There are thousands of reasons our inner parts avoid this recovery work. It’s scary because the emotions feel impossible to survive. It’s scary because they are ashamed of their past and don’t want to be rejected yet again. It’s scary because they don’t want to get in more trouble from their abusers (or others who seem like their abusers). But there is the reason of all reasons. It may be the most existential of all the reasons.
“If I recover from my past, if I let go of all the ties to my abusers, all the contracts I thought they made with me, what is left? Who am I?”
If I am not defined by my past, how do I define myself? And where did the need to define myself come from in the first place? I wasn’t born with that need. When I was born, I just was. I just existed. I didn’t need labels or contracts with others. I didn’t need a tribe or a clan. In a way, I did. I was completely reliant on others to survive. But I never needed the label that came with it.
But in our society, we become so lost, we need labels. We need them to define who we are. And even more importantly, we need them to define who we aren’t. We separate ourselves from others with our labels of them and us, us and them. We make ourselves feel better with our labels. We can put ourselves in nice, neat categories that make life more bearable.
In my adult life, I have many labels, some have stuck through my recovery, like friend, mother and survivor. Some have not had the same longevity, like wife, daughter, sister, corporate project manager and control freak. Just kidding. I am still a control freak. I am a little more grounded and self aware about it though. And some of these labels have been difficult to let go of. I wanted to have an extended family, but mine wasn’t safe. I liked being able to describe my job in one or two sentences. Now when people ask me, they get a 3 hour dissertation. They should really learn not to ask.
But the labels from childhood are a different story. They are held by my inner parts and my inner parts are terrified to let go of them. If they let go of those labels, they let go of who they are. They may even cease to exist. That is a huge problem for them and me. How do I convince them to let go of labels if they believe the label is all they have? These labels came from contracts with others and those contracts feel unbreakable. They might be the terrified victim in need of rescue, an irresponsible and stupid child, a future girlfriend or wife, or the partner in crime (don’t ask). But none of these labels are negotiable to my inner parts. They are a definition. They are a reason for existence.
And I notice the terror as I eliminate label after label. There aren’t many of those old labels left. And what does that mean? What happens when I become undefined by labels? Who can I possibly be? Me? Who is that? Will I disappear? Will I cease to exist? It seems like too much for my inner parts to consider. I promise them safety (within reason). I promise them they aren’t going anywhere. Sometimes, I get the impression they want to believe me. I don’t think they want to be defined in these ways. But they don’t know what the alternative is.
So I work with them to remove the contracts with others and the labels they have assigned us. I show them they are so much more than labels. I show them the labels are just plain wrong. And I hope they will come to see they are bigger and better than the labels and let them go. But I know what comes next. I have felt it before. It isn’t painful, but it is uncomfortable. There is an emptiness that waits to be filled. But that emptiness is filled by my true self. Each time I allow the emptiness, I become a little more me, the real me, the indefinable, indescribable me. And I’ll take that any day.