Why it re­ally is good to talk — to your­self

The most im­por­tant re­la­tion­ship you have is with the parts of the whole you, writes psy­chother­a­pist Gayle Wil­liamson

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Analysis -

‘HE has his back to me. It looks like he’s sulk­ing… he def­i­nitely doesn’t want to talk. It’s so strange, but I get the feel­ing he’s say­ing ‘Why would I want to talk to you? You never talk to me’. And he’s right, I sup­pose… I try to just ig­nore that part of me.”

“So you can un­der­stand why he’s upset with you? Try telling him that, Jim, and see how he re­acts.”

“There’s a slight turn­ing of his head, as though he’s lis­ten­ing. I’m just telling him over and over again that I’m sorry… be­cause I am. He’s been try­ing to get my at­ten­tion for so many years but I’ve just ig­nored him.”

“Ah... just like his mum ig­nored him and didn’t have time for him.”

“Yes! But he was just a kid, he needed his mum.”

And then my client made a key re­al­i­sa­tion: “But I guess he has me now, that’s what you’re try­ing to get me to see, isn’t it?”

This was in­deed what I’d been hop­ing Jim (not his real name) would re­alise. His hus­band was on the point of ask­ing Jim for a di­vorce, tired of the lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and in­ti­macy. But the re­la­tion­ship Jim re­ally needed to work on first was his re­la­tion­ship with him­self — all the trau­ma­tised, younger parts of him­self that he had been re­ject­ing, just as his mother had, but which had been try­ing to get his at­ten­tion in var­i­ous ways. The first wounded part we met was the lit­tle six-year-old boy he was try­ing to talk to above.

As a child, Jim was caught — as so many chil­dren are — in a ter­ri­ble con­flict: his so­cial en­gage­ment sys­tem would have been driv­ing him to at­tach and con­nect to his mother, but his an­i­mal de­fence sys­tem would have picked up that this same par­ent wasn’t safe and so would have been driv­ing him at the same time to fight, flee, freeze or sub­mit. The only way for the psy­che to re­solve this dilemma is to split. So, part of Jim — his car­ry­ing on with nor­mal life part — con­tin­ued go­ing to school and play­ing with friends and even­tu­ally grew up and be­came a suc­cess­ful so­lic­i­tor; while other parts of Jim stayed stuck in their trauma.

It seems like a glar­ing omis­sion to me now, but most ther­a­pists are not trained to iden­tify or work with splits in iden­tity when, in fact, I think we all have dif­fer­ent parts. We are not just a sin­gu­lar ‘I’; we are a mul­ti­plic­ity of parts. But any­one who has ex­pe­ri­enced any kind of trauma — from parental ne­glect or sex­ual abuse to bul­ly­ing or vi­o­lence — will have parts that are more com­part­men­talised and in­de­pen­dent of each other.

But up to now, split­ting was only re­ally a hy­poth­e­sis. The ad­vances in our knowl­edge of the brain have changed that, where it’s been shown that the two halves of our brain op­er­ate sep­a­rately when un­der stress. So when some­thing trig­gers an alarm in the body, the think­ing part of our brain goes off­line and this al­lows our emo­tional or trauma-re­lated parts to hi­jack the mind and body. One study with se­verely dis­so­ci­ated pa­tients — such as trauma suf­fer­ers who con­tin­u­ally dis­con­nect from the present and from them­selves in or­der to cope — found ac­tiv­ity in the cor­ti­cal, think­ing, part of their brains only when their adult self was present and en­gaged; but none when their trauma-re­lated parts were in con­trol; here, the ac­tiv­ity was all in the right brain.

The con­cept of parts of the per­son­al­ity isn’t new, but the ap­proach I use is a com­bi­na­tion of Sen­so­ri­mo­tor Psy­chother­apy’s struc­tural dis­so­ci­a­tion model and In­ter­nal Fam­ily Sys­tems ther­apy. It en­cap­su­lates the neu­ro­sci­en­tif­i­cally sup­ported idea that we all have in­nate de­fen­sive re­sponses, and that parts of our per­son­al­ity de­velop around these au­to­matic re­sponses and con­tinue to be trig­gered into adult­hood.

It doesn’t mean you are schiz­o­phrenic; rather, our psy­ches are de­signed to split in or­der to help us sur­vive, so that while parts of us re­main stuck in the trauma, there’s a part of us who can carry on with nor­mal life. It’s an ap­proach that shifts the bal­ance of power to­wards clients as their adult self is guided to heal their own parts.

Most peo­ple know now about the fight or flight sur­vival re­sponse, but we have five ways of de­fend­ing our­selves.

In Jim’s case, the first de­fence, to cry for help, wasn’t an op­tion as he had no car­ing or re­spon­sive adults around him. So his body au­to­mat­i­cally mo­bilised him to fight (sec­ond de­fence) and stand up to his mum when she crit­i­cised him but her pun­ish­ing re­ac­tion quickly sup­pressed it. The flight (third) part of him then wanted to run away but it was soon re­alised there was nowhere to go. So the freeze (fourth) part of him would take over and he’d just keep quiet, to­tally still and wait for the threat of at­tack to end.

Other times, Jim’s sub­mit de­fence (fifth) would kick in and try to ap­pease mum, be a good boy, in the hope this­would win her ap­proval.

The real trou­ble is that these re­sponses that helped us sur­vive dif­fi­cult child­hoods per­sist into adult­hood even when no longer needed. For Jim, it was the sub­mit re- sponse that con­tin­ued to be most dom­i­nant, show­ing up in his fre­quent de­pressed and col­lapsed state.

But while all the parts of us are try­ing to help in their own way, they’re not work­ing co-op­er­a­tively with each other and, cru­cially, they’re not func­tion­ing un­der the guid­ance of our wise, adult self. In­stead, they are the ones, more of­ten than not, who are as­sum­ing ex­ec­u­tive con­trol as they re­main stuck in sur­vival mode.

It’s the hy­per­vig­i­lant ‘fight’ parts I tend to meet first in ther­apy. For ex­am­ple, as a young girl there was lit­tle Jo (not her real name) could do to stand up to her dom­i­neer­ing fa­ther, on whom she was en­tirely de­pen­dent af­ter her mother’s death.

Now, in ses­sions with me — a con­text that in­evitably evokes vul­ner­a­bil­ity or de­pen­dency fears — her fight part will al­ter­nately rage at me or refuse to talk to me, so ve­he­mently is it pro­tect­ing Jo’s vul­ner­a­ble child part.

When a part of you is still car­ry­ing un­re­solved pain from the past, sooner or later it will make this known and try to get your at­ten­tion — by flood­ing you with anx­i­ety or self-doubt or fear or anger; or even phys­i­cal symp­toms, such as headaches, or a per­sis­tent pain in your heart that has no bi­o­log­i­cal cause.

But how else might you recog­nise when you are be­ing hi­jacked by a younger part or if you have some kind of in­ner con­flict be­tween parts?

Well, maybe you have long been highly com­pe­tent in your job and then you sud­denly find your­self feel­ing com­pletely in­ca­pable and hav­ing panic at­tacks — it could sig­nal that a younger part of you stuck in the ‘flight’ re­sponse has been trig­gered some­how and is over­whelm­ing the adult part of you.

Or maybe you could drive but now no longer can — pos­si­bly a child part of you is in the driv­ing seat, so to speak, and of course chil­dren can­not drive.

Maybe you are con­stantly care­tak­ing other peo­ple or have trou­ble set­ting bound­aries with your un­happy mother? That’s prob­a­bly a sub­mis­sive young child part, who doesn’t re­alise she no longer de­pends on her mother for sur­vival and so doesn’t have to worry so much about her well-be­ing any­more.

And if you are re­lent­lessly self-crit­i­cal, you can be fairly sure that’s a mil­i­tant ‘fight’ part pro­tect­ing a vul­ner­a­ble child part — be­cause if a part is con­stantly telling you how hor­ri­ble, pa­thetic, weak or in­ca­pable you are, then you’re less likely to ex­tend your­self so­cially or pro­fes­sion­ally, some­thing the fight part views as too risky, and you’ll just stay home.

It’s dif­fi­cult at first for many clients to help their wounded parts, be­cause the parts are so blended with the adult — clients have to learn to get some sepa­ra­tion.

It’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween say­ing “I’m feel­ing so anx­ious” to be­ing able to say “There’s a part of me that’s feel­ing so anx­ious”.

But when the adult part of you can start to give the child parts ex­pe­ri­ences of safety and ac­cep­tance and show them that things are dif­fer­ent now, they can be­gin to let go of their pain and the parts that pro­tect us can stop work­ing so hard.

We all have parts of our­selves we don’t like — but if you con­tinue to ex­ile the an­gry, vul­ner­a­ble, ashamed, needy or scared parts of you, you will likely feel like a fraud and ex­pe­ri­ence self-alien­ation. “I don’t know who I am” is some­thing I hear fre­quently.

Heal­ing from trauma be­gins the mo­ment we start to feel and com­mu­ni­cate com­pas­sion for our­selves — all of them.

Client con­fi­den­tial­ity has been re­spected. Use­ful links: sen­so­ri­mo­torpsy­chother­apy.org jan­i­nafisher.com self­lead­er­ship.org Gayle Wil­liamson is an IACPac­cred­ited psy­chother­a­pist prac­tis­ing in Dublin. Con­tact her at fer­neyther­apy.ie

‘It’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween say­ing “I’m feel­ing so anx­ious” to be­ing able to say “There’s a part of me that’s feel­ing so anx­ious”’

THE IN­NER CHILD: ‘Love’, the sculp­ture by Ukrainian artist Alexan­der Milov at the 2015 Burn­ing Man fes­ti­val

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.