I was speaking with a close friend of mine on Friday morning who is in trauma therapy herself. She was explaining to me her experience of her felt sense of her inner child. She told me of her awareness of her young part walking beside her towards her therapist’s office, then she described feeling this child part hiding behind her… she had a strong sense of wanting to reassure this part, protect her. She described how this young part looks to her for care and safety. I have experienced an implicit sense of these young energies myself though struggled to articulate it and would always feel great shame talking about it. Listening to my friend talk I just felt this overwhelming sense of admiration and awe for her, that she was so lovingly referring to this little part of hers with no shame and no desire to hide her internal experience from me. I was struck by her self-compassion and self-awareness and it made me reflect deeply on my tendency to shame myself for the very thing I was appreciating in my friend. It led me to ponder out loud to her that the shaming voice of my inner critic is my biggest block for healing. I am aware that the resistance provided by this loud voice of self-judgement inside is there fundamentally to slow me down and keep me safe, but it is an outdated and unnecessarily harsh protector that I no longer have any use for. Hearing my friend speak with such open and authentic candour about her young child part seemed to open up a channel for me to be more able to do the same. My friend’s willingness to share parts of her healing journey with me had a ripple affect… it helped me take the next step on mine. By the time my session came around that afternoon, without making the conscious decision to do so, I felt on a somatic level far more able to speak with direct clarity from two of my most opposing parts. Through the session, Mark and I were able to access these parts so that I could actually speak from them and he was able to talk directly to them. And I was able to feel him with me throughout… no dissociation! Being able to explore these parts led us to a deeper understanding of who these parts are. There was the powerful, assertive, reality checking, values driven ‘fight’ part and the frightened, shame laden, vulnerable, needy ‘freeze’ part. In the past, the inner critic would have overshadowed all dialogue from these parts rendering me speechless and unable to see the parts through the fog. We explored this in the session as well.
Friday’s session followed a two week break and although I had found myself enjoying the time away from therapy, I was really glad to see Mark when we logged on. He initially explained to me that he bought a new laptop and the camera had a different view from the last one, he asked if I wanted him to change anything and I told him I liked it because he appeared closer to me, filling more of the field of vision, which felt nice… he then said, ‘and I remembered to wear the glasses you like,’ which warmed my heart. It’s so lovely that he remembered I’d told him for some reason those particular glasses made me feel more connected to him and that he’s comfortable with that. We launched right in to talking about the small kickback I’d experienced after sending him an email at the start of his break and not receiving a reply. I was able to easily access the part of me that felt ashamed for sending the email, fearful of his potential anger and sense of burden and Mark apologised to that part for not responding which came across as sincere and heartfelt. It made me think about the fact that if I hadn’t allowed myself to be vulnerable and honest about how it felt, I’d have missed out on his apology and the connectedness I felt in that moment. We talked about my inner turmoil prior to sending the email, the back and forth between parts and then the ‘fuck it… just send the damn thing, what’s the worst that could happen?’ followed by an, ‘oh shit I wish I hadn’t sent that!’ moment.
Mark reassured the anxious part, stating that it’s within the context of our work together to occasionally send journal entries and that he’s okay with that. He then told me he was keen to hear more from my ‘fuck it’ place. In a heartbeat I said, ‘Why should I stick to such rigid self-imposed boundaries? No one explicitly said I can’t send emails in fact it’s always been allowed, just send it! It would be fucking unreasonable for him to change his mind without telling me and anyway it’s not like I’m sending messages every day or abusive messages, it’s literally just a part of my journal… if I’ve got something to say, just say it! It’s up to him if he wants to tell me he doesn’t like it…’ I laughed and put a cushion to my face exclaiming, ‘but that’s not what ALL of me thinks, obviously!’ He laughed and said he loved my ‘fuck it’ part and that it sounds strong and assertive and like she knows herself well. I told him the other part of me fears I’ll push him away, irritate him, be too much, force him to lay down a firm boundary if I let that part of me out in relationship with him. Mark said, ‘yes that’s how it is to have needs, the vulnerability of expressing those needs and the fear that you will lose me if you expose more of yourself to me.’
We explored more of the inner dialogue between these two parts and I found myself more able to delve into all the ways the strong, assertive part has come out in the past. I told Mark about the time I confronted a guy for flicking a cigarette into the people in front of him at a gig at the Barrowlands when I was about twenty. He was well over a foot taller than me and I shouted at him despite him shouting back at me, threatening to hit me. My brother and dad both backing away as I stood my ground. I told Mark of another time I’d had a go at a single man for parking in the parent/toddler bay at the shops until he got back in his car and moved it… (prompting Mark to say, ‘good on you! That’s fantastic, I love it!’). Another time I stuck up for a young newly qualified colleague who was being spoken down to by management in a staff meeting. Mark applauded this part, telling me he thought it was ‘fabulous’ which felt so good.
We delved into how this part developed through childhood, borne from a need to be a strong voice of reason and authority in a chaotic household where the parents were inconsistent, unpredictable and unreliable. When the adults were misbehaving, breaking the law and bending the rules, I had this strong, self-righteous part who would step up and look after me and my brother and anyone else who needed protection. Contrary to my long-held belief that this part of me was difficult and unruly, Mark was commending this part for being powerful, loyal to her values and protective of those who need it. I came to realise that this part was labelled ‘difficult’ by my parents and other adults who would much rather I shut up and do what they wanted me to do… of course they didn’t like this little warrior standing up for herself. All the more reason for me to be proud of that part, rather than attempt to silence her. I thought about all the strong and powerful women I admire, those who speak out against injustice and actively fight against systems and people who attempt to supress and oppress the vulnerable. I love and admire that in others and the only reason I’ve felt ashamed of that part of me is because for too long I’ve internalised the voice of my suppressors. But I no longer rely on them, I don’t need to squash the strong parts of myself to keep me safe… I can be as strong and vocal as I want. Not only that, I have Mark telling me that he loves that part of me… he’s not frightened of the part of me that has strong beliefs and a powerful voice… in fact he wants to hear more from it.
We talked about the conflict between my ‘fearless punk rocker’ part (as Mark called it) and my ‘people pleasing fear of abandonment’ part. Throughout this Mark kept telling me things like, ‘keep going with this, you’re doing great work here,’ which felt so liberating and accepting. Looking back, the censoring inner critic just wasn’t around for almost the entire session which freed me up to speak so authentically from these raw places inside. I talked about how the two parts hate each other. The fight part hates the needy, anxious people pleaser and the vulnerable part fears and wants to silence the fearless punk rocker. I discovered that the fight part is actually very moralistic. She’s not an unpredictable, rageful mini-dictator. She’s actually very values driven and seeks to fight injustice and use her voice to ‘put things right’. Mark got me to feel into the physical sensations I experienced when I was speaking from this place and bring awareness to how this part feels from the inside. He asked what it feels like ‘as an experience’ and I said it was ‘energising and empowering’.
As I was verbalising how strong and secure I felt, tuning in to my relaxed breathing and straight spine, there was a very slight change in tone that I was initially unaware of. Mark asked, ‘what’s happening now?’ I thought for a minute then said it felt like a subtle blurring, as if the line between oil and water was mixing and droplets of each were going into the other. He pointed out the arm across my body and the ever so slight change in breathing. I told him I was aware that the ‘other’ part of me (the more vulnerable part) only ever gets to ‘come out’ in therapy and I was feeling it’s presence a bit as we were talking mainly from the place of strength. I said, ‘I can just hear, ‘what if he thinks something negative about me…’ there’s the power dynamic in this relationship… when I’m speaking up for myself in the other areas of my life, I’ve got nothing to lose, I know I’m protected in some way… but here you have all the power. I need you more than you need me, what if you don’t like what I’m saying and decide to stop working with me.’ He responded, ‘and how it is for you to need and to feel that need… it’s painful… it’s a bit tenuous… if I need, somebody has the power to drop me… and I fear that… it’s like you can’t feel secure that I’m not going to do that, that I’m not going to drop you. There are good historical roots in that fear of yours, I don’t doubt it. For good reason it’s hard for you to depend… you need to depend, but it’s terrifying.’
Mark asked me how it was for me to hear him describe that back to me, ‘hopefully accurately’ he said. I nodded and said I was aware of a tightening in my body. Mark talked about the mix of elements inside me, including curiosity, that enable me to build a fresh relationship with other parts of myself. He talked about the fearful part that shows up when I send him emails, it shows up as anxiety just before every session. He said, ‘I’m sure that part is here right now, alongside your more assertive part. And maybe… we could just say hello to it?’ In such a sweet tone. I immediately cringed and laughed quietly and told him it made me want to hide and he told me I could if I wanted to. He said, ‘I wonder what’s behind the wanting to hide? Hiding from what?’ I said, ‘You seeing me,’ he said, ‘because if I see you, you feel?’ I said, ‘really squirmy and ashamed. All my muscles are tense. It’s scary. Terrifying!’ Mark said, ‘hmm hmm yeah… And maybe look at me with my mad hair that hasn’t been cut for a year and see if there’s anything to be frightened of… right here and now… do you see anything?’ He was leaning forwards with his head resting on his hand, smiling. And I felt this little sense of safety whisper inside me and smiled at him and said, ‘Of course there’s nothing scary in you. It’s this sense that you’re going to be punitive or punishing or shaming or something even though I know you won’t.’ He said, ‘hmmm yeah I become somebody else for you in those moments.’ And we sat with that for a bit. Then Mark helped me feel what I was experiencing right now and how I was experiencing him. The safety. I went in a. It of an intellectualising monologue then said ‘oh I’m aware that I’m stuck in my head right now.’ Mark said, ‘good that you’ve noticed that and it may have been a way for you to manage your vulnerability with me when I brought it centre stage when I asked you to say hello to it, up came a lot of fear didn’t it. Then we tracked it through and there was shame as well, of being seen. There’s a bit more space around the shame now.’
He said, ‘There’s this powerfully shamed, possibly young being, that has strong needs and fears that it will be punished or dropped or rejected… if she takes up too much space. And she needs to be met relationally. We can’t stuff her down and put her in a cage somewhere… she needs to come out in full. But it’s painful and she’s hiding behind the assertive you.’ I told him I was barely able to tolerate him speaking about it and he said, ‘notice what’s happening in your experience, in your body, as I name this for you.’ I said all my muscles were tight and I didn’t want to move. I said, ‘I just want to disappear.’ He very slowly and gently said, ‘Yeah, and notice the impulse to disappear and what your body would do to try and make that happen. Maybe we can play with the not being seen/being seen, disappearing/coming into vision… if you were to follow that impulse to disappear, imagine the first thing your body would do.’
As I sat motionless, arm over my chest with my hand on my opposite shoulder, slightly facing away from Mark, I imagined myself sinking into the chair until I could no longer be seen. He calmly said, ‘There it is, notice how that feels. Notice that gesture. Notice where it’s held, where it’s tight.’ I sat silently noticing the internal impulses and then I told him I wanted to follow it through and put the cushion in front of my face. After saying that out loud my body instinctively gave a big deep staggered breath which he witnessed. He said he ‘prizes’ my sighs… that they are a form of communication and indication of energy moving and shifting in my body, of something being processed. Mark asked me how it was to sit with my arms across my body and I said, ‘I just feel so visible, I feel flushed in my face and too visible.’ He reminded me I could hide if I wanted or ask him to look away.
He said, ‘if you were to draw this, what would the speech bubble say? Let’s make it as explicit as possible what being visible means to you, what you feel is seen as I look at you… and you’re doing good work here Lucy and I’m right here with you in it, supporting you, I want you to feel that, and we can go there together, it will be better to go there together.’ I thought for ages as I peeked at him over my arm then looked away and said there were no words and he said, ‘no… feel how young you feel, feel what your body’s doing and tune into the felt sense of that and I’m right here with you, supporting you, I know this is difficult, it’s that whole ‘I want to disappear’ place and we’re just bringing it into consciousness, what that’s like, what your body does, and it does feel like you’re making yourself smaller.’ I felt into how young I felt and he said, ‘it feels wordless, you might feel like you’re in a young space… and that’s okay too, she’s very welcome here. She might not be able to feel the welcome, but it’s here for her.’ Which absolutely floored me. I told him eventually that I could feel a tingling under my skin and as we tracked that I noticed, ‘I don’t want to breathe and even covering myself with a blanket would be too visible. Staying completely still feels like hiding more than putting something in front of me.’
There was some quiet and then Mark said, ‘yes if I don’t move I’ll be safe in some way, or safer. And yes your breathing feels a bit shallow as if to breathe deeply would get you noticed. Even breathing deeply would feel like taking up too much space.’ After maybe only a minute of silence that felt like hours he came in again, ‘we’re not going to spend much longer in this because it’s a difficult place, we’re going to come out soon, tune in to how it feels to hear me say that, we’re going to come out of what is a frozen space… listen in to how your body feels and know it from the inside. Maybe from the place of you that knows how to be assertive even though that might feel a million miles away just now… this fearful, frozen part isn’t the only kid in town… we’re here with her. There are other parts of you that are well able to have her back.’
I took another breath and sat more upright and he asked what was happening for me. I said it felt foggy and that I’d imagined being in the same room as him and then things felt a bit blurred. Mark asked about my experience in the frozen space and I told him that I wasn’t able to say it at the time but when he said the thing about the speech bubble I felt a huge amount of overwhelming tearfulness and sadness. When he said that she was welcome, I could have cried my eyes out. He said, ‘hmmm yeah, we touched on that well of sadness… I know… you’re doing just great. I know this is painful. You’re really in touch with your experience right now and I’m right here with you.’
We started to feel the edges of coming ‘out’ of that space and Mark suggested I move a little which triggered the ‘punk rocker’ part and when Mark asked me to speak from that part I said, ‘Don’t tell me what to do, I’ve been looking after myself my whole life!’ he said (in such a gentle and encouraging tone), ‘you have, yes.’ and I said, ‘and I know what I need and want better than anyone else!’ he said, ‘you do, that’s true.’ And I smiled and he said, ‘and what do you need and want, Lucy?’ which opened my heart and I said, ‘she thinks I want violent independence where I’m a fucking island where no one gets in or out…’ he smiled warmly and I said, ‘but what I really want is connection and reassurance and care!’ Mark said he feels that these parts work beautifully together. ‘The protective part that says ‘fuck off I can look after myself’ needs to be spoken from… there might be something about feeling into that part before you can soften and let people in, it’s part of the process rather than something that’s in the way of the process… they work together… maybe?’ I said that definitely felt true.
Later on in the session as we came to an end Mark asked how this piece of work felt on reflection and I said I felt like I knew myself a little better and that I felt like my core self had worked together with him to get to know these parts. I told him I felt connected to him through the whole thing and he said that was ‘delightful to hear’. We got to know the vulnerable, needy child part who would do anything for my mother’s love and acceptance, but it was never enough, and we got to know the values driven, assertive, strong reality testing part who would step in and say ‘no, we’re doing it this way and you don’t need anyone else…’ and we started to allow those voices to speak. And in doing so, they already feel softened, less extreme, less conflicting. He said, ‘you’ve been able to manage yourself pretty perfectly if you think about it and your psyche has been really creative in coming up with ways for you to get through very difficult situations. That big reality testing part that questions the relational fears that come up from the more shamed ‘I can’t be seen here’ part… I think that’s pretty amazing!’
I told him I ‘sort of, a little bit, kind of… almost want to whisper it… but I kind of feel proud for letting that happen today!’ he said, ‘Yeah yeah well done you! Yes absolutely, have the pride, it’s deserved and hard won! You did well today in some challenging areas and you went to it viscerally which is important. We don’t want to go there because it’s painful but if we don’t then not a lot changes. You did really well and I want you to feel into that pride for having the courage to go there!’ He began closing the session by reiterating that we’d done a lot of important work in the session. We breathed together and felt into the connection between all parts and with each other. This is often one of the most powerful parts of the session but it’s largely wordless and so hard to explain. It’s very intense and connecting and I can often feel as though I’m in the same room as him. There’s something quite otherworldly and bonding about it. It’s a beautiful way to part ways.
As I reflect on the session and what I’m learning about myself I am reminded of the following except from Eastern Body Western Mind, by A. Judith, which further validates my experience.
‘If I have suffered a strong negative impact or an intolerable situation and I can’t talk about it, these vibrations become frozen in the core of my body. Frozen at the core, my whole being is restricted from its natural rhythm. So, what blocks us from expressing our truth, our outrage, our creativity, or our needs? Shame at the core, fear of one’s safety… we block the essential gateway that connects inner to outer and lock the gate against the possible escape of our true feelings, we protect the vulnerable interior self from exposure and possible harm or ridicule. We lock ourselves up, posting a censor at the door.
We do this by tightening the neck and shoulders, by throwing our head out of alignment with our body, by talking incessantly about anything except what’s really bothering us. Some do it by stuffing food down their throats, as if filling the mouth will block the passage and prevent the feelings from pouring out. Underneath each of these methods is a need to hide. In hiding we keep ourselves in isolation, keep ourselves from intimacy, and keep ourselves from evolving.
We have a biological instinct to keep quiet when in danger. Along with the freeze response that immobilizes the body, we instinctually hold our breath as if to keep as quiet as possible. In this holding, the voice also freezes, for there is no voice without breath. Silence is instilled by a voice louder than our own, which becomes a whisper permanently etched in the mind.
Shame rises up as the incessant critic… our throat constricts, and we find ourselves choking on our words with thoughts racing faster and faster. We originally created this critic to save ourselves from real humiliation. Its original job was to protect the raw and vulnerable self within against outer threats. Such critics are relentlessly overzealous and unrealistic in the severity of their criticism.
One of the most profound human needs is the need to be heard. When this simple need is met by attentive, empathic listening, we feel complete and ready to move onward. It is amazing how much healing can take place when our story, feelings, or opinions are simply heard. The need to be heard validates our truth, our individuality, and our very existence. If we can not be heard, we cease to exist in anything but our own minds. We feel crazy, doubtful of our own inner voice, and of our reality. When we cannot trust our experience, we split off from the body and, hence, split off from reality.’