Here in the U.S., we are all on pins and needles, waiting to see who won the presidential election. Keenly aware that I can do nothing, at this point, to affect the outcome, I clean my house and work on sewing projects. We control what we can.
It’s Wednesday, which means today I have my my weekly session with E. A few hours beforehand, I realize I am not sure what to talk about. Political anxiety has banished most everything from my mind besides, “what is happening in my country?”
But I don’t want to waste my precious time with her, so I sit down with my notebook to think. (Incredible how much better I think when writing!).
E will ask, “How are things in your internal world? How are you doing with your grieving?”
My internal world–my house, actually, which is how I always envision it–is in comparatively decent shape. For the time being, at least, I am able to hold the contradictory emotions of “I love my father and am so sad that he died,” and “I still feel angry that he wasn’t a more responsible person and protective parent.” I’m allowing both of these to be true.
What continues to sit unresolved is the question: did he actually sexually abuse me, as I sometimes think he did? I don’t think I will ever resolve this question. It’s gnawed at me for 25 years, and I’ve never been able to say yes, I believe my fuzzy maybe memory or no, it‘s a confabulation. Or rather, I have been able to say both things, but later I change my mind again. What I’ve never been able to do is a resolution that I can stay with.
Given all the years that this has hung out there for me, this terrible, painful uncertainty, it’s likely that it will never be resolved. Or al least, let’s say for now that it will never be resolved, not if I live to be 100 years old. It seems like the task then would be to come to peace with not being able to decide which is true. Even more than that, I need to come to peace with the fact that I will probably flip back and forth, “he did,” and “no way he did,” repeatedly for the remainder of my life.
And let’s be honest: that right there, the not knowing, sucks.
But imagine that I want to make it suck a little less. Imagine that I want to make it a little bit easier for the parts of me that are most activated when I decide “yes, it’s disgusting but my father made me do xxx to him when I was a girl” and the parts of me that are triggered when I am sure that “my father was funny and kind and affectionate; he would never do such a thing.”
One part that gets set off is Self-Loathing. She works in close partnership with Doubt, the part that doubts anything happened. She pounces on me, sticks hot knives into me, and wants to punish me for accusing my father (even if I never speak the words aloud).
On the other hand, there is the part I think of simply as “the girl.” She’s maybe eight years old; I’m not sure. And when I decide that nothing ever happened, that I somehow made it all up as a way to explain why I was depressed and dysregulated so much of the time, she gets very worked up. She feels unseen, uncared for. She becomes frantic because she is alone and no one even notices her pain.
E has told me that all parts are welcome. They all have a role to play, and they all ultimately want me to be well, though they may act is strange ways to achieve their goals. If I take care of them, if I recognize their needs and try to meet them, she tells me, I will be healthier and happier.
So I wonder, how do I take care of Self-Loathing and of the girl, when they seem so different?
So later in the afternoon, when I meet with E, online this week for the first time since May, I tell her what I have been thinking about.
“Let’s say I want to be nice to both parts,” I tell her. “I know they will likely be triggered at different times, because I won’t ever really know the truth for sure.”
E likes that I want to be nice to my different parts, instead of scolding them for doing what they do. She spends some time asking me what I think Self-Loathing needs, what she is trying to accomplish. It doesn’t take very long for us to decide that Self-Loathing is, in a twisted way, a protector part. Sometimes she sucks away all my energy and leaves me in bed, depressed. Sometimes she convinces me to harm myself (that’s more in the past, though). Sometimes she tells me I am a terrible daughter, a shit human being. She’s not what you would call one of my more charming parts.
Naturally, our discussion leads E to task me, “What might Self-Loathing be protecting you from?”
I squirm around with this a little, trying not to commit myself to any one interpretation. But later in the session, I finally say, “Probably her role is to allow me to love my father.” E jumps on this right away, not in the “Aha! Gotcha! I knew it!” sense, but more in the “Oh, uh huh, how reasonable” sense.
I think it’s right, actually. It feels right. It kind of pains me though, because it suggests that underneath it all, Self-Loathing also believes that my father harmed me. But she feels this is a threat to my attachment to him, so she tries to pretend it isn’t true.
It doesn’t just pain me. It scares me. Is it possible that Self-Loathing and the girl, who seem like opposites, actually believe the same thing?
CREDIT: Photo by Diogo Nunes on Unsplash