I’ve had some good things happening in my life lately. I’ve been taking some big chances and it’s been working out. That sounds nice, doesn’t it? I agree it sounds nice. But I’ll be honest. My system is in chaos. My anxiety has been unusually high. I haven’t been sleeping well. My thoughts are racing. I am stressed out. I am more stressed out than when things are going wrong. It doesn’t make sense. But at the same time, it makes all the sense in the world. For my inner parts, it isn’t normal for things to go well. So when things start to look good, my inner parts come out expecting the absolute worst. When I get excited or happy, some inner parts become terrified. It would be easy to invalidate them about this. It would be easy to think that I am being crazy. But when I look at my past, this response is completely reasonable. So instead of arguing with myself, I need to give myself the compassion I have always deserved. I need to acknowledge the history creating this reaction. What are my parts saying?
It’s a setup. It seems good, but it is going to be bad. This was the story of my childhood in many ways. I was lured into many dangerous situations under the pretense that something good was happening. This was one of my mother’s favorite tricks. After a while, she knew I didn’t trust her, so she would use others. She would make my friends and boyfriends lure me into bad situations. Maybe they knew they were doing something mean. Maybe they didn’t. But it made it impossible for me to trust anyone. I never knew if they were “working” for my mother. The flying monkeys were everywhere. So nobody and no experience was safe. Not surprisingly, I isolated more and more as I got older. But there was still that desire for connection. And it never failed to get me in trouble. Now when I connect with even the most random person, I can sense that mistrust coming in. Are they working for her? Are they going to try to harm me? Are they setting me up? I know it sounds like paranoia (and it is), but it is based on valid reasons from an extremely traumatic past. It is not to be discounted.
It will never work out. Something will go wrong as soon as I get excited about it. The messages were clear in childhood. I was not allowed to have what I wanted. If I was too happy, something would be done to reduce my happiness. Joy was dangerous because it might bring confidence or hope. Those things were not allowed in my family. I had to be oppressed at all costs. My mother put so much effort into thwarting the things I loved, it was mind-boggling. How could one person use so much energy to destroy another? I often wonder how much good she could have done in the world if she had focused all her energy on something positive. But she didn’t. So my parts are always waiting for the inevitable destruction of my happiness. They see it as an absolute given. NOTHING good will ever last. In the end, I’ll get excited only to be decimated by something awful. I am NEVER supposed to get my hopes up. This makes embracing great things incredibly difficult. But it is clear why I feel that way.
I am fooling everyone. My mother was devoted to ensuring I internalized all the shame and self-blame when bad things happened to me. I learned that bad things happened to me and others because I was a problem. I was cursed. I was wrong. I was bad. I was evil. I was a witch. I should have never been born. I was an imposter. I needed to hide my true self. My innate characteristics were everything the world despised. I had to shrink, hide, avoid others and never let anyone know enough find out the truth. If I get too involved in something I love, if I connect with people too much, they will figure out how bad I really am. And then, I will lose it all. Everything I love will be lost. They will take it from me because I am undeserving of all that is good. So I must avoid connection with people who could figure out who I really am. That means I must avoid connection with people. And while it is completely unrealistic, it is completely understandable that my inner parts would feel this way.
Indeed, there is a setup. In my childhood, I was set up to believe these things. And there was no way I could have avoided these beliefs. My life was orchestrated to lead me to them. But that doesn’t mean I have to live with this pattern for good. I can recognize these beliefs. I can hear them out. I can feel the terror underneath the surface. And I can continue to make choices to change those patterns. I can choose to ground into another truth that empowers me. I can consider how things could be different. I can help my parts heal and see the world in a new way. Will this happen overnight? No. It is quite a process. But when I stick with it, I have seen it work. I have seen it change. The patterns do shift, but it won’t happen if I don’t believe myself. I have to listen to the terror to find my happiness.
I don’t watch much television. But I have a habit of watching “This Is Us”. I watch it every Tuesday night when there’s a new episode. My controller tries to shut down any potential emotion, but for some reason, I always seem to manage to move my schedule around for an episode of This Is Us. This episode was full of emotional moments (as they are), but I was caught off guard by the last scene of this episode. I had not realized how much I could still be moved by the idea of family support. I had not realized that there was still a part within me who still considered the idea of community. A long time ago, I wrote it off. I shut the entire idea down.
Don’t get me wrong. I have two children. Together, the three of us make the best family in my opinion. There is plenty of squabbling and middle school ridiculousness (from all three of us). But it has definitely been the best family I have ever had (I know that bar is low). And there have been the occasional “family” members who have been a part of our lives (not necessarily blood-related). But the Thanksgiving/Christmas Hallmark family concept has not been a part of my thoughts for a long time. I have known better than to hang my hopes on any such possibilities. At least, I believed that to be the case.
I do everything alone. I have raised my children alone. I have dealt with every major problem with my children alone. I have taken one of my children to hospital 6 times … alone. I have dealt with financial difficulties while starting my own business … alone. I have faced crises as school … alone. I have moved 3 times … alone. I have dealt with the death of a pet five times … alone. I haven’t had that partner or family member to call and say, “What do I do now?” And that’s how it is for survivors of trauma. We make a choice. We choose between our families and our safety. And even in the worst-case complex trauma scenarios, it is hard to make that choice. We aren’t taught to go it alone. Society doesn’t recommend it. And yet, so many of us are doing just that.
And I never feel more alone than when something is going wrong. With two kids and three cats, something is going wrong often, but sometimes it feels worse than others. It would be nice to have someone around to tell me I haven’t screwed up my kids forever or that my decisions don’t suck. It would be nice to have someone eat a meal I made and not suggest that take-out would be better. It would be nice to connect with someone who had mildly similar interests (not Pokemon or Youtubers). It would be nice to have someone to share all the shitty responsibilities with (like contacting call centers or going to the DMV or vet).
So when Madison realized she was going to go through the birth of twins by herself, I could relate. When she mentioned to the doctor that she wasn’t close to her mother, I could relate. And when Randall called her to say she was family, I lost it. In some ways, I have always hoped that there might be some other family waiting to adopt me. I have always wondered if I could find a family who would let me know I wasn’t so alone. I don’t need any blood relationships. I just want to know there is someone around. There’s an emergency contact. There’s a person who I can call when things are just too difficult. And God forbid, there’s someone who can help me a little bit. I can hear my parts saying I don’t deserve that. I can hear it, but I know it isn’t true. Those are the old messages from the past. But I have been waiting a while. And the folks in the TV shows seem to find these things so much easier than me.
I have learned this journey is always asking me to step that next level into the heartbreak. No matter how many times my controller tries to tell me I have healed enough, there is another layer of the onion to peel back. There is another step towards the vulnerable humanness I have tried to avoid. The messages that “I am fine alone” come from my survival strategies. No matter how much I want them to be true, they aren’t. No matter how helpful my isolation has been in my healing journey, it is not an permanent state for me to live with. But there is a fine line to walk. Looking to others to meet my needs does not heal me. And isolating to feel safe does not heal me either. We heal in balance. We heal when we allow relationships to be vulnerable and meaningful. We heal when we sit with the painful feelings in isolation instead of running to external things. We heal when we allow others to earn trust instead of assuming they don’t deserve it. So listen to the yearning for something more. Don’t write it off. Take another small step into the heartbreak. We all deserve a bit less loneliness in our lives.
Complex trauma teaches us how to survive in the most difficult circumstances. It teaches us how to stay alive when the odds are against us for extended periods of time. We learn to make survival our most important priority. We learn that nothing else in life really matters at all. We learn which parts of self are most likely to keep us alive and we give them priority. And we learn which parts of self are dangerous and we shut them down. We lock them away for good (or at least that is the plan). Complex trauma turns us into machines with no consideration for our humanness. Our humanity is not acceptable because it is “weak” and certainly doesn’t help us survive. We come out of childhood ready to fight each day for our own survival. And truthfully, we are amazing at it for a while.
There is one inner part who leads the battle for survival each day. This is the inner part I refer to as the controller. Some spiritual texts call this part the ego-self. Some texts refer to the false self (which is the mask the controller creates). But in those of us with complex trauma, the controller is strong. Their beliefs become the priority. They are detail-oriented. They push hard for what they want. They are unemotional. They rely heavily on the logical thinking mind. They are extremely unyielding in their opinions leading to defensiveness. And they will look down upon anyone who has other ideas about how to exist in the world.
But controllers can be hard to see. They can take on many different masks. Sometimes we can have multiple masks in one system. They can be extremely success-oriented, clawing their way to the top of organizations. They can focus on spiritual bypass with a heavy emphasis on replacing all traumatic emotions with positivity. They can refuse to make any decisions or take any actions to avoid ridicule. In this case, they might focus their efforts on finding a savior who will take care of them (and make the love seeker happy). These controller masks are going to depend on factors like personal characteristics, beliefs we grew up with and culture. So we have to put on our detective hats to find our controller masks.
Another reason our controllers are hard to see is the enmeshment. When our controllers speak, we think they are self. Don’t get me wrong, they are self. But they are a part of self. They aren’t all of self. They aren’t core self or true self. They aren’t grounded adult self. They are an inner part who is not fully an adult and they are full of terror about this life. But when we hear them, they make sense to us. They seem logical. Why? We have experienced the life that developed the controller. So of course, we agree with them. Our entire lives have proven them right. Stepping out of enmeshment with the controller is one of the most involved, complex and difficult parts of recovery. It is also one of the most rewarding. Living from the controller is exhausting and overwhelming. So stepping out of the controller and their survival mode is incredibly relieving.
So how do we see the controller? How do we build awareness about them? It can help to know what we are looking for. Here are some key concepts that controllers use in their attempts to survive.
There is nothing good that comes from recovery. Recovery represents everything the controller fears. They have learned to live in denial of their true story. They hide their truth because they have been threatened constantly. They see recovery as a choice that can lead to death.
Risks will always fail. You may not remember taking risks as a child, but you did. And it didn’t turn out well. A complex trauma environment is set up to squelch a child and all their dreams. The controller knows better than to venture toward something in adulthood. They have learned it isn’t worth their time.
Emotion is crazy. The controller tries to be as robotic as possible. They learned that emotions were dangerous. They learned that emotions come with horrible consequences and awful labels. They believe it is best to shove all emotion down into the body and try to ignore it. But the consequences of that are far worse.
There isn’t enough. The controller learned that everything in life is scarce. There was never enough of anything. That might mean money, food, clothes, shelter or love. They learned that anything they wanted would only come through competition. They had to power through without any care for others so they could stay alive.
There is no place in this life for fun. The controller is trying to stay alive and they are using all their energy for that one priority. If there is energy to be spent on something that isn’t useful for survival, they are not likely to prioritize it. They aren’t interested in enjoying life. They even believe that to be dangerous.
Finding these beliefs in our unconscious can lead to huge changes in our quality of life. Making decisions that are not centered on terror will give us so much more to live for. And believe it or not, we can even find moments of inner peace when we detach from the controller and allow ourselves to connect with our other inner parts. But stepping out of the controller is a difficult process. It is a long-term investment in effort and time. In February, we will be exploring how to leave survival-mode behind and find a better way of living. Come join us in Survivor’s Guide for Life.
This might sound like an ominous title for a blog. But I promise it has a happier ending than it seems. One of the most common statements from my clients is that they want to be who they were in their twenties. They had so much energy. They got so much done. They felt so good. They just want to go back to that place where they can get all the things done. I get it. I was the same way in that third decade of life. My trauma was bubbling underneath the surface, but my controller was strong. They were super-strong. They would push through the futility and the flashbacks to get things done. They were competitive with all the others, but they knew how to survive in a traumatic world. That meant, they could survive almost anywhere. It was like a reality survival show, but in real life. I was exhausted, but I was staying one step ahead of the past.
But then something changed. The constant running started to catch up with me. It became harder and harder to push through. The body started to show signs of abuse with chronic pain and illness. The anxiety ramped up as the controller started to lose control. Depression became more common as the futility seeped through the holes in the controller’s wall. The old me was disappearing. And that’s when the big trigger happened. It is different for everyone. Some don’t have a big trigger. It starts to shift anyway. But some do. They get too sick to keep going. They have children. They experience an abusive relationship (or a pattern of them). Their addiction gets too big to hide. They lose their job. The trigger can set off a strong depression. That futility tells us there is no point. There is no way to hold all this trauma back for good. We made an attempt at life. We tried. But we just can’t do it. We can’t hang with the rest of the people. Something is wrong with us.
For me, the big trigger was the birth of my children. It set something off in me that I never expected. I think my controller just figured they would control their way through parenting the way they did everything else. But these little boogers weren’t so controllable. (All the parents are nodding.) I started to hear the messages from my futile parts. I suck at this. I am trapped. I can’t do this because something is wrong with me. I am being punished. These kids are going to blow my cover. They are going to show the world who I really am. And I have to keep that quiet. Depression and anxiety took over like never before. My controller longed to go back to the old me. The old me was unstoppable (or so I thought). The old me was exactly what society wanted me to be. The old me was safe. Maybe that’s the most important thing. I couldn’t keep myself safe this way. But this change was not the catastrophe my controller was making it. As a matter of a fact, this was a gigantic step forward to where I am today. Here are a few of the reasons I am telling you that “not being who you were” is a good thing.
You were much more miserable than you remember. The controller loves to tell us that things were perfect when we could run ourselves into the ground. But that’s not the truth. Living from the mind is a constant race against self. We wake up in the morning and start making lists. We can’t sit still for five minutes. We can’t slow down. We might not even be able to sleep. We wake up each morning wondering how we will have the strength to make it through the day. It is a form of torture. It is self-abuse. And it is not okay.
Your body will not last long if you keep living that way. You might be thinking that you don’t care. I know I have spent time feeling like there is no point in staying on this planet much longer. It doesn’t seem to be a very nice place. This is especially true for those of us with abusive relationships. We can’t find the good people and isolation sucks. So why stay? But for whatever length of time you are here, it is better spent without physical pain. And constant self-punishment will always bring pain. Avoiding our traumatic emotions is not worth the physical pain it causes.
Living for safety will get you nowhere. The controller makes decisions to keep us safe. But these decisions are not how we want to live. They are not coming from an authentic place. We will make the decisions that bring us the most money or get us the most powerful friends. But those decisions mean we sell out our true interests and even put ourselves in harm’s way if our powerful friends use that power against us. Fear often has a way of manifesting itself. Our decisions need to come from a different place. We can live for a while in that inauthentic place. But we are going to keep coming back to what we really want out of life.
So don’t believe it when the controller tells you that the current you is not as good as the old you. Allowing emotions does not make you weak or crazy. Taking care of your body does not make you lazy. And your age does not make your life over. The best decisions aren’t going to come from a safety-obsessed mind. They will come from a grounded, emotional, connected self. And that self can only be found when you leave behind the old you and remove the mask you have been living from. A new life can start when we aren’t who we were.
We live in a world of controllers. Everyone around us is controller-enmeshed. What does that mean? The part who operates in survival-mode and makes their decisions from fear is running the show. That’s why this recovery is revolutionary. We are not just changing our own beliefs. We are changing our beliefs from the way the rest of the world thinks too. The controller is so enmeshed in our world that even many of our recovery programs are operating from the controller. “Just change your behavior.” “Just strengthen your mask.” “Just stop feeling bad.” “You don’t have to remember to heal.” It is all meant to avoid the deeper pain we are all feeling. And it doesn’t work. There is no relief from this kind of work. Quick fixes provide short-term solutions. That’s what a controller-enmeshed world has created. It’s a bunch of band-aids on a gaping wound. It just doesn’t work.
So how do we unplug from the Matrix for good? How do we wake up from the zombie apocalypse? This is the question people have been trying to figure out for years. There are lots of books about disconnecting from the ego self. And yet, it is the hardest thing to do. Even when we start to wake up, the fear of the controller (and other defenders) can put us right back to sleep. I’ve seen it happen too many times. Waking up is terrifying. Acknowledging the truth of our story is terrifying. Thinking differently from the rest of the world is terrifying. But it is time to do this. It is time to take this seriously. The only way we will wake up as a human race is if enough of us wake up. Does that mean more than half of us? No. Living outside of the fear is incredibly powerful. Each person can have a massive impact on this world. But we have to dedicate ourselves to stepping out of the fearful mind-based world we have been living in. Here are some strategies we can employ for moving in this direction.
Recognize invalidation for what it is. People are going to invalidate your choices when you are not operating from fear. They will give you lots of logical reasons why you are not doing the right thing. But invalidation is coming from their own fear. It is a projection. It might be their fear of doing exactly what you are doing. If you do it, they will lose the ability to tell themselves a story about why they can’t. Or it might be the jealousy coming from their own inner parts who want to do the same thing. Either way, it is not what it seems. Recognizing this can be so helpful to keep us on track.
See the fear and what it creates. It is time to get real about what fear creates in our world. It is really ugly. It has created a world of billionaires and people without enough to eat. It encourages hoarders of money and things. It builds selfishness. It creates war and extreme acts of violence because people are convinced someone else is going to harm them. It makes us hide to avoid visibility. It keeps us stuck in patterns from childhood, making it impossible for us to live out the dreams we have always wanted to achieve. Worst of all, it keeps us connected to abusive people who retraumatize us at every turn. When we see the fear, we can see what it is doing in the world and our own lives.
Stop believing emotions are crazy. The controller-enmeshed world believes that human emotions are a weakness. If the emotions are too intense, they will even be labeled as crazy. In reality, the human experience must involve emotions. Emotions are supposed to be a part of our everyday experience. There is not going to come a day where you will suddenly be healed and feel nothing. The goal is to re-learn how to tolerate emotion as a part of our existence. When people (or your own controller) tell you that you are not handling things well because you are feeling something, you are not the crazy one in that conversation. It is critically important that we reframe our understanding of emotion if we want to wake up.
Start believing the real stories. As controller-enmeshed humans, we are programmed to believe the lies instead of the truth. Why? The lies are much more convenient. They make the world look less harsh. They make horrible abuses disappear. They make the powerful look like good people. They give us a false sense of security too. But under the surface, they don’t reduce our fear. They increase it. Deep down, we know the truth. And we know the blinders we are wearing can cause us more harm than good. So we need to stop believing the lies because it feels better on the surface. We need to start believing the stuff that is hard to hear. We need to start believing the real truth from ourselves and others. We have to start believing the victims of horrible crimes and abuses. They are not hallucinating. They are not in need of meds. They are not lacking credibility. They are being extremely brave. And choosing to ignore or invalidate them is retraumatizing to them and the human race. The truth has to come out.
It is time for change. It is time to stop protecting the wrong people by participating in a controller-enmeshed society. It is time to question the fear-based choices of everyone around us. We have been given everything we need to break out of this prison. And it’s time to use our tools. Whenever you feel that fear stepping in, whenever you start questioning your truth and invalidating your emotional responses, step back and ground. Bring your awareness to the controller and how they are influencing you. Your internal oppression device is active. It’s not the controller’s fault. They were programmed by abusers. But they can’t be in charge anymore. The grounded adult self is ready to guide you to a new life without the fear.
I’ve spent my life on defense. Every decision I have made was to avoid some bad thing. I’ve rarely made decisions for a better, fun or authentic life. That was a luxury I didn’t feel I had. I chose the safest route. I chose the approach that avoided risk. Why? I was wired for survival after my traumatic childhood. My primary survival skills were devoted to staying alive. There was no room for risk-taking. There was no room for fun. I just had to get from one day to the next and that was it. My traumatic childhood had given me one priority and I had to make it happen.
There are thousands of beliefs that made up these choices. But one is coming forward for me right now: my assumption that I am not as powerful as others. I have to choose the least risky path because if I end up in a power struggle, I am going to lose. When I look at this with my logical adult mind, I know it isn’t true, but I have some strong defenders who say it is. And they bring lots of fear to the forefront. It is paralyzing. It is sleep-depriving. It is anxiety-provoking. And I am tired of it. But that’s not how to release it. I must accept it and hear it out. So I do. I listen to the very real threats my parts endured. There were many, many threats against my life. I wish I could say that I can count them on one hand. But I cannot. I must hear out my defenders until they have shared what they need to share.
But I can see things starting to shift. I can see my interests in living a different kind of life starting to build. I can see my inner parts starting to consider another alternative. With every memory recovered, I see my adult perspective getting stronger. What does that perspective say? They are not stronger than me. I am stronger than them. When they bully me with their threats and nasty behavior, they are terrified. I am the one who is more grounded. I have learned my emotions and how to work with them. And I can make decisions from an adult place without my traumatic responses hijacking my actions. I am powerful in this life today. And I can take the offensive now. I have the power now. The abusers have disadvantages against me. And as I explore this new perspective, my adult self is telling me why.
I remember. I do believe that many abusers act from varying degrees of dissociation. In the case of my mother, I don’t think she remembers much. When she denies what she did, I think she consciously believes her denial. That keeps her from having to face what she has done and what was done to her. But it doesn’t help her in many other ways. I am the one with all the information. As my memories come back, I know everything. I know what she did. I know every abusive step she took. I know every abusive thing she said. I know every person who was involved. And she doesn’t. That gives me an advantage. I know the truth.
I am grounded. I will not attempt to claim that I am grounded all the time. As I write this, I can sense my controller trying to dissociate me because this blog post feels scary to some inner parts. But I am much more grounded than my abusers. That means I am far more connected to my intuitive wisdom. Intuition is superior to the mind. This is especially true when the mind is inundated with fear. But it’s true all the time. The mind copies what it has already done. It is based on limited information, most of which comes from a traumatic life. So I have the ability to be more creative. I can be more patient and wait for the right moments. I can take more subtle cues from my environment. And I can adjust to changes. These things are not available to my abusers.
I am an adult. When I am grounded, I am operating from an adult mind which can balance multiple perspectives and find a middle ground. My abusers are operating from their inner parts almost all the time. That means they are carrying varying degrees of fear which will often show up as extreme views. The decisions they make from these places are not good. They will do foolish things. They will sabotage themselves. They will use fear to guide their decisions. They will hate themselves. And I won’t.
My body is stronger. The trauma stored in the body will take its toll. It can slow people down. It can cause chronic pain. It can cause disease and eventually even lead to illness and death. As I have healed my emotions and traumatic memories, my body is stronger. While it might seem that only helps me in a brawl, it isn’t true. They will be dealing with their own health issues and that will impact their ability to have power over me. I won’t be consumed by issues with my physical health.
It is time to redefine power. It isn’t about money. It isn’t about age. It isn’t about who you know. It is about healing, emotional maturity and groundedness. The stronger we can stand in who we are, the more power we have. Abusive people are weak. They do not stand a chance against our grounded truth. They cannot use their fear against our strength. In all honesty, we terrify them. And that is okay with me. I look forward to taking my new place in my power. I look forward to taking the steps against the bullies who think they can scare me off with their threats. They don’t stand a chance against me. None of them stand a chance.
It’s been a little more than two weeks since the big move and my inner conversation has been intense. I definitely moved here to help with calming my inner system, but I knew the initial response would be anything but calm. So this isn’t very surprising. Even the conversation points have not been very surprising. But on some level, I guess I was hoping for a miracle. I think we do that in this work. Maybe this next thing will somehow be easier than the pattern for all the other things. Maybe there’s a way to cheat this time. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could just get a special waiver on this round of emotional processing? But that’s not how it works. It never does.
This inner work comes in layers. It can feel like we have completed some part of the journey only to have that (seemingly) exact same belief come back up to the surface later. It isn’t that our previous work was not helpful. But we have gone deeper into the issue. We have circled around for a new layer of processing and releasing what is not serving us. And when we do something big in the external world, it can be exactly what takes us there. But it is important not to listen to our defenders when they tell us we aren’t getting anywhere. Believe me. They will tell us that.
When I moved here, I thought it was a response to the inner work I had done to release my ties to my family. Just the act of moving was breaking multiple contracts about how far from my family I was allowed to be and how happy I was allowed to be and how independent I was allowed to be. I was proud of those. But I had not realized there was still a part or two who thought I was being protected by my family. This is a common contract. Abusers will tell us they will protect us from other abusers in exchange for our undying loyalty. As children, we don’t realize we are getting a bad deal because we are still being abused by our protectors. We lose our freedom for fake protection. And of course, the abusers make sure we feel like we need protection too. Either the world is dangerous or we are not capable of avoiding danger or some combination of both. This week, I have been seeing that coming forward from my inner parts in some big ways. Here are some beliefs coming to my awareness.
I will no longer be protected if I get into danger. I didn’t realize I thought this protection was still in place. I can guarantee you that my family never had any intent in protecting me from abusers. They were abusers and often sold me to abusers. But since I chose to go no-contact many years ago, I assure you that my family wouldn’t care if I died. I only had value as their own personal slave. And once I chose to be on my own, they lost all interest in me. The only exception was the loss of access to the grandchildren which I am sure my mother whines about to anyone who will listen. “What a horrible daughter I have.” It is important for me to show my parts they haven’t had family protection in childhood and certainly not in the past ten years. And it won’t be needed in the future.
I am incapable of protecting myself from danger. My parents made it very clear that I had a problem with keeping myself safe. They made sure I knew that I didn’t have the judgment necessary to avoid dangerous situations. This is why I needed them. In reality, my parents were the reason I could not perceive danger. They were constantly putting me in harm’s way, so I had to shut down my basic understanding of danger. I had to stop listening to my intuitive wisdom. I had to create blind spots to survive. Those blind spots allowed me to pretend everything was okay. They kept me from falling into despair. But I don’t need those blind spots anymore. I have been working to redevelop my understanding of danger. I have more ability to sense it than I ever did in my very dangerous childhood. And now, it is important for me to show my parts that things have changed. I do have the ability to sense danger now.
I will be punished for believing I can do this on my own. Abusive families make it clear to their children that independence is unacceptable. The false promise of protection is critical to their success. Being “out on my own” feels terrifying to my parts because I will no longer have protection. But it goes further. Not only will I lose protection, but I will lose any safety because they will punish me for breaking their contract. They will not only stop protecting me, but they will go out of their way to ensure I am punished. And with no protection, I will be completely exposed to danger going forward. It is important for me to let my parts know that I will not allow my family to infiltrate my life and cause problems for me any longer.
The idea that we need protection from our family unit is one of the biggest obstacles in healing complex trauma. Our families made sure we were wired for fear and then used it against us to keep us stuck. If we do manage to leave, we will often walk right into a relationship meant to protect us from our family. But these relationships are often abusive because they are based on protection. We need to help our parts see a new reality. When we become adults, we can live on our own and do just fine. Humanity’s need for the tribe to stay alive is no longer a requirement. Would it be nice? Yes. Is it still possible down the road? Yes. But it isn’t going to come in the form of our abusive family. So it is time to claim your freedom and head out on your own. Make a life for yourself. Practice your discernment and boundary setting. You can build the life you want without any ties to your abusers. You can protect yourself and eventually, find your real tribe. Don’t fall for the myth of protection. Your future doesn’t need it.
I have had a hell of a week. I packed up our belongings while throwing half of them away, loaded the other half in a POD, put 6 months of essentials in a rental SUV (quite a big one), and drove 12 hours to a furnished house I had never seen before (other than the video). It was a bold move. But I’m not going to say it was my boldest. My childhood trauma would have created ample opportunities for much more courageous actions. But it is still quite a big deal in the scheme of things. I had convinced myself that I would get to “the other side” and life would be calmer. I do this often. There is always something on the other side that will be better. My controller does this in an ungrounded way to keep driving me forward when I really need to slow down and rest.
But in this case, it was realistic. The hard part of this “project” was front-loaded. That’s for sure. There was some relief expected on the other side. That was a reasonable expectation. But today, I sat down in my Mini Countryman to take it for a drive. It was the first drive since it came off the auto transport truck and into my driveway. As I sat in the driver’s seat, I said, “Let’s go for a ride together, baby car.” Yes. I call it “baby car”. I love my little car. But as I pressed start, the color ran out of my face. Nothing happened. And the inner war began.
Of course, my controller took immediate action (as they do). I emailed the auto transport company about a claim. I called CarMax and was surprised to learn that my new car is still covered by the 90-day warranty … by two days. They will fix it for free. In the meantime, my system is still at war. Every feeling this move has provoked from my unconscious can be tied to this one press of a button. What are my inner parts saying? Here’s a synopsis:
“I should have kept my mouth shut about how much I loved my Mini. I am not allowed to have nice things.” I learned as a child that it was a bad idea to express my affinity and happiness for anything. I have broken those rules with my little Mini. I have nicknamed it. I have told people how much I love it. I even told the auto transport people how special it was to me so they would treat it well. I asked for trouble and I got it. Now I was being punished for being happy with something. Now I would forever be without what I love because I had to advertise it.
“My mother is making this happen because she will always destroy me no matter how far away I am.” I know this sounds crazy but I have inner parts who believe my mother is actually magical. And those parts believe she is really going to get me for having the gall to make a decision for myself. They are waiting for her punishment and to them, this is it. If she doesn’t do the punishing, someone else will do it. The universe will do it. She is all powerful and can truly make anything happen. Everything is aligned with her wishes. Of course, my adult self knows this is not true, but those inner parts and their fear can be very strong.
“I am trapped now. I cannot escape.” I have just moved to an unfamiliar town in a new state where I know nobody and my car won’t start. This is the epitome of “trapped”. I can’t go anywhere. I don’t really know where to go anyway. This is a time that requires exploration with my own vehicle. It is time to get out and learn about this new place. And now I cannot. I got here and now I have to stay here with no escape. It feels ominous to have no car when living in a place with no real public transportation. Honestly, my inner parts would have probably felt fine to stay at home until there was a situation where I had no choice. That changes everything.
When something like this happens, there is no interest in taking in contradictory information. The facts don’t really matter. There is no consideration for my luck in being under the 90-day warranty. There is no allowance for the possibility that this is a benign occurrence with no malicious intent. There is no ability to take in how incredibly kind all the service agents were on the phone. The idea that I was supported in every way is completely rejected as a plausible perspective. There is no way my inner parts are going to consider that this is anything other than a punishment.
So after a night’s sleep and a very embarrassing call with the incredibly nice people at CarMax support, the answer has been revealed. My inner saboteurs have struck and I am sure it won’t be the last time. There is nothing wrong with my Mini. There never was. My own parts sabotaged me and made me forget how to start it. I had driven an automatic for a week and completely blanked on what my left foot was supposed to do to start my manual car. I literally did this entire thing to myself. Am I embarrassed? Yes. But my self-sabotage presented me with an opportunity to see exactly what was happening in my system. It was a window to my trauma and that is priceless. Who needs enemies when we have self? Or maybe it was the enemies that created this self. Either way, my baby car is fine and nobody is punishing me but me.
I grew up in a world where help came in two forms. It was non-existent. Or it was a betrayal disguised as help. My abusers made it clear that I was not going to find help. Each time I tried to find help, it was thwarted. Each time I had optimism, that optimism turned to disappointment as another opportunity to be helped faded into oblivion. My abusers were creative too. They would threaten others. They would brainwash me to sabotage relationships. They would damage my credibility with others. They would even employ other people to mess with me or anyone who wanted to help me. They were thorough. And because I was a child, I had no chance against their efforts.
I came out of my traumatic childhood believing that help would not be available to me. And that applied to almost everything. If I needed to call a customer service organization, I knew I would never get what I needed. If I needed help with managing my life, I was sure nobody would be available to help me. Even when I paid for help, I knew it would not be what I needed. I knew not to trust any offers for help. It didn’t matter if they were genuine. And if help did show up, I was quick to discount it as a fluke. Not surprisingly, this belief system left me isolated and exhausted. I was convinced I had to do it all. And most of the people I brought into my adult life confirmed it was true. Maybe I trained them to be useless with my over-the-top productivity. Maybe they were looking for someone who would do it all. I don’t know. But I know I always managed to find proof that help was never coming.
Now I am in the middle of a substantial home move. It is a scary time for those parts of me who believe that I will not receive help. The cold hard truth is that I cannot manage this move without help. I cannot move my furniture between houses all by myself. There are limits on my abilities and that is terrifying to my parts who believe they cannot get help. A move is a lesson in letting go of the things I cannot control. And honestly, that feels like a bad idea to my inner parts who have tons of proof that things won’t go my way. Logic says it will go the way it has always gone. But there is another way of looking at this. If I have eliminated the influences who made it all go wrong in childhood, couldn’t things go differently now? To get there, I have to express from the old beliefs and this is what they sound like.
If someone offers help, they will always want something in return. Growing up in my family, I was constantly forced to make deals with sexual abusers. The past few days, I have been helping my daughter with algebra. It isn’t easy and math anxiety does not help. And I have remembered my stepfather’s “tutoring” in algebra and the price I paid for it. It was a steep price. I’m glad I know it today, but I would never say it was worth it. Nothing is worth that. So now, my inner parts are a bit wary when someone offers to carry some furniture down my stairs or drive me to my rental car. It might save me some money, but I can hear my parts asking, “Is it worth it?”
If someone offers help, they will turn on me later. As I mentioned above, help was never free in my childhood. When people offered to help me, I am sure I would latch on for dear life. I thought there was finally someone who cared and could help get me out of my horrible life. But that would cause two problems. First, it would draw attention from my family. And they would inevitably target this person to turn them over to their side or to push them away. Second, that person would get a bit sick of my constant attention on them as I attempted to get real help. So now, my inner parts are expecting them to get resentful if I ask for too much. And “too much” is quite an undefinable term. Asking for nothing becomes the safest way to avoid problems.
If I need to rely on anyone else, it will be disastrous. When I was growing up, I experienced manipulation and gaslighting at epic levels. There were promises made with no intention of EVER upholding them. If those promises were upheld, it was never for long. Every activity where I needed a ride was in jeopardy. Everything which relied upon another human’s help was likely to become too inconvenient for them. The help they were supposed to give me was never the priority. I was labeled as the burden. I learned that if something was going to get done, I had to do it. As a child, that was impossible. I could not do everything I needed to do. But in adulthood, it is potentially achievable. At least that’s how my controller sees it. If I plan, strategize, lose sleep and work myself to the bone, I might be able to pull it off. The exhaustion is inevitable.
So I have to consider how these beliefs are no longer serving me. I have to express from the parts who see help as an impossibility. I need to question my initial belief that others aren’t going to help me (even when they have offered). I need to allow myself to ask for help even when I have inner parts screaming about the dangers of asking. This is how I can build a better network and live a life that is not defined by independence at all costs. Maybe someday, I will be able to accept help without guilt or suspicion. And I can allow the world to be a slightly more benevolent place to live. Maybe I could even take a breath every once in a while. We will see.