I could never have guessed, a few years ago, that my process of recovery would involve becoming aware of the different ‘parts’ or voices inside me, getting to know them better and understanding where they come from, and developing a dialogue with them. It still feels like a somewhat strange thing to be doing – but I can no longer doubt its benefits or the impact it is having. And my therapist seems to believe this is an important step for me to have taken as well and is encouraging me to foster these internal relationships and to use them for support – and I trust her judgment.
I have written about the change, over the last few months, in the way that I perceive and relate to my ‘inner child’; and about the fact that I have started to have internal conversations with her, to recognise when she is present and when she needs something, and to think about how those needs might be met. But perhaps an even bigger breakthrough happened more recently, when I connected with the ‘inner teenager’ for the first time.
In the past, this part of myself has been synonymous with resistance, defiance, resentment and anger. Underlying all of that is enormous fear and a desperate desire to be loved; but the historic need to be strong, to push others away, and to avoid being vulnerable and being hurt, tends to win out over the need for acceptance and love. Or at least, the need for acceptance and love tend to come out in rather destructive ways, both in terms of how I treat myself, and how I treat others. Getting through to that ‘inner teenager’ has felt impossible – I have no idea how to help her feel better and it has felt as though she sees me as a threat and wants nothing to do with me. Moreover, it feels as though she resents the new-found alliance between me and the ‘inner child’. She tends to be the one who has a natural inclination towards fighting; and so I seem to spend a great deal of time ‘battling her’ and her influence, in my mind. These thought-battles, that I have written about before, can be incredibly draining, particularly during the fiercest onslaughts which tend to happen either when I am making good progress in therapy, or during a therapy break.
But a few weeks ago, a strange thing happened. I had an internal conversation with my inner teenager in which I swore at her. She ‘shouted at me’ about a couple of things over which I (and others) had absolutely no control, and I responded back, ‘what the f*** would you like me to do about that’? Admittedly, this is not normally an advisable way of building good relationships, and you could argue that it was more than a little unsympathetic! But she was expressing her sadness about a particular situation through being angry with me, which did not really give me an opportunity to validate the sadness itself. My own response was not angry, but rather somewhat tongue-in-cheek; a challenge rather than an attack.
The interaction unfolded completely spontaneously. It was utterly unplanned but in hindsight it served a very important purpose – it showed the ‘inner teenager’, quite clearly, that I am not my mother. My mother strongly disapproves of swearing, it’s not ‘how she brought me up’. And so I had the impression that I’d stopped the teenage anger in its tracks by using shock tactics and the element of surprise. The anger dissolved into ‘internal giggles’, if such a thing is possible, and the point about who I was – or wasn’t – was made.
It was this experience that helped me to realise that it was difficult to get through to this part of me, because she saw me in the way that I see my own mother. As far as this part of me was concerned, I and my mother were one. Unlike the inner child who lacked a certain amount of life experience and was still willing to be trusting, the teenager was carrying many of the distressing experiences that have at least partly led to where I am today. She was carrying the un-felt grief, the emotional invalidation, the anger, the intrusion, the need for distance but also for a different kind of love; and she was the one who learned to put up walls in the first place. The more ‘adult’ version of me that is developing in therapy is to all intents and purposes a newcomer on the scene, still weak and vulnerable in many ways. The ‘inner teenager’ can be forgiven for thinking that this grown-up is as incapable of dealing with her own emotions and protecting others from them, or is as incapable of helping the teenager to feel better, as my own mother was. However, as soon as this part of me was able to see me differently, it became much easier for me to talk to her, and for her to hear me.
And it became easier for me to hear her too. I felt connected to someone vulnerable and loving, rather than fighting someone guarded and resentful. I became aware of how fearful she was of the upcoming summer therapy break – whereas until then she had tried to just ignore it. I tried to reassure her, as best I could. As I do with the ‘inner child’, I let her know that I’m there for her – but it’s my therapist’s presence she really wants and I find that my reassurances most often take the form of reminders that my therapist is still there, still cares, and still remembers. All parts of me need that reassurance and that reminder, and we all share in the comfort that it brings.
Connecting with the ‘inner teenager’ in this way, also gave her a voice – and a listening ear – in session. My therapist and I talked about the ‘inner conversation’ in such a way that it felt as though the teenager was really being attended to and spoken to. The session was powerful in a similar way to one before the Easter therapy break, which had involved connecting with the ‘inner child’. But it occurs to me now that the two sessions were also different; whereas the child was joyfully ‘filled up’ by the experience, the teenager was left immediately craving more. The experience was so good that there was a fierce need to repeat it, to ‘make up for a deficit’, as my therapist referred to it. I said to my therapist later, that it was the first time that the ‘teenager’ had come out during session. She kindly (and accurately) pointed out that it was the first time I’d realised that she had come out in session. I understood wryly that she was probably referring to the times I brought with me resentment, anger, games, and sarcasm; or to the times when I just plain shut her out in session.
I’ve had other ‘internal conversations’ since then, and I’ve discovered how much better, how much more peaceful my inner world is when the parts of me feel connected and allied together. The internal battle I’ve described before, dies down. I feel more at peace with myself.
My therapist has talked about the important task of re-parenting that I have – that I can do things differently when it comes to my own ‘inner parts’, and not simply repeat the experience I had when I was younger. That I can give those inner parts a new experience of mother. I feel I have been trying to do that, as best I can, but re-parenting doesn’t mean perfect parenting; and as well as comforting her, I have also let the inner teenager down over the last few weeks. On one occasion after an intense therapy session, the emotions of the younger parts of me felt too overwhelming, and I pushed them away. My dreams were filled with scenarios of being under attack and of bad mothering; in one dream I fled the scene of an explosion, leaving my children to find their own way out. For a few days the various parts of me went back to being strangers, each trying to deal (or not deal) with their own version of the pain. The resentment, the walls and the lack of trust returned; but we found our way back to each other a few days later.
The key to internal reconciliation was the interaction between me and my therapist – and another, different, vital new experience of mother.