Life in a Bind – BPD and me

My therapy journey, recovering from Borderline Personality Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I write for , for Planet Mindful magazine, and for Muse Magazine Australia, under the name Clara Bridges. Listed in Top Ten Resources for BPD in 2016 by


Communicating with the inner child: dreams, stories, songs

inner child thoughtfulThere are some truly iconic movie theme tunes and soundtracks that are as much a part of the experience and legacy of the film, as the plot and characters themselves. In the same way, many of us have pieces of music that constitute a ‘soundtrack’ for our lives –pieces that are inextricable bound up with certain events and which are immediately evocative of particular feelings, when we hear them. I had such a ‘soundtrack’ during one of the worst years of my life, at university. It was an incredibly turbulent period, with self-destructive and damaging behaviour, and some rather disturbed and disturbing thinking. There is a song I strongly associate with that period – I haven’t listened to it since, and I never want to listen to it again.

I didn’t want Alan Walker’s “Faded” to become such a song. On the one hand it was less likely, because its negative associations were of a much shorter duration. On the other hand, it was the soundtrack of a weekend which led to my therapist questioning whether she was the right person to be helping me, and was associated both with a destructive desire for conflict, and a resulting fear of abandonment.

After that weekend, I worried that listening to it would trigger that same need for conflict and the sense of my ‘rational self’ being ‘held under’ by the same desire to regress rather than progress. But I was also longing to hear it again and to watch the video, whose visuals were just as evocative as the music, and which I wrote about in my post ‘A tale of three houses: therapy, progress, and internal conflict’. And so it was important for me to find a way to break the association between the song and a situation that if left unchecked might have cost me an immeasurably precious relationship. I had to try and give it a different interpretation and meaning, one which was far less threatening to therapy and to progress.

During that weekend, I saw the song and its images as being about therapy, a sense of disconnection from my therapist, and foreboding of a future failure to attain longed-for security and a sense of being loved. But maybe another interpretation was possible. I remembered that during those days I had been aware of a small voice urging me to ‘stand up for us, fight for us’. The inner child, pleading with me to put up some resistance to the internal saboteurs. Perhaps the lyrics ‘where are you now?’ could be seen as her words to me, and not my words to my therapist.

Seen in that way, the song was more an entreaty by someone who loved me and was with me, than a cry to someone I wanted to love me, and to be with me. Seeing myself as the object rather than the subject of the song, helped me to feel wanted and connected, rather than disconnected and lost. The change of perspective enabled me to listen to the song not just without being haunted by negative associations, but with a real sense of warmth and closeness. You may call it just a sleight of hand; and after all, neither interpretation represents an external, ‘scientific’, objective reality. But the stories we tell ourselves are incredibly powerful, and therapy is, amongst other things, a chance to rewrite the story that we tell ourselves, about ourselves and our relationships. Songs, books, poems, pictures, dreams – all have a role to play in this too.


A few weeks ago, when I made a commitment to myself to be ‘all in’ as far as therapy was concerned – even more trusting, more open, more vulnerable, more accepting of change and where it was leading, than ever before – my inner child let me know what she thought about that idea, in a very  unequivocal way. She showed me what she thought it would mean for her, in two vivid and dramatic dreams.

In the first, a friend – who looked very much like me – dropped by unannounced to tell me she was pregnant but was on her way to get an abortion. She was talking in whispers so that ‘the baby’ wouldn’t hear. In the second dream, one character was trying to persuade me and a companion to participate in sex with him, in order to extract payment from a fourth party who was observing. I refused, at which point the dominant character poisoned my companion and once I was undefended, forced me to have sex. Though the experience was unwanted and unpleasant, there was also a sense that having been ‘liberated’ from the presence of my companion, part of me enjoyed it.

Though I think there is much to unpack in both dreams, and a number of interpretations are possible, my associations were fairly immediate. For me, change and recovery has always felt as though it would involve a part of me dying; and I have always had a fear of vulnerability. And so it seemed to me as though my inner child was saying that she was afraid that me going ‘all in’ would be equivalent to killing her, or raping her. Those were her fears, and that’s what she wanted to show me. Though perhaps she was also expressing ambivalence – a hope that we might receive something (praise, approval?) from my therapist, and also a chance that the experience may actually end up being a positive one for her, on some level.


We didn’t always have a good relationship, my ‘inner child’ and I. In fact, I said and thought some pretty terrible things about her (as described in my posts ‘Inner child and past child‘ and ‘Do you love the inner child?‘) and I could never previously have imagined being able to see her compassionately or relating to her in a positive way. I saw her as weak and feeble, and blamed her for not being more robust and thus not protecting me from sadness, depression or anxiety. The things we fear we ourselves have been and done, we project onto others, even internal others, it seems.

This all changed quite suddenly, though I didn’t initially realise why, over the course of the Easter therapy break. An important, intimate and bonding moment had taken place during therapy just before that break, and it carried me through those two weeks in a remarkable way. That moment was a special one in which the needs of both adult and inner child were met, and though my therapist did the ‘meeting’, it was the inner child who came to be met, and who was strong enough to provide the opportunity. She held fast against the desire of a part of me to self-sabotage and to sabotage the therapeutic relationship, and in doing so she gave me – gave us both – a wonderful gift.

Again, you could say that this is just a story that I told myself, to explain an aspect of my progress in therapy. But it has been a powerful and beneficial one, helping me to relate to myself and others differently. As my therapist said at one point in session, if it works, then why not use it?


It is working, and my dreams are also changing. For a long time, I have suspected that within my dreams, the figure of my youngest child represents my own inner child. And for months I have had dreams in which he falls into water and drowns, often when I am distracted or arguing with someone else. But over the last few weeks, I or others have managed to save him. And much more recently, the dreams haven’t involved water at all, though they have still sometimes involved abandonment. A couple of weeks ago I dreamed that I had arranged three one-hour play dates for him, but I had forgotten about him and left him at the first one for hours. I emailed the dream to my therapist, and she told me that she laughed when she read it. I looked at her in puzzlement until she pointed out that we have three one-hour sessions per week – the thought hadn’t even occurred to me…..

I am still learning how to deal with this new relationship with my inner child; I keep being surprised both by how comforting the connection feels, and how completely bizarre (and sometimes even silly) the whole thing sounds. All I know is that it seems to help; and when I felt really sad, desperate and unheard after therapy a few weeks ago, I realised that those were her feelings and I stopped to consider what would help her feel better. Suggestions came into my head and were discarded – they seemed too ‘grown-up’, too rational, too serious, or too intellectual. I settled on colouring in, and knew I’d hit upon the right thing when I started to feel better just at the thought of buying colouring pencils and stationery. A memory of the best Christmas present ever, came rushing back – a pack of pretty pens that I’d really wanted, that reduced me to tears when I opened them.

There’s a quote by Mother Teresa: “I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things”. I’m really hoping that’s the way it can be for me and my inner child – great things, great healing.


More thoughts about inner parts

[Preamble: A reader asked if I was claiming, in this post, to have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), and so I wanted to clarify what I am trying to describe, and make it clear that I am not here talking about DID. As I understand it, in DID the ‘parts’ switch in and out and aren’t aware of each other at the time, and to a large extent have their own memories as well. Whereas my ‘parts’ are simply the roles and different ways of relating that I tend to fall into – some are more childlike, and some more parental, for example. But I’m aware of them all and as far as I retain memories (which is an issue for me generally) they are all ‘my’ memories, covering all experience irrespective of what role I feel I’m in, and when I speak in this post about locking things away, I am talking about suppressing feelings rather than ‘switching’. I feel conscious when I am talking about ‘parts’ that I am to some extent trespassing on the language of DID – however, I think that it can be a helpful language and way of thinking about aspects of oneself in general, and I am hoping I won’t confuse or offend by using it!]

It has been useful for me recently, to be able to think of the different aspects of myself as semi-distinct ‘parts’, and I drew a picture of these in a recent post. Bearing them in mind has helped me to more easily identify when I am slipping into particular ‘roles’ or ways of being, and to try and stay on top of and in control of, the various thoughts and emotions that accompany them. It has also helped me to try and figure out ways of soothing or helping myself, depending on which ‘part’ is most at the fore.

However, I have started to wonder whether I am beginning to misuse the concept – as with most things, there can be less helpful applications in addition to the valuable ones. Last weekend I felt as though I was hovering above my feelings; for example, I was aware of at least three different emotions in response to my therapist’s offer of an additional session this week, but I wasn’t really feeling any of them. I felt like an observer of, rather than a participant in, my own reactions. And when my therapist asked me a few days ago how I had been feeling over the weekend, I found I couldn’t really answer the question.

locker-1392186_1920That experience may have been a response to my intense sessions last week, when I was describing past distressing events in which I had dissociated and felt as though I was observing myself. Perhaps my sense over the weekend of being a ‘watcher’ of my feelings, was a mild re-creation of that experience. On the other hand, I have also noticed a tendency recently to use my ‘parts’ as a sort of ‘dumping ground’ for my feelings – somewhere to put them to ‘get rid of them’. Or, thinking of it another way, I have come to visualise my ‘parts’ as lockers – places where I can shut things away that I consider ‘bad’ and undesirable. This is particularly true of aspects associated with the part I call ‘the stroppy one’, and feelings and behaviours that remind me of the ‘teenage me’. These are the aspects described in recent posts such as ‘Addicted to feeling torn’ and ‘A tale of three houses: therapy, progress and internal conflict’ – self-destructive, relationship-destructive, looking for a fight. I am starting to get a handle on how to deal with the ‘inner child’ part of me, but I haven’t got a clue about how to reach the slightly older version of that child. And so it has felt much easier to simply pick up on her presence, think ‘oh, that’s not good’ and then mentally compartmentalise her experience and try and shut it away.

cabinet-157891_1280My therapist encouraged me to think of the parts as filing cabinet drawers rather than lockers – not somewhere to shut feelings away, but a way of identifying where they might belong, where they have come from and what they might be linked with. I think that is helpful, but I’m still struggling to find a middle ground between becoming immersed in all my emotions, whether positive or negative, and maintaining a healthy perspective without cutting myself off from them. I didn’t like that sense of ‘hovering over’ my feelings during the weekend – it felt far too remote.

As well as feeling ‘cut off’, another difficulty of trying to lock parts away, is of course the fact that it doesn’t really work. The parts are still persistently there, and it takes mental energy to actually keep the lockers locked. While that energy is slowly being drained, the parts themselves are growing in their clamour to be heard, and they become more easily triggered and harder to ignore. A couple of days ago I went into therapy feeling a little like the person on the left, and came out feeling a lot like the person on the right:


It wasn’t just my ability to keep ‘the stroppy one’ from taking over that seemed to have vanished, but my desire to do so as well. Although some part of me really didn’t want to feel that bad, other aspects were colluding to persuade me that it was pointless to resist the angry and self-destructive feelings, and that giving in to ‘her’ would be a welcome relief.

Perhaps if I had tried to consistently ‘file’ her rather than ‘dump’ her, I may have been more successful in terms of staying in control; though I suspect she is almost as resistant to categorisation as she is to segregation! But I have been trying to keep her away from my therapist, fearing the wrecking power that she has over the relationship, and perhaps that was a mistake. Things always have more power when not talked about, and therapy should be the place where anything can be brought out into the light.

I will continue to try and understand the various parts of me, and allow myself to experience them rather than trying to identify but then ignore them. In the meantime, if anyone has any suggestions on how to get through to a stroppy teenager and help her feel better, they would be very welcome!






Parts of me

[Warning – liberal use of the ‘f’ word, though purely for artistic purposes…..]

This is a landscape of parts – a landscape of me. We all have them – inner children, inner teenagers, inner parents – I’m just getting a little more acquainted with mine. Some of them are two sides of the same coin, like the terrible teenage twins; some tend to go hand in hand, like the ‘flat one’ who doesn’t feel much and ‘the scathing one’ who just invalidates those who do. I’m aiming to develop the ‘me’ in the middle – but I really don’t have a clear idea of who that is yet.

During and after my last therapy session I was way over on the left – and somehow this picture became my way of trying to process and understand that, while also attempting to keep the terrible teenage twins at bay.

If this all seems a little strange – well, it does to me too. Being part(y) to the conversations in my head is one thing – representing them by coloured blobs – “why are you drawing clouds?” my husband asked – is another. I hope someone finds it useful. Or at least mildly interesting. Perhaps someone will look at this and think, “phew, I am not alone”. In which case, no you’re not, in more than one way, it seems…..



The inner child: Ladybird-book-style

I have spent a great deal of time recently thinking, talking and writing about my ‘inner child‘, and although I know this area is not ‘concluded’, it feels as though my therapy is moving onto other things, at least for now. I am sure it will come back as a matter for further reflection, as unresolved issues always do – after all, I still need to find a way to at least like, if not love, that inner child (and other people’s!).

But in the meantime, I wanted to leave the subject for now, by just sharing a light-hearted reference to it which made me smile. I really hope it does not offend, and sincerely apologise if it does – I am fully aware that fundamentally, the difficulties many of us have with our ‘inner children’ are tied up with very painful and sometimes traumatic experiences, and it is certainly not my intention to make light of that. But in the spirit of Harry Potter and the spell Riddikulus, which defeats Boggarts (entities that take on the form of our worst fears) by laughter, through changing them into a form that is humorous – I give you the following picture of the last page of ‘The Ladybird Book of Mindfulness’. This is part of the Ladybird books for grown-ups series, and it is a wonderful parody; especially so if, like me, you still remember reading Ladybird books as a child. As it says inside the front cover:

“This delightful book is the latest in the series of Ladybird books that have been specially planned to help grown-ups with the world about them. As in the other books in this series, the large, clear script, the careful choice of words, the frequent repetition and the thoughtful matching of text with pictures all enable grown-ups to think they have taught themselves to cope…..”

ladybirds mindfulness

[I particularly like this page as Snow White and Rose Red, pictured here, were my favourite characters in my favourite Ladybird book as a child.]


The Ideal

I went to my bookcase, opened it, and for no apparent reason pulled out a slim book of poems I hadn’t looked at in close to twenty years. The volume was called ‘Out of Danger’ by James Fenton, and opening its pages was like rediscovering an old friend. More than that, it was like rediscovering a part of myself and an influence that I had completely forgotten existed. The first page of the book was signed; I had bought it at a poetry reading by the poet himself. As I read, the words were not just familiar, though long unremembered; I could also hear James Fenton’s voice in my head, as he read them – the rhythm, the musicality, the pace. And as I read, I realised what an enormous influence he had had on my own poetry writing. Poems of my own from that time started to come into my mind, as his words, rhythms and rhyme schemes acted as a trigger and a reminder. All of a sudden it seemed strange that I could have forgotten that book and his poems so entirely, and along with it that part of myself that loved that poetry reading so much – but I guess it got lost in one of the several inventions and reinventions of myself that followed.

One poem in particular struck me as I read it this time around, and I think it is because it chimed with the reading, thinking and writing I have been doing recently about my ‘inner child’ and transactional analysis. It’s about respecting the past and acknowledging and accepting who we were and are. The words run counter to the feelings I have about my own ‘inner child’, who, in as much as I think about her, seems more worthy of discarding than of respect. But the words of the poem are, in its own words, ‘the ideal’, and that ideal ‘is hard’. And yet, perhaps the following words from ‘The Games People Play’ by Eric Berne can provide encouragement to aim for that ideal, as a goal worth striving for: “…the Child is in many ways the most valuable part of the personality, and can contribute to the individual’s life exactly what an actual child can contribute to family life: charm, pleasure and creativity.

the ideal


Do you love the inner child?

Over the last few years I’ve been very much aware of the fact that my marriage has been ‘parental’ in nature. Even before our relationship started to deteriorate and I began to react to my husband in the way that I often react to my mother, I used to feel that he was the ‘strong one’ who I couldn’t do without, and I was the weaker, less competent, and more dependent party. It is no co-incidence that the Panic Disorder which set in with a vengeance when I left home to go to university, disappeared after we got together as mysteriously as it had first appeared. At the time, I interpreted it as a good sign which demonstrated the security I felt with him – it was only years later that what should have been the obvious parental parallel, hit home.

In the language of Transactional Analysis, which I have been reading about lately in Thomas Harris’s book ‘I’m okay, you’re okay, my husband tends to inhabit his Parent in our interactions, and I tend to inhabit my Child. Though of course there is also an element of my Child invoking his Parent, and vice versa – we each play the roles that we are used to, and they encourage and sustain each other. I sometimes wonder whether my realisation that I had chosen a marriage that in some ways replicated my parental home environment, in itself led to me more actively ‘seeing my husband as my mother’, and reacting accordingly. It’s hard to know whether I’m simply more aware of how triggering I find some of his words and actions; or whether I find them so triggering because of the realisation I have come to and the now almost automatic tendency to interpret his behaviour as parental.

There was a particular section in ‘I’m okay, you’re okay’, that took me surprise and gave me pause for thought. It did so because that section took its own truth completely for granted, and yet it didn’t feel like something that was true for me. To quote from that section: “We fear the Parent in others; their Child we can love. One helpful practice in a difficult transaction is to see the little boy, or the little girl in another person….”. I had a similar experience of bafflement around a year ago, when I watched a drama series on DVD in which the female protagonist was asked by her therapist to imagine talking to her younger self. The idea was that by being aware of the compassion that she had for her ‘child self’, and by identifying with that part of her, it would be easier to show herself compassion in the present.

In both cases, the assumption that one would feel care and compassion for either one’s own or another’s ‘inner child’ (in the way that one might feel compassion for an actual child) was unquestioned. And yet I feel unable to relate to that sentiment, in either case. Thinking about my husband’s inner child does not make me love that child, and it is not helpful in trying to relate to him. His inner child may not feel as crushing as his ‘parent’, but it still feels threatening. I feel like running away and shouting: “Keep your child to yourself, I want nothing to do with it, take it away. I don’t want to be burdened with your child, I don’t want to be taken over by your child, I don’t want to be suffocated by it or intruded upon, or violated by it. You deal with it – don’t make me do it. I can’t carry your child for you – you do it. I want absolutely nothing to do with it”.

I want to run away from other people’s ‘Child’ selves – they frighten me. By contrast, my own Child does not frighten me – but I frighten myself when I think about how I feel about her. I am not a violent person, either in thought or in action. And yet, when I visualise my ‘inner child’ I don’t feel compassion – I feel a need to do her damage, of a very permanent kind. The words that go through my head are horrible, as are the accompanying images. The only reason it doesn’t feel more horrific to think those thoughts is that as they’re fundamentally about me and not about someone else, they feel justified. When I think of what I want to do to her, it feels as though she deserves it – that things would be better if she wasn’t around. When I try and imagine her, I feel angry; I blame her for not protecting me – the me that I am now. I somehow feel as though if she had done a better job, I would have ‘turned out better’. She failed, she was weak. She didn’t stand up for me – the person I was meant to become. She let me down – and maybe if she was simply wiped out, all her mistakes would be wiped out too.

My therapist asked me where all these words and thoughts are coming from – whose voice it is that is actually running riot in my head. In the language of Transactional Analysis, it is my own Parent, coming down in judgment upon my Child. It feels not so much like an actual replay of particular situations experienced or sentences heard; but an agglomeration of disparate ‘parent data’ picked up in different contexts and at different times, patched together to make an ugly weapon of words.

I have a better sense of where my feelings about other people’s ‘inner children’ comes from. My mother is a highly anxious person with little control over her emotions. If she feels it, she shows it. If she thinks it, she speaks it. And she seeks reassurance, constantly. She inhabits her Child – and that Child is both unable to hold others’ emotions, and unable to hold its own. These days I have put up such barriers between us and hold her so much at arms’ length, that if she tells me she is anxious about something, my response is to tell her that it is her problem, not mine. But I didn’t always have those barriers up; and even if I can’t remember much about the past, I can more than imagine that when I was younger, the torrent of her emotions would have felt like an invasion – like a force that threatened to suffocate and take me over. It was best not to call up that force at all – and so I learned to keep things to myself, and to deal with my emotions on my own.

And so when I think of someone else’s ‘inner child’, all I can think is that I don’t want another adult to burden my Child with their Child. I feel guilty for saying that – because it feels hard, cold, and not at all compassionate. And it’s not as though I have an aversion to ever dealing with anyone’s emotions. I really want to be there for those I care about and I hope my friends would be able to attest to the fact that I have supported them through distress and pain, without feeling burdened or overwhelmed. But those were adult to adult interactions – and I wasn’t with them day in, day out. But ask me to try and deal with the Child part of those closest to me – for example, my husband – and it triggers an immediate desire to back away.

It’s a good thing my husband can often cope with my ‘Child’, even if I cannot cope with his. When he ‘brought his adult’ and offered a compromise after an argument the other day, I would have loved to have been able to react in a similarly adult way, and to thank him graciously for the compromise, and move on. Instead, it felt as though the only possible reactions in my repertoire were to huffily accept while continuing to feel angry and thwarted, or to dissolve in tears of frustration and a need to be comforted. In a split-second I gave in to vulnerability and chose the latter; it was the better option, but still a far cry from the mature response of an equal partner in control of their emotions. Somehow I have a feeling that the more I am able to react in an adult way, the more compassion I might be able to have for my ‘child’; and the more compassion I can have for my own, perhaps the more I can have for others’ too. It’s a theory still untested, but an experiment I definitely need to do.




“I’m okay, you’re okay” – book review

As mentioned in my previous post – Memory Monday- “Inner child and past child” – I have been spending a fair amount of time recently, thinking about my ‘inner child’ and the ways in which my thoughts, feelings and behaviour are influenced by that part of myself.

This has been part of a lengthy stretch in therapy (since Christmas) of focusing on my marriage and the substantial difficulties in my relationship with my husband. In particular, the renewed attention I have paid to my ‘inner child’ has been in large measure the result of the book I am currently reading, recommended by my therapist, called ‘I’m okay, you’re okay’, by Thomas Harris.

If you can resist the urge to throw it out of the window for its incredibly dated language and examples (feminist friends, take note!), I can heartily recommend it as both a comprehensible guide to Transactional Analysis, and also an immensely powerful book for anyone looking to understand their own patterns of behaviour, and looking for hope that there is a real possibility for change in ourselves and in others.

Transactional Analysis (TA) has its roots in psychoanalysis, but split off from traditional psychoanalysis in the sense that rather than looking at internal psychological dynamics, it focuses on the dynamics contained in people’s interactions (or transactions). The ‘cure’ to emotional difficulties is thus framed in terms of understanding and changing these transactions, rather than uncovering the content of unconsciously held ideas.

TA also postulates three ‘ego states’, of the Parent, Child and Adult, with individuals’ emotional states being created out of an ‘internal dialogue’ between these states. By way of an incredibly brief and simplistic analysis, the ‘parent state’ is essentially the individual’s ‘collection of data’ or ‘internal recordings’ provided by their parents or parental figures/objects in the first few years of life. This data is comprised of everything a child saw and heard his parents do or say, and includes everything from admonitions, rules and laws to praise and positive reinforcement. Parent data, in itself, is unreflective and unexamined. To quote from the book: “Any external situation in which the little person feels himself to be dependent to the extent that he is not free to question or to explore produces data which is stored in the Parent”.

The ‘Child’ state is the recording of the ‘internal events’ that accompanied the external situations recorded in the ‘Parent’ – they are the child’s feelings, his or her emotional responses to what he sees and hears. As with Parent data, this can cover a whole spectrum ranging from frustration, anger and rejection, to curiosity, joy and excitement. By contrast to both the Parent and Child states, the Adult state grows out of self-awareness and original thought; it arises “as a result of the child’s ability to find out for himself what is different about life from the ‘taught concept’ of life in his Parent and the ‘felt concept’ of life in his Child”. The Adult uses both Parent and Child data to make decisions about what views to accept and what choices to make in the present, as well as what behaviours are appropriate and constitute a response to the present situation rather than to ‘Parent data’ and the past. The goal is not to eliminate or suppress the Parent and Child, but to be aware of them, to be able to separate them out in order to consider them, and to make them available for the Adult to use, rather than being used and controlled by them.

TA also postulates that there are four ‘life positions’ that individuals can adopt, which profoundly influences how they go about their lives and interact with people. These are: ‘I’m okay, you’re not okay’; ‘I’m not okay, you’re okay’; ‘I’m not okay, you’re not okay’; and ‘I’m okay, you’re okay’. The healthiest position to adopt is the latter, but an important part of the book is the ‘revelation’ that the ‘natural situation of childhood’ leads to everyone having a ‘not OK Child’. Even the children of the most loving and nurturing parents go through the difficult and frustrating process of individuating and learning about boundaries (amongst other things), and the inevitable unhappy feelings that this process engenders, leads (according to TA) to every child carrying a ‘not OK’ burden. As with the Parent, this ‘not OK Child’ can manifest at any time during a person’s interactions with others (transactions), whatever age or stage of life they are at.

The Amazon review of the book says: “Hundreds of thousands of people have found this phenomenal breakthrough in psychotherapy a turning point in their lives. In sensible, non-technical language Thomas A Harris explains how to gain control of yourself, your relationships and your future – no matter what happened in the past.” It’s hard to ignore an endorsement like that, even taking into account the old-fashioned language! And though there will undoubtedly be many people to whom this book does not appeal and for whom it doesn’t seem to work; and although you may not be convinced that these three states really do exist in everyone – I think the model does offer up some helpful ways of thinking about ourselves and how we relate to others.

For me, the chapter on marriage was particularly helpful, and highlighted the extent to which my ‘Child’ is almost permanently being triggered and in control, in my interactions with my husband. To quote from a few places in that chapter: “It is the nature of the Child to mistake disappointment for disaster….this is what happens when marriages break. The Child takes over in one of both partners, and the whole marriage is shattered when imperfections begin to appear……the average marriage contract is made by the Child, which understands love as something you feel and not something you do, and which sees happiness as something you pursue rather than a by-product of working towards the happiness of someone other than yourself…..

I believe that there is a ‘right time’ to read every book – and now is the right time for me and this book. I think we know when the ‘right time’ has come, because we feel drawn to read something that may have been recommended to us for a while, or may have sat on our shelves for years. For me, this book builds on a number of other books I have read recently, but which all examine similar questions in different ways. These include: “The seven principles for making marriage work” by John Gottman and Nan Silver; “The 5 love languages” by Gary Chapman; and “Barefoot disciple – walking the way of passionate humility” by Stephen Cherry, a Christian book but with wide-ranging and broad appeal in the way that C.S. Lewis’s writings have broad relevance and appeal. All of these books have challenged me to look beyond the ways in which I am held captive by the experiences and feelings of my childhood, and to recognise that it is possible to do things differently and to respond differently in my relationships. It will take courage, self-awareness, a great effort of will, vulnerability, openness and patience; but all of these books lead me to believe that it is possible and that the rewards can be immense.

As mentioned in my recent post ‘Transferentially yours – an email to my therapist, unsent’, therapy has been turbulent recently not just because of the painfulness of delving into my marriage difficulties, but also because of what felt like a major rupture with my therapist over the issue of ‘resistance’ in therapy, and whether I was willing to make changes in my life. This arose after I impulsively wrote my therapist a note stating that though I could change my behaviour and even perhaps the way I thought about others, it just didn’t feel possible for me to change the way I thought about myself. Just a few days later, and in the midst of these discussions, I read the following in ‘I’m okay, you’re okay’: “There is also the type of patient who, although suffering from disabling symptoms, still does not really want to change. His treatment contract read, ‘I’ll promise to let you help me if I don’t have to get well’. This negative attitude changes, however, as the patient begins to see that there is indeed another way to live. A working knowledge of P-A-C [Parent – Adult – Child] makes it possible for the Adult to explore new and exciting frontiers of life, a desire which has been there all along but has been buried under the burden of the NOT OK”.

My impulsive note was ‘of the moment’ and reflected a feeling of depression and hopelessness – it was not a rational and decisive view on what was possible. But it’s true to say that a part of me is resistant to change and sometimes believes it is impossible – and this book has been invaluable in helping me to identify that part and not be buried underneath it. Feminists – read this book at your peril due to the language! But we all read this book at our peril in the sense that we are all afraid of change – and this book is certainly a major challenge and incentive to do just that….


Inner child and past child

I can’t stop thinking about her – the girl in Sia’s ‘Chandelier’ video, which I wrote about in my “Intensity” post. I have tried and tried to write about other things – important posts about topics I have been wanting to cover for a while – but I just can’t do it. The words simply won’t write themselves and the image of the eleven-year-old Maddie Ziegler just dances into the path of my best endeavours to think about something else.

Sia_-_Chandelier_(music_video_screenshot)It feels strange how a completely random occurrence – happening upon a song and a video that I could have come across at any time over the last few months – has turned into the most pivotal event in my therapy since Christmas. But I guess that’s life. The ordinary can have extraordinary significance, and a chance event can alter the course of a life.

I have been trying to understand what it is about the song and the video that is so powerful, and what it is that it is tapping into. The question that intrigues me most, is “why a child”? The song appears to have an adult theme – the pain and emptiness of substance abuse and losing oneself in a partying lifestyle – but that pain is depicted by a child whose age is only just in double digits. The blonde ‘Sia’ wig and Sia’s description of her video for ‘Elastic Heart’ – in which the same young girl appears alongside a male actor/dancer – as a depiction of her ‘self-states’, implies that it is her ‘inner child’ who is the centrepiece of Chandelier.

I think the power of the song and the video operates on two levels for me: it has resonances with one of the worst periods of my life, when I completely ‘lost myself’ as an adult, but when I suspect that the inner child was in control (or rather, she was uppermost, but out of control); and it also reminds me of childhood itself.

My therapist said that for her, Maddie’s dance was indicative of someone who just didn’t know what to do with themselves. Reviews that I have read, described her as depicting someone ‘barely in control’, almost literally ‘climbing the walls’. I know that feeling. In my early twenties I went through a period which I can only describe as ‘losing touch with reality’. It was a ‘party period’, and sometimes when I describe it, people simply see it as ‘experimentation’. But nothing can shake my conviction that that was not what it was. Looking back on that time, even a few months afterwards, I couldn’t recognise myself. I had no sense of myself, of my values, or of any boundaries. Things that would ordinarily have been important to me  – for example, the opinion of those in positions of authority – were not so much unimportant, as not remotely in the picture.

I partied, I drank, I acted out – mostly with people I had little interest in or attraction to. For a while, the more I lost control, the more powerful I felt. Though never confident in my appearance, I developed bizarre delusions of grandeur in that I thought I could have anyone I wanted. But as time went on, the loss of control didn’t feel like power anymore. I was on auto-pilot – the acting out became habitual, not something I wanted to do, but something I just did. And although for a while ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ were simply immaterial, as time went on I was disturbed by vivid ‘religious experiences’ in which I felt as though God and the Devil were battling it out for my soul. I was in a lot of pain – and doing my very best not to feel it. Eventually it got to the point where I think I was dissociating a lot of the time. I remember occasions when I felt as though I was simply watching myself (or at least, someone who looked like me), from outside my body.

Whatever it was that my ‘inner child’ was searching for – affirmation, validation, love, acceptance, something to fill an emptiness – she wasn’t finding it. And throughout all that time I think that she was inwardly desperate for someone to put the brakes on; to challenge her and to set her some boundaries. I felt betrayed by the fact that no one did  – neither my friends, nor my church family, even though they were all witnesses to what was going on. I saw the looks of disapproval and pity – but no one cared or dared enough to speak their mind. Until one day someone did – someone who I barely knew and who certainly didn’t care about me. But they did what needed to be done, and for that I’m grateful, as it was the starting point of a change.

For me, the song’s connection with that period of my life and with the ‘inner child’s’ needs that were driving the adult behaviour, was the first interpretation that came to mind. But the more I watched the video, the more conscious I became of the connection with my emotional experience growing up. The thing about Sia’s ‘child state’, is that she is performing a dance, but she is also, in quite a different sense, ‘putting on a performance’. One commentator described sections of the video as involving a party, with the dancer entertaining her ‘invisible guests’. For me, this is almost like looking at a negative. In one sense, it is the guests who are ‘real’ and the ‘performance’ that is a lie, the cover-up for something hidden – but what we see is the picture pulled inside out, revealing the emotions underneath. What this brings out for me, more than anything else, is how alone she is with her emotions. ‘Help me, I’m holding on for dear life’. A room full of party guests but each one as insubstantial, vacuous and transparent as thin air – there is no meaningful connection anywhere. She is barely holding on, but no one can see it, and all she can do is try and numb the pain, push it down where she can’t feel it, and carry on pretending and putting on a fake smile.

What affected me more than anything, I think, was her alone-ness. The fact that she was on her own with her intense emotions. Whether you see that as being literally alone, dancing in an empty flat, or alone amidst a room full of invisible guests – there was no one alongside her in her experience. It reminded me of myself: whether it was experiencing loss, massive upheaval, bereavement, rejection, fear or panic – I kept it all inside. I think the song and video were powerful triggers of that sense of feeling alone with my experience – with no one ‘safe’ enough to share it with. No one who could properly validate it or accept it and who wouldn’t belittle or dismiss it. No one who could contain it in such a way as to ensure that their own reactions didn’t overwhelm me even further. My life was full of people – parents, relatives, friends – but when it came to being present with me in my internal struggles, they were essentially invisible.

But I’ve also come to believe that my reaction to the video is not just about what the child in the video reminds me of. It’s what the child means to me. When your mind tells you something you know cannot be true, you have to question why. I love that little girl – which is clearly impossible, as I do not know her. I can only think that watching her on screen, relating to some of the emotions that she is portraying, allows me to project myself onto her in some way. In the last episode of Season 2 of ‘My Mad Fat Diary’ (a UK drama series from a couple of years ago), the female protagonist is asked by her therapist to imagine talking to her younger self. By revealing the compassion she has for the child she used to be, and by showing her that she is still the same person she was then, the therapist tries to encourage her to have love and compassion for herself in the present. I have tried this thought experiment myself – but instead of feeling compassion or love for the ‘younger me’, all I feel is dislike, resentment and anger. I think that I blame her – if she had been stronger, more resilient, if she had been different somehow, perhaps I wouldn’t be where I am now. Perhaps my life would have been different. She could have saved me; but she failed.

But when I see little Maddie Ziegler on screen and identify with her emotions, I want to let her know that she is loved. While she out there on a screen, two-dimensional though still incredibly full of life, I can have a sense of validating and caring for the parts of me that she is representing. But the moment I try and bring that image inside me; the moment I try and internalise it and really look at the ‘child within’, those feelings completely disappear. I’m back to viewing her through that other lens – the one that has picked up the dirt and discolourations of the attitudes I was surrounded by when growing up.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I have listened to the song and watched the video. The experience has shifted from the sheer power of emotion, to the power of analysis and interpretation. It’s a goldmine of therapeutic material. Interestingly, in a most appropriate ‘freudian slip’ of the written kind, I mistakenly wrote ‘minefield’ rather than ‘goldmine’, in the first iteration of that sentence. To be honest, either will do – both are equally true. I have a feeling I will be exploring that goldmine/minefield for some time to come – I just hope I can survive the experience.


Image attribution: “Sia – Chandelier (music video screenshot)” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia