Yesterday evening I wrote what I thought was a good letter to the little girl that was once me, addressing the bad feelings she had about herself from abuse by her father at about age eight or nine. I worked to include everything in the letter that E. has taught me in therapy: start from a place of empathy, tell her why you don’t share her beliefs, offer her alternative beliefs. She always has me address the little girl from the point of view of my wiser, older self to create a little distance from the feelings and beliefs. In other words, help the wounded little girl, but don’t let her run the show. It’s for self protection.
So I wrote the letter and posted it on the blog. And immediately that voice in my head started up, “I’m so bad, I’m so bad, I’m so bad.” That voice had actually been a bit quieter recently, but suddenly it was back with a vengeance, and it continued today. I had a session with E. today and brought it up. I showed her the letter and talked about the noisy negative voice that followed it.
“So when you address that negative voice that says ‘I’m bad,’ or ‘I’m disgusting,’ it gets louder,” she observed. “It’s tricky because on the one hand, you want to honor that voice. It has a point of view that hasn’t been heard very much. All this time you were focused on even doubting the veracity of the girl’s story, so you couldn’t feel to those feelings and address those beliefs. The voice was entirely repressed. So in a way, it can help to be willing to hear it now.”
“On the other hand,” she went on, “what it is telling you is not true. The girl is not at all disgusting or bad. What happened to her, that you could call disgusting or bad or a terrible violation. But not the girl. And so we don’t want to give too much energy to that voice that is telling you something false.”
We talked a while more and looked back at the blog post. The letter itself was, after all, only a few short paragraphs. A few short paragraphs against years of shame and repression. Maybe it’s not surprising that the one letter is not sufficient to wipe out all the negativity. After all, if it were so easy, we wouldn’t be spending years in therapy, would we?
“I think you’re doing great,” E told me. “It’s a wonderful letter. Can you keep writing those letters? I think she’ll need more of them.”
“Okay,” I agreed. That’s basically the work I committed to for this month, believing the girl and tending to her, “More of the same?”
“Basically. You might try agreeing with the girl that what happened felt bad, dirty, or disgusting, but you don’t believe that makes her bad, dirty or disgusting. You can tell her, ‘I get that you feel bad, but that’s not the same as being bad.’ Try to pull the feeling apart from the characterization of the self. They aren’t the same thing.”
Or, as so many have said, feelings aren’t facts.
I wonder, sometimes, how long this healing process is going to take. I feel impatient sometimes: all right already! I believe the girl, so now can all my depression and anxiety and body memories and negative voices just go away?!? But some things can’t be rushed, and my girl needs more letters, probably many more letters, before she can really change her mind.