a while to calm down.
You may be asking (or it might be obvious to you), why would I equate the terrorists with my family? read more…
I have spent several months walking through my past with my inner rebel runner. It hasn’t been easy. We have felt so much futility, grief, shame and fear. And countless memories have been shared. All of these memories are different in their own way, but they have one very important message in common. People suck. Every memory has involved someone telling me how something is wrong with me, something is wrong with my plans and dreams, something is wrong with how I express myself and basically how I am just wrong. My inner rebel runner believes that people are not worth my time because all they do is tell me what I need to change to meet their standards.
On a cognitive level, I get what’s happening here. I was attracting people with serious self-esteem issues. They were projecting their need to perfect themselves on to me. They wanted to change me the way they wanted to change themselves. I know that I attract a different type of person in to my space now. There are so many amazing people around me. But my inner rebel is not convinced it is safe to connect on a deep level and I understand her hesitation. I get it. And we will change at her pace.
But my most recent revelation was a particular phrase that hit me hard. “You are too intense.” It was something I heard mainly in intimate relationships, but sometimes in working relationships and friendships. It was always men who said it. I feel anger about it for a couple of reasons. First, of course I was intense! After all that I had been through, I was trying to survive every single day. The world was a very scary place. Survival requires intensity. Second, it brings up the societal issues of how women are expected to portray themselves. Men get to be intense. Women need to be happy, smiley people who know how to have a good time. “You are prettier when you smile” is a phrase most women have heard. read more…
Our rebellious inner freedom fighters are absolutely critical to our success as human beings. They exist despite horrific experiences that taught us to conform and seek approval no matter what the cost to our integrity. They are the keepers of our true selves. They hold our purpose under lock and key. They refuse to let us be lost forever. The inner rebels represent the true spirit of humanity. Almost everyone in the world who has made a name for themselves or changed the world has been in touch with the spirit of their rebel.
It is sad that I have only learned of my freedom fighters in the past year. I always knew they were there and even spoke of them on occasion, but I did not have conversations with them until recently. They were buried under years and years of traumatic experiences and their devastating emotions. It took me years of working with my traumatized inner children and my fearful inner defenders to finally break through to my rebellious parts under all that trauma muck. And while I now recognize their power to make me whole, I also see another side of them.
They bring with them a self-sabotage of epic proportions. In a way, it’s good. If the controller could do their job without any trouble, we might not find it necessary to explore our inner world and heal our trauma. It is also a good thing because the road our controller takes us down is one of survival. And while survival is certainly important, it isn’t why we are here. We are here for so much more than that. Taking the path with the least visibility and effort is not okay with the rebellious parts. Before this work, I gave all this credit to the inner child, but I have awoken to a new reality. These parts are older and more powerful and they are not backing down for anything. read more…
I’ve hit a creative wall. This is not unusual. I have times when my controller pushes through something with the mind because the mean kid or inner rebel has shut down my ability to do anything useful. It hits me when I decide to create a new program or create something for a client or update my website. But this is new tonight. I usually don’t hit the creative wall with my blog. I always seem to have something to say on the blog. The topic comes to me and magically, the content pours onto the page from a place that is beyond my intellect. It almost feels like cheating. I hear from my fellow bloggers who struggle with creating enough content and I don’t want to tell them it isn’t a struggle for me.
But it is a struggle tonight. There is no topic tonight. There is only the blank page. So I did something I have never done. I just started typing. This isn’t something I do. I have always been substantially enmeshed with my controller, which means everything has to have a plan. Everything has to have a direction before I start. “Go with the flow” is not something I say on the regular. But tonight, out of desperation, I am giving it a try. I am trusting in the universe to take me where I need to go. That never lasts long, but we will see.
It isn’t surprising that I am struggling at the moment. It has been a tough week. I have been processing my inner rebel and she is taking me down some exhausting emotional roads. My son had his third surgical procedure (albeit minor) from a toenail accident that happened 2 years ago which refuses to resolve itself. And my daughter now has strep. Even my dog started randomly limping for one night just to keep me on my toes. It all feels a bit overwhelming sometimes. I love what I do, but running a business isn’t easy. I love my kids, but being a single mother is … well … impossible. Managing everything with no help from family can sometimes pile up and pound me over the head. It is in those moments that creativity leaves me. read more…
Recovery work is definitely a journey. And while the traumatic emotions and memory recovery feel awful sometimes, there is nothing worse than feeling stuck. In this work, “stuck” is a technical term. It means our defenses are winning the inner battle at the moment. Why? We have hit a new threshold in our recovery work. It might take the form of a new emotion, memory or belief, but it feels too scary to process. Of course, we don’t consciously know any of this. If we did, we would take steps to change it. So we spend far too much time in the phase of “stuck” before we develop awareness of what is going on.
For those who have not embraced trauma recovery, they may spend their entire life in this phase. But for those of us who have started this journey, feeling stuck can feel extremely uncomfortable. And it is amazing how good our defenders are at explaining this discomfort away. They are really, really good at it. And so we sit in our uncomfortable “stuckness” for much too long.
But we can build our ability to identify that stuck phase. When our defenses are high and our inner battle is in overdrive, those blocks show up in three ways.
When we are stuck, our body is not in a good place. There is no flow. Not only do we lose the energetic flow, but anything that is supposed to flow can get stuck too. Our blood gets marred with cholesterol. Our digestion slows down and gets stuck. Anything that is supposed to rid the body of toxins stops working like it should. And our muscles get tense and painful as they block whatever we don’t want to feel and see. There is nothing like a chronic illness to identify our “stuckness”. read more…
Over the past few years, I have come to understand I have lived an expendable life. Before you lecture me, I want to be clear that I don’t believe my life has been for nothing. I mean I have lived a life that was expendable to others. The people in my childhood saw me as a commodity. I was something to be used up and thrown away. This was a literal interpretation of my experiences. I was sold to others for the purpose of making money. I was completely expendable, even to the very people who were supposed to love me unconditionally.
This explains why I have spent my adult life trying to prove to others I was worth something. I have always wanted people to believe I mattered. And I have done almost anything to convince them of it.
In relationships, I have worked hard to matter to the other person. I have done whatever it took to keep them around. I have worked hard to provide everything they could possibly need. And it always ended the same way. I got angry and exhausted, while the other person grew tired of using me up. In the end, I became expendable once again.
In my parenting, I have hovered over my children. I had to make it clear that they needed me to protect them and care for them in every way. I wanted them to know how much I cared for them and I wasn’t sure how else to show it. Deep emotional connection wasn’t available to me, so I would take care of all their needs. Unfortunately, this left my children with anxiety and a lack of confidence about their own abilities. And honestly, it has taken tremendous effort to turn that around.
At work, I have gone above and beyond my duties in every job. I have worked so hard at times, I didn’t remember to eat, sleep or go to the bathroom. The more appreciation I got, the harder I worked. Because my inner parts related work in adulthood to school in childhood, this makes sense. School was the only part of my childhood where the rules made sense and I could succeed. So I poured everything into it. And I did the same with work. And while I did succeed on many levels, my bosses had a tendency to ask for more and more until I felt my only option was to leave the job. read more…