After a childhood of severe abuse, I am a walking web of defense mechanisms. The most destructive mechanisms were developed when I was a younger child. Because of their devastating impact on my adult life, it was absolutely critical that I identify and work with these defenses. The most notable defense was the dissociative response which manifested as memory repression. From the point of repression, my unconscious past ruled my life. And it was as disastrous as it sounds.
I also learned some other helpful tips as a child. I learned to hide who I really am and what I really want. I learned to meet the needs of others while ignoring my own needs. I learned to ignore all feelings. Emotions were definitely a problem in my childhood. I numbed out. It was the safest and best response to an abusive childhood from which I had no escape.
Although I have slowly learned to overcome many of these defenses, I have recently come across some new strategies as I delve deeper in my recovery journey. These strategies seem a little darker, a little less optimistic, a little less hopeful. As a young child, I believed that if I changed myself, I could establish a relationship with others, no matter how abusive they might be. But that changed when I became a teenager.
It has occurred to me recently that I am working with a teenage part of me who doesn’t see things the same way. I think my recent writings about my intense rage were an introduction to her. Don’t get me wrong, I have known about her for some time, but she seemed to play a supporting role. My younger child part seemed to be much more vocal. Not anymore.
My teenage part has some concerns about this life I am choosing, because this life relies on establishing relationships with others. She is comfortable with my children for the most part. They can be a little lacking in boundaries, but overall, she has learned to trust them. She knows they are not dangerous.
But in her opinion, everyone else can go to hell. I know you are thinking that this sounds like every teenager. But my teenager part remembers the sex abuse, the emotional abuse, the bullying from so-called “friends”, the complete and utter rejection that she experienced over and over. And through the years, she chose a path for her life. And that path was isolation. That path was complete removal from society, friends and most definitely, significant others.
So, I stand at a crossroads. I know that life does not have to be like those teenage years. My adult brain understands that when I feel left out of a group, I may need to make an effort to actively participate in that group. My adult brain knows that I have friends who truly care for me and want the best for me. I have better friends now than any time in my past. My adult brain knows a judgmental comment probably was not meant the way it came out, and if it was, the person making the comment should stop judging themselves so harshly. My adult brain understands that compliments are not usually an attempt to manipulate me.
But my teenage part begs to differ. She knows through her own experiences with abusive adults and bullies that people are bad. And the best way to avoid bad people is to avoid people.
So how do I negotiate with a teenager? The answer is clear. I don’t. She has to figure it out for herself. She has to see that life is not what she believes it to be. She has to discover that not everyone is out to get her. She has to integrate with that courageous part that sees life as something other than hell on Earth. But it has to be on her time, in her way. It has to be her decision.
And so I wait. I remain aware of the kindness that others display toward me. I gently call out my own pessimism when I am wrong about someone and their intentions. I try to allow myself to see things a little differently, to see that everything isn’t as it was in my childhood. And I know that one day, she will trust again. She will come around. She will say, “We will try it your way, but just this once, and if it doesn’t work, I’ll never do it again.” And when there is a positive experience, she will roll her eyes, and give me a little more leeway to make more connections. This won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. I know because I know her. And I know she doesn’t want to live in darkness. No teenager really wants the darkness. She wants the light. She wants love. Isn’t that what everyone wants?