I was so traumatised during the abuse that happened to me during my childhood that I had to separate out different parts of myself. It was just too much to grasp, too much to experience at the time and so I would retreat into, sometimes out of, myself.
These selves, parts, littles, inner children, little me s, were frozen into the time that each was abused. There were five-year-old me s, eight-year-old me s, ten-year-old, eleven-year-old and so on, up to a sixteen-year-old me.
Each was unaware of the existence of others. They were trapped in their moments of abuse, terror, depression, worry. There were frozen in time, each containing fragments of memory.
Several of the therapists that I have worked with over the past forty years have helped me to discover, to acknowledge and, crucially, to listen to these lost and lonely little parts of me. It has taken me many years to be able to find and accept them, as they are reminders of the abuse and I sometimes blamed them, particularly the older ones, for being there, not running away, for accepting the abuse. They often held the shame that rightly belonged to my abusers.
Part of being healed, recovered, now, is that I no longer ignore, or push away those young voices. If I feel out of kilter, if I feel upset, frightened, lonely, I will pause and open my ears and my heart, in case one of them is trying to tell me something important. It might be that I have to go somewhere that I am unfamiliar with, say a park to meet my bubble buddy. I would feel worried, anxious, frightened, to a degree that is not commensurate with the possible risk. Rather than dismissing those feelings, I am now able to listen to them and to realise that they come from young me s who were driven to places that were not known to them, where they may well be abused.
I can now talk to those selves and re-assure them that, yes, they do remember being taken to places that they did not want to go to and that they feel really upset. I can also now soothe them, letting them know that we are now in a different place and time, that I am a trustworthy adult who will look after them and make sure that they are safe.
These little me s have been some of the pieces of the jigsaw of my healing journey. Putting them into the picture has helped me to become aware of and be comfortable with, me. Me as I am now, an adult who is in control of her life, who is wise, compassionate for herselves and for herself. Someone who wants to share her story, struggles and successes so that others may also be able to experience the calm and happiness that I experience now.
I subscribe to Dr Arielle Scharwtz, who has written several books which may be helpful for survivors of trauma, people with complex ptsd and for therapists. She recently sent through a blog about parts therapy which rang many bells with me and which inspired me to write this blog.
Here are some extracts from her blog, “Parts Work Therapies: Embracing Complexity“.
If you have a history of chronic, repeated trauma, you might feel a greater divide between different parts of the self and a greater likelihood of dissociative symptoms. You might feel an unrelenting need to be perfect, be plagued by a harsh inner critic, or exhibit self-aggressive tendencies that lead you to feel at war with yourself. You might also feel as though you are cut off from your feelings or as if you are going through the motions of your life without meaning or a sense of connection. Maybe you alternate between feeling disconnected from your emotions and over identifying with your pain.
Parts work therapies can help you heal.
If you are someone who experienced abuse in childhood, … You might have relied heavily upon dissociation. Reminders of the trauma typically exist within the body. Therefore, you may have had to disconnect from your sensations in order to survive. At times, you might feel disoriented or as if you are living in a fog. However, you might also have a part of you that is still living as if the frightening events from the past are still happening or could easily happen again. However, because this part carries the intolerable memories of the past, it is often exiled from awareness.
Parts work therapies address internal conflicts by helping you gain access to the vulnerable exiled parts of yourself that are often hidden underneath your protective defenses. In time, you can help these exiled parts release their burdens.
One way parts work therapies help to release the burdens held by exiled parts is to connect to an inner source of wisdom that you carry within you. This involves returning home to your adult, presented-centered self which is always available to support your healing journey. You know that you are connected to your center when you feel calm, clearheaded, and courageous. Once you are connected to your wise self, you are able to tap into your intuition and your intellect. This allows your adult self to turn toward all parts of yourself with curiosity and compassion, which is a process that allows you to attend to and heal the wounds from your past.
If you are on the long, convoluted and often painful journey to recovery from child sexual abuse, it might not feel like it at the moment, but recovery is possible. Keep noticing those small, incremental steps that you are making. Be sure to notice the good feelings as well as the uncomfortable ones. Together they’ll all add up to something really special, your own recovery.