“Think of times in your life when you felt humiliated, grief stricken, terrified, or abandoned. What have you tried to do with the memories, sensations, and emotions from those events? If you are like most people, you have tried to forget about them-to bury them deep in your mind. Think also about what the people around you told you what to do with them. As Americans, we grew up in one of the most competitive cultures in the world. Living in it, we’ve developed a great deal of disdain for weakness and impatience with emotional pain. Most of us received some version of the message ‘Just put it behind you and move on, let it go’ from well meaning family and friends. So we try to exile the fallout from dreadful episodes in the past. But in doing that, we’re not only exiling memories, sensations, and emotions; we’re also exiling the parts of us that were hurt most by those events. These are often our most sensitive, innocent, open, and intimacy-seeking parts which contain liveliness, playfulness, spontaneity, joy and creativity.
Because these parts were so sensitive and open, they felt the impact of our traumas the most and were stuck carrying the memories, sensations, and emotions of those events. They do not just comply and go away when we stop remembering them. They are childlike, and like traumatized children, they are changed by their incidents. Rather than help them heal, we add insult to injury. As if they were damaged children in our family who disrupt our household, require a great deal of expense and attention, or embarrass us, we attempt to leave them in the place where they were hurt and move on. When we find that they keep catching up to us, we lock them permanently in the basement and do our best to forget about them.
It’s not just the traumatized parts of us that we exile. Think about what it was like to grow up in your family. How much did parts of you disrupt the household or embarrass your parents? What were the unspoken rules in your family about liveliness and spontaneity, anger or assertiveness, sadness or fear, independence and autonomy? How much was your family dominated by parts that wanted to look good to the outside world and needed you to conform to a certain image? In other words, how much trouble did certain parts of you get you into, and what did you try to do with those parts?
Many people in American culture can’t deal with any but the most upbeat of emotions, so we are trained to exile the negative ones. The power of positive thinking prevails, but at what cost? You are more than the sum of your parts that chant ‘positive vibes’. What parts were present when you were young that you have exiled in the service of being accepted, “successful,” and positive?
When you think about it this way, it’s disturbing to realize how many wonderful resources and qualities you have cut yourself off from and how limited your life is as a result. But it’s important to remember that from the perspective of Western Psychology, exiling makes sense. It teaches that you have one mind that thinks as a whole but negates the many parts that interact and hold the sum of details in memories. If you have only one mind and you are plagued by troublesome thoughts or emotions, why not try to get rid of them?
If thinking about something tragic upsets you, why not train yourself not to think about it and instead to think about something that makes you feel good? That would be the way to go if it worked, and in a limited way it can work, at least for a while.
But it only works if you don’t mind doing violence to your psyche and becoming less whole as a person. Actually, most of us don’t mind because we don’t know any better. We feel okay most of the time and we’re surviving life. We’re doing as well as most people around us. Maybe we have physical or emotional symptoms, but we never connect those to the energy it takes to suppress large portions of our mind.
Who would want to re-experience childhood pain? If given the choice to be overwhelmed by that kind of emotion or to keep it locked up, it’s no surprise that we fear our exiled parts. They make us feel and act in ways that people disdain or take advantage of – they make us vulnerable, weak, needy, sad, withdrawn and ashamed. Some of them are so desperate for love that they will steer us toward, or keep us in, hurtful relationships just to get a little affection. This is where the victim feels so helpless to separate from an abuser and why on-lookers judge them for being weak. There would be no point in going toward those painful parts if they were to stay the way they are. Fortunately, however, releasing them from exile is part of a process that transforms them into their original vital states, the essence of self. But most people have little trust in that possibility, so it’s a hard sell. You are being asked to go toward your pain, which runs counter to the way you’ve lived your whole life. But a life you’ve longed to live, awaits.” By Richard Schwartz
The Internal Family Systems model for therapy has helped me trust my gut when having to make hard relational decisions as of late. I have picked up this modality in order to clear the clutter of splinters and fissures in my own childhood memories that experienced trauma. Understanding why I have made repeated choices in work, relationships and behavioral patterns, has launched me into studying narcissism and psychosis on a level which the common reader can understand. It is my hope and goal to educate my audience on the reasons why our personalities are cultivated in order to dismantle the fear driving them so we can find our identity based on wholeness instead of pained parts that reside in us. It is only then that we will be able to protect our hearts from repeating the past. – a.a.