I grew up in an environment with one very clear message: who I am and what I believe does not matter. My opinions and emotions about my experiences were not welcome. My desires and plans in the world were unacceptable. I was trained from an early age to be invisible. I was taught to be nonexistent. My inner defenders grew in strength every day. I developed some survival strategies that were not healthy. And those survival strategies made it impossible to have healthy relationships in my adult life. What did they look like?
I had no idea what I wanted. I lost track of my own internal communication. I could only operate from the external guidance I received. In every relationship, I would take on the hobbies and interests and life aspirations of others.
I had absolutely no boundaries. To be fair, I didn’t know what a boundary was. I didn’t know there was supposed to be defined space between two people. I certainly never knew I was allowed to say “no” for any reason to anyone.
I did what I was told. I ran myself into the ground trying to make everyone happy. If I was overwhelmed and another request came in, I had to figure out how to make it work. And that normally meant I was going to run myself into the ground. I was not going to get enough sleep and I was going to get sick.
I looked to others for my worth. I had no ability to see myself as intrinsically valuable. I only saw myself as worthy when I was doing everything for everyone and getting their approval in return. Of course, that approval never lasted long, so my insatiable need for external approval was never met. I never felt worthy.
Not surprisingly, I was miserable. And deep down inside, I was extremely angry. My survival skills were destroying my life. Every day was a marathon of activities meant to make others happy. And I was less and less capable of keeping up every day. I knew that I was coming to a point where I would either explode, have a paralyzing depressive event, or become permanently ill from the stress I was putting myself under. Something had to give. But I had no idea how to change.
That’s when I started writing and I began to meet my inner parts. I got to know them, their emotions and their memories. As I met them, I realized they were responsible for my survival strategies. The inner defenders were my chameleons who were programmed to give everyone else exactly what they wanted at the expense of self. As I got to know them, things started to make sense. But there was still an open question. Who knows what I really want in life? None of the parts I was meeting seemed to be too sure how to answer that question. I knew I had to stop relentlessly serving others, but I didn’t know what I was supposed to replace it with. It was a big gaping hole that didn’t feel good to someone who never had a moment of free time before starting this process.
That started to change when I met my freedom fighters. These inner parts were the parts I had been looking for. The defenders had locked them away to keep them from endangering me in childhood. But that certainly wasn’t serving me in adulthood. They knew what I wanted. They had strong opinions. And they had plans to share with me. Most of those plans were scary, especially to the defenders. But some things started to change in my life as I got to know them. What happened?
I had opinions. I am not suggesting I never had opinions. But those opinions were about minor things. And they weren’t driven from my inner wisdom. These new opinions were about important things. And they weren’t always popular. And I didn’t need people to agree with me to know they were right for me.
I had boundaries. I started to say “no” to people who wanted time from me. I seriously pared down the list of things I was willing to do on a daily basis. The requirements of the defenders became optional. And I kept others from derailing my days by making it clear that I would not take on their stuff. The people who didn’t respect me left. And that was okay.
I started to take action toward my interests. On some level, I always knew what they were, but I didn’t really know. I was always making excuses. I don’t have time. I don’t have money. But now they mattered. I could hear the “selfish” talk coming from the defenders, but it didn’t hold the same weight it used to.
I started breaking contracts. These were the deals I had made with my abusers. And they were holding me back from the life I wanted. They were affecting me in every area of my life from how much money I made to where I lived to where I went on vacation. I started to say “no” to the rules I never agreed to. And I stepped out of those restrictions bit by bit.
My freedom fighters are paving my path to an authentic life. They are bringing me back to who I was supposed to be. In September, we will explore one of those freedom fighters, the inner rebel, as a part of our Survivor’s Guide program. If you are looking to find more of your authenticity, come join us and come back to who you are.