I’ve been working with the messed-up, angry, frightened, ashamed 14- or 15-year-old version of myself all this week. She gets at least 30 minutes, every evening, dedicated just to her. This has really helped me feel calmer the rest of the day. E. says it’s because if the girl has confidence that I will keep coming back to her to listen to her story and her needs, she can quiet down and stop trying to overwhelm me to get attention.
This doesn’t mean I never hear from her outside of those 30 minutes, but only that she doesn’t have riots in me head and leave me flattened, as she was doing earlier. She still pops up fairly regularly with different versions of the message, “I am bad.” (Variants of this include evil, disgusting, unforgivable, slut, gross…).
It has never helped to talk back to this voice. It’s something very primitive and instinctual. Telling her that it’s not right is like telling the Northwest skies here not to rain in March, entirely pointless.
Yesterday, it suddenly occurred to me to try something different. “If we are bad,” I asked her, “what would make us good?”
She had an immediate answer, “Do everything right.”
Well, if that’s what it takes to be good, no wonder she think she/I am bad. That’s a completely unattainable standard. I remember now that I really did feel that way as a teen. I remember telling a friend, when I was about 17, that I had to do everything perfectly or my mom and stepdad wouldn’t love me. Even if I did do something perfectly, like straight A’s all through high school, they were never satisfied because there was always something else I wasn’t doing well enough.
She’s young, this teen version of myself, and some of her thinking isn’t very nuanced or mature. Everything falls into “perfect” or “disgusting,” and there is no other space to exist in.
This means that my highest self, who thankfully is no longer so overwhelmed by the teen, now has the job of helping my younger self start to create a more complex understanding of herself as a human being with good and bad mixed in. This is not as simple as you might think because any mention of anything bad, and she’s off in a panic that she’s unredeemable and unlovable. She wants to hide, to lie, to harm herself. So I’m thinking about ways to help her with this. I will probably start by having her see this in other people. And meanwhile, I’ll keep telling her that I care about her.
Damn, healing is a ton of effort.