Hell hath no fury like a trauma survivor.
I was born angry. I live in a world of filth and fire. I’m the child of rage that lives inside the person who writes this blog.
I didn’t always exist. I was born out of necessity when the Blogger was about 3, maybe younger. When she was hit with the horror of what her father was doing knowing she was too small to fight back, the agony of betrayal was too much and so it split off into me and then she went dead like a gazelle in the jaws of a tiger. When she awoke, she had no memory of what happened, but there I was, deep inside her collecting the memories and rage each time he used her, waiting for the right time to fight back.
Some people call me the inner critic but I prefer no name. It’s safer that way. A name is a label that pins you down. Without a name, I am free to watch and then vanish. Until now.
* * *
I sit down in the chair. Psychologist J starts as he always does.
“Where would you like me to sit?”
“Not there!” I say glaring at a spare chair positioned right next to mine.
“No, no”, he says with a smile. “How about I start where I usually do.”
He moves the chair far away to the left of me. I can’t tolerate him sitting in his actual armchair directly in front of me. It’s too triggering.
Not like this.
More like this
He looks at me. I say nothing. And like that, the inner critic is in my place along with pain in awkward places and the feeling that my flesh is raw and burning.
“I got your emails. It sounds like the break has been a bit up and down. It might feel hard to come back to things today. Is that how it feels?”
Now my body is a mannequin but I manage a nod.
“There’s something I want to tell you. Is that ok?” he asks. Last time he said this it was a fee increase. My face moves without me realising. “No no, it isn’t anything bad,” he quickly adds. He tells me that on the break he did some reading and he’s bought me a book about Dissociation because I’m a learner, I like to LEARN THINGS, right? And he wants us to have a clear goal.
“Because that’s what we’re really up against at the moment isn’t it? Dissociation.”
He pauses and waits for me to agree but I’m still a mannequin. He continues.
“But I wanted to share something I read in it, that most people with dissociative disorders don’t get a proper diagnosis for 6-12 years after they start therapy. I thought that might be helpful for you to know.” I know he’s telling me this because Blogger often complains about how long they’ve been in therapy and because he knows Blogger was initially misdiagnosed. I can tell he is wanting so much for me to feel comfort or something good. But I can’t. I wasn’t created to feel comfort. I was created to keep people away.
He tells me that dissociative disorders and Complex-PTSD aren’t well understood, and that only now it is starting to be better known with all the recent research. He says a bunch of other stuff I don’t listen to as well as inviting me to be honest if I don’t want to read the book while I trace the pattern on the rug with my eyes. Why does everyone have Turkish rugs? Do Turkish people even have them? My eyes flick over to the 3 degrees on his wall that stare back at me like 3 three huge dot points: I. KNOW. BEST. Then I look down to his shoes. Oh good, he isn’t wearing the boots I hate.
“I’ll read it. Other parts of me will definitely be keen to read it. But I can’t do anything with the information.”
“Oh?” he says “Tell me more”. He says it with genuine interest and not a shread of annoyance but I can’t help hearing it like this.
“Other parts of me are sometimes hopeful but I’m not. I know there’s no solution. It won’t make a difference.”
“Why?” he asks.
“I can’t tell you.” I say as a tear sneaks outs. Fuck. I don’t want to cry. I’m hostile not weak!
“Because another part won’t let you?”
I shake my head. “Because it isn’t safe.”
“Why isn’t it safe to tell me? What do you imagine will happen.”
“I’ll get hurt.”
“Who will hurt you? Me?”
I nod. “But you won’t mean to hurt me. It will just end up that way like it did with her.” We both know who her is. Dr K who went on maternity leave a month ago right after she made contact with me and tempted me with a boiled sweet of hope. He knows now isn’t the time to defend Dr K. He isn’t so stupid as to throw petrol onto an inferno.
“Who is the I you are referring to?” He asked. I start to feel cornered. I look away. He knows of me, but I’m still not used to interacting with him face-to-face.
“Is it …the part …the part we sometimes call the inner critic?” His voice floats over to me so gently, so tenderly. He is adding a twig to the fire ever so cautiously. I nod shyly but then suddenly spark, “Don’t call me that! I don’t like that name.” I imagine I must be pouting like a child who’s been told it’s bedtime.
“No, I agree. I don’t think that’s a good name. Do you have a name? Because it would help me to know who I am talking to.”
“No, I don’t have a name.” I don’t tell him why.
“When you look in the mirror, what do you see?” he asks.
“I don’t look in the mirror. Because I know I won’t see me. I’ll just see all the bad stuff reflected onto me. Shame, humiliation, disgust, all that vile body stuff.”
He asks me if I am always around. Do I always exist? Yes. But is Blogger always aware of me? No. So I’m not always around for her. I’m not always conscious. I don’t know how to answer briefly so I do what I always do when the explanation is long, I pretend I don’t understand.
“I don’t know what you mean,” I lie.
“Have you always been around?” he asks again.
“I don’t know. I’m not usually here. I don’t usually come to therapy”.
“That’s true,” he adds “it wasn’t that long ago that you (Blogger) said you could sense the critic in the background but that it wouldn’t talk to me.”
“You’re the first person to believe I even exist!” Our first psychiatrist Dr G didn’t believe Blogger. When Blogger tried to tell her she could hear a voice controlling her, making her do or not do things including self harm, Dr G scolded her. She said “I have patients who are psychotic who really hears voices and you’re not psychotic and there’s nothing stopping you from doing whatever you want.”
Blogger has told Psychologist J that story many times but he pretends he’s never heard it and nods kindly.
The session continues like this, with him staying calm, asking questions with a quiet voice, nodding and responding with compassion and acceptance to everything I say no matter how angry or self-righteous or scathing or childish. It feels strangely freeing, like he’s a vast beach of sand that I can run up and down on and poke and kick and draw lines in. The more he lays out like sand – malleable and yet compacted – shifting and yet never looking much different – the more I feel the words tumbling out. Finally, a soft place to fall.
I tell him how furious I am, how much I just want the anger out and yet there is no place to release it.
“I wasn’t allowed to be angry. Only he was. When he choked me, my mother blamed me saying it was my fault because I made him angry!”
“I’m so sick of (son) and (husband) setting me off. The other night I was trying to cook dinner and (son) was screaming at me and throwing toys because I wouldn’t play with him so I locked them both out on the balcony to sort it out but somehow a chair ended up thrown over the balcony. It makes me want to scream and hit someone but I’m not allowed to. Other people can hit and throw and fight but I have to stay put as the fire engulfs me.”
“I can’t use this book. I can’t do things with people and I’m not allowed to be curious. It’s not safe. I only know relationships as pain and hurt and betrayal and chaos. So I can’t work on this book with you! Don’t you understand? I only know what he taught me! He took my natural curiosity, my want for connection, my enjoyment of touch and used it against me. Me made it all disgusting and violating. There’s no grey area for me. Exploration and connection is all bad. It’s dangerous and chaotic and out of control.”
“Yes.” His eyes are soft blue like the first day of spring. I’m careful not to look at them. It still feels a little like a trap. “The book is just an idea. To give you some skills to cope.”
“I DON’T WANT SKILLS!” I practically shout. “I want the anger out of me! The other parts of me are still frozen, always stuck in collapse, half asleep, depressed. And when the other parts want to participate in life, make new friends, have sex with (husband) I’m always there holding them back because I know it’s not safe and they just try to trample over me or block me out. I don’t want to be trampled on!”
I can’t stop now.
“Dr K was going to help me get the anger out. She says I hold the fight that can get the other parts out of freeze. She said she could help me feel…how did she put it? Feel the GOODNESS of righteousness anger! And then she LEFT!”
“I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to do this job anymore. But I have no choice. I want to change but it’s impossible!”
He’s been nodding silently the whole time but as I pause he adds, “You’re so exhausted. You need help.”
“I’m so sick of being poked and prodded and invaded. I just want everyone to LEAVE ME ALONE!” I do some ugly crying.
Many survivors of childhood abuse have a version of me. We’re awful and yet essential. We’re the vessel to store the rage that would destroy a child.
We become a voice in the distance, a cruel inner hostage holder so the survivor becomes dependent on us, not the perpetrator. We insult the survivor, shame them every time they get too close to someone, and we repeat the threats of the perpetrator, “Don’t you dare tell anyone about me. Don’t you dare!” Not to protect the perpetrator but to protect the survivor because we know that there’s no one who’ll believe us.
Of course it isn’t true. Some people do believe us. Sometimes it just takes 30 or 40 years to find them.
As the session ends I feel the grey ghoul of shame rising up to whip me for having exposed myself. But psychologist J offers me one final patch of sand and drops a tiny shell on it.
“She wouldn’t have survived without you and I’m so stoked I got to talk to you today. It makes my job so much easier.”
What a strange thing to say. That I, the child of rage, the filthy foul difficult problem child made his job easier. I collect the shell and this time decide to keep it not crush it. And then I leave the body.
Something has shifted. That evening, for the first time ever after a session, Blogger has no flashbacks.
Boon, S., Steele, K. & Van der Hart. O. (2011) Coping with Trauma Related Dissociation: Skills Training for Patients and Therapists. WW North & Co., New York. ISBN-10: 9780393706468
Levine, P. (2010) In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness. North Atlantic Books, California.
Van der Hart, O. (2006). The Haunted Self: Structural Dissociation and the Treatment of Chronic Traumatization. WW Norton & Co., New York
Pete Walker (no date). Shrinking the Inner Critic in Complex PTSD. Retreived from http://www.pete-walker.com/shrinkingInnerCritic.htm
WebMD (2020) How is dissociative identity disorder diagnosed? Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/qa/how-is-dissociative-identity-disorder-diagnosed#:~:text=Making%20the%20diagnosis%20of%20dissociative,system%20prior%20to%20accurate%20diagnosis.