The broken children I've abandoned
Yesterday (actually now the day before) I connected full force, with some of the young, vulnerable versions of me that still live within. They don’t show up often, but they’re there. I blame my sister (I’m kidding, Z.) She told me stories about the way that I had appeared to her when we were growing up. Perhaps I wasn’t as good as she’d remembered. But I was better than I’d remembered. She reminded me of being a person I’d forgotten I’d been. And woke those parts of me that were sleeping. Or dead.
I’ve written before about Internal Family Systems a psychological and therapeutic model that I’ve found helpful. According to IFS, when we say things like “a part of me wants this and a part of me wants that” we are not just speaking metaphorically. Our minds are not wholes governed by a singular “I.” We are made of parts. We are not merely a “society of mind” or a squadron of simpletons. Each of us is a collection of sub-personalities that include vulnerable selves in earlier stages (orphans) along with adaptations (managers, firefighters) that help manage the out-of-control orphans. If that sounds complicated, relax. It’s more complicated than that.
I’ve been working with an IFS therapist for a while and I’ve learned that whatever the “parts” of me seem to be doing, they’re always trying to help. They get in the way because they’re confused. They don’t realize that they—or I—have grown up. The world is different. They’re stuck solving the problems of a world that is no more.
Because my sister reminded me and because I was ready I could see that I had abandoned those parts of me. As a child, I’d had to deal with situations that demanded more of me than I was capable of giving. I couldn’t survive as I was. So I closed myself from feelings that I could not confront, severed the part of me that felt such intense pain and moved on.
I saw my past littered with broken, orphaned, abandoned parts of the children and young people I once had been. I saw bits of my former selves that I had jettisoned it to keep from sinking. Those parts were still alive. They had mostly been silent, perhaps asleep. They were trapped. They were suffering. And I felt it.
I realized I was now strong enough to face the past and the parts that I had left behind. I could apologize for abandoning them. I could tell them that the things they feared and the things that they believed had broken them were long gone. I could tell them that they had made the right choice. The only thing that they thought they could do was to tear themselves into pieces and so they—and I—did that. The regretted it. But what they had done had worked. I had survived and so had they. The part of me that knew that it had survived could return to the part of me that had felt left behind. I could comfort my past selves and help them heal.
This might sound awfully woo, but I’ve found it a useful way to construct the narative of my life. And when “a part of me” wants one thing and “another part of me” wants another, I’ve learned to talk to the parts (one of which I might say is me) and get them to understand one another.
“That’s not a bad post,” said the book. “But it’s been sitting in draft form for nearly 24 hours. Publish it. and let’s get on to the next thing that you need to write.”
“OK,” I said.