If you were abused as a child, you were constantly told or shown that whatever you did was not good enough, not acceptable, basically wrong.
Even though the issue was really the emotional state of the parent / abuser, to you as the child, it would have seemed that you were the problem, that there was a fault, a flaw, an imperfection with you. You probably beat yourself up a lot, trying to work it out, “What exactly is it that is wrong with me?”.
An abuser is likely to have told you off for what you said, how you stood and looked at them, for being defiant or a smart ass, for talking back, and sometimes for simply breathing and being alive. In essence it felt like everything about you was wrong or not good enough, not acceptable or okay.
This sets up a pattern of self-loathing, even if you believe the abuser is full of shit, making it up, f*cked up. Even if you do place the blame on them, part of you still wonders “Am I to blame? Is something i’m doing provoking them? How can I change who I am to be less offensive?”
You certainly change who you are by watching carefully all that occurs, trying to make sense of a situation that does not make sense. You lose your innocence, your spontaneity and start becoming the watcher, the cautious one, the guarded and over protective one. In essence, you lose access to your soft, vulnerable, innocent self, your authentic self, as all these defense mechanisms kick in to protect you.
As a part of keeping yourself safe you will have developed a very strong inner Judge and Critic, who keep watch and tell you when you are doing something wrong. They become very strict monitoring your every move and they work with the inner Controller and Pusher to modify your behaviour and control your every move.
When this team of sub-personalities take over life can be very bleak. They push you to do what they think will protect you best. They watch you and criticise you first, before any one else gets a chance to, because then they can force you to modify your behaviour to be less susceptible to getting told off or abused from others. However, you are now being abused from within. There is no kindness, no rest, no fun, when this is the team controlling your ship. If these have become your dominant sub-personalities or primary selves, life becomes very painful indeed.
This inner team of voices hounds you, day in, day out, telling you what you could do better, how you should have behaved, or what you should have said. What you did do or say is never enough. It could always be better. This team thinks they are helping you avoid confrontation. They are in essence trying to help, but it is a painful process.
The habit of feeling wrong, bad, not good enough, can become so strong that you come to think of yourself as a bad person, an unworthy human being who doesn’t deserve to be alive. It is very cruel and unnecessary.
Once you are an adult and no longer in your abusive childhood home, you don’t need this barrage of judgement, criticism and control to continue, but it does until you learn how to switch it off. You do so by becoming aware of the patterns, listening for those inner voices and urges, and simply choosing to ignore them.
When the Judge comes in and says “That wasn’t good enough”, you can simply reply “I know I could have done better, but it was good enough”. When the Critic comes in and says “You are terrible, you should have …….”, you can simply say “I am no longer willing to put myself down. I am not listening to you”. As its voice ramps up, you can say “Look, I know you think you are helping me, but you are not. What I need now is for you to have a rest, a holiday, to go away and let me live in peace. I can handle it now. You have done a good job in the past. When I was in danger, you did keep me safe. But I am not in danger now and I need you to turn down the volume, so I can focus on enjoying life more and have more fun, friendships, inner peace and joy in my life. The war is over! You helped me survive it. But now it is a time of peace and you deserve to rest, to go on holiday, and to let other aspects of me come to the fore, to guide me in this phase of my life. Thank you for all that you have done, but it is time for a change of guard, a change to who is the dominant sub-personalities operating in my life. Please step back and let this change occur.”
When you can do this, have these inner conversations with those parts of yourself, they will listen. They will watch and test whether you mean it. They will observe whether or not you really are safe without their feedback and constant response. If they can see you truly are okay, then they will back off. It is not all of you beating yourself up. It is just these parts of you and they were doing it, trying to help you.
Likewise, the Pusher was trying to get you to do certain things to keep you safe, or to achieve certain things because then you might finally get the recognition you deserve, or break free from dependency on others through a successful career, financial independence. These parts of you were helping in the only way they knew how. They didn’t realise it harmed you or caused you pain. They simply didn’t notice that or felt it was a minor, acceptable outcome, for a higher good. Their focus was on the goal of keeping you safe, avoiding abuse, and therefore safe and isolated from other people, from your heart and the pain within it, and from all the softness of life. This was their job to keep you safe. They have worked hard, thank them and let them know the war is over. You have won, largely due to them.
Many of us have been free of our abusive childhood homes fro decades, yet we still act as if we are there, constantly looking out for danger, reacting in fight or flight and being wary of all that occurs around us. It is a painful way to be. We have to learn how to turn these defense mechanisms off, so we can finally relax and enjoy life. Talking to your sub-personalities, thanking them for how they have helped you and explaining what your new goals are and ways they could help you now, is a big part of this change.
Instead of telling you off all the time, the Critic can be asked to monitor when your body is getting tired and to let you know to rest. It can be asked to gently let you know when you are being too serious and you need to lighten up and have some fun. You give them a new job description, so to speak, so they can still serve you, but in ways that help you to achieve today’s goals.
You can ask the Pusher to help motivate you to exercise and eat well or to connect with others, instead of isolating yourself. You can ask the Judge to remind you when you are being unkind to yourself or others, or to alert you when there is an opportunity that would be beneficial to accept.
You ask this inner team to become your greatest supporters, to show their love for you, by helping you achieve today’s goals. The past is the past. You don’t need to live there any more. Time to upgrade your inner workings to reflect life now, and life now can be full of love, joy and connection.
One way I found extremely helpful to shift this patterning was Tension and Trauma Release Exercises (TRE). These inner parts were still strong because of the stress, tension and trauma in my body. This tension led me to feel stuck, wound up, anxious, on edge, looking for danger, because my body was still braced against it. My body was sending signals to my brain that I wasn’t safe. Hence, those inner parts were sensing that they were still needed to protect me as it felt like I was in danger, when in reality there was no external threat just the inner pain still active inside.
TRE helps to discharge the tension, stress and trauma. It helps to complete the overwhelm and trauma activations from the past so that the nervous system and body calms back down, so that you come out of freeze, move back out of fight and flight, into a relaxed way of being. Bit by bit your body ‘shakes’ out the tension and calms down, so in time you do feel safe, you are able to relax and peacefully connect with others, knowing the past is over, gone and life can be different now.
When your body calms and feels safe the inner parts relax because they see that they are not needing to defend you or be on high alert. They too relax and this enables you to enjoy your now and meet people anew without the old threats interfering. It is well worth the work to heal so you can joyfully live in the now doing what you want without the old defense mechanisms activating. Blessed BE.
(For more on sub-personality theory, see Hal and Sidra Stone’s Voice Dialogue).