Friday, November 30, 2012

my friend, the jerk.

Part of the trauma therapy that I'm doing has to do with the idea that--stay with me, here--we are each made up of different parts that help us survive, cope, and succeed. So my therapist and I are working on identifying these parts in me and then communicating with them.

Yeah. I didn't buy this at first, either.

In fact, the first time she wanted me to talk to a "part," I looked her dead in the eye and reminded her I'm not Sybil.

BUT. Weirdness of the idea aside, once you start to learn about it, it does make some sense. Warning: psychology jargon ahead.

I've learned about the "Internal Family Systems Model," which supposes that aside from a true, core self, people have additional "parts." These parts fall under three main umbrellas: exiles, firefighters, and managers.

Exiles hold on to painful experiences long after we've banished them from consciousness (or tried to). Here's an example from a well-written piece on trauma by Heather Armstrong: Silence fills every inch of the car. I want it to swallow me whole. My ten-year-old self is a specter who hovers just above my shoulder. I don’t know what the hell she wants or is waiting for. (I highly recommend reading the rest, titled Bad Days, on 

Firefighters are the soothers in times of distresss. They are the idea that you'll feel better after you polish off that pint of ice cream, or stay in your pajamas all day.  This is where addictions, binge eating, compulsions, and what have you come in. They're self-destructive coping mechanisms. They don't have to be actively harmful. See: me watching Law & Order all yesterday because the thought of getting anything done wass too overwhelming. (Because what if it's not done right?)

Last up are the managers. Oh, the managers. They strive to protect and keep the person in control of every situation and relationship to avoid pain or rejection. Can you guess which of the three is loudest in my mind?

The thing is, these parts, negative though they may seem, all served a purpose at some point in my life. My jerk manager, it turns out, was actually a pretty good friend to me during childhood. Instead of shutting down or rebelling, I was managed and motivated by the jerk to do well in school, which is eventually what led me to be able to leave an abusive household on my own.

Would I have gotten into a good college without that voice constantly pushing me to work harder, to be better, to strive for complete control over myself? Maybe not. So I do truly thank my friend, the jerk, who played an important role when I was in a bad situation and needed a way out. But now?

I don't really need it anymore. I have to nod, give a silent thank you, and move on.

 Why aren't you rich? You'd have nicer furniture and you'd look more polished, like the girls in magazines and on lifestyle blogs. You're 28, your life should look like that by now.

If you only do one hour of yoga at home, you may as well do nothing at all, because you know that good results only come from heading to the studio for 90 minute classes five times a week. You are lazy.

If you don't want that plant to die, you should Google all of the care tips that you can and become aware of every possible bad situation that could occur so you can constantly check its leaves to look for signs of trouble. 

If you want your house to look nice, you need to keep working, buying, rearranging-- until it's perfect. Otherwise everyone will think you're a fraud.

Okay, thank you for the advice.

Because that's all it is. Advice for a situation that I'm no longer in. I don't have to escape the home or the life I've built. I don't need that absurd, backwards motivation anymore. It's okay for me to be happy here.

So thank you, old friend. Thank you, and now shut up.