One of the worst consequences of abuse is having one’s self-worth destroyed. Someone a long time ago once said to me: “If you don’t like yourself, no one else will like you either.” The same with holds true with words like “value”, “respect”, “trust”, and “love” to name a few. I was taught at a young age to hate myself, not value myself, not respect or love myself by the people who were supposed to love, protect, and raise me to be a decent human being. I was also taught to love myself; respect myself; have compassion for self and others; protect and be loyal to those I cared about,; and value myself by an uncle by marriage who died when I was a little girl.
The lessons he taught me stayed deep inside, protected by the alters, until the right time came for me and the others to remember them. They came out during the most difficult times to counter thoughts about death, suicide, starvation, etc and kept everyone in the system alive. I can share this now because I remember now. If someone had asked me this a year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to give a coherent answer. Two years ago I did not remember that much. And so on. But now is different. We, all of us in the system, are safe. And safe means they can share memories with me and other alters.
Safety & Support Networks
There are two kinds of people in my world: safe and unsafe. Every individual can be both safe and unsafe. What matters is the degree in with I and my parts feel safe or unsafe interacting with the individual or individuals – that defines the first, most important, boundary in our relationship. For a long time, I did not believe I deserved to spend time with safe people. I was not worthy, so I stayed away from them. Then I decided I was worthy of spending time around safe people; but I was too scared to let them in. So I again found myself surrounded by unsafe people or isolated and alone.
Nine years ago I started my first real job in a field that no one in my family had connections. First as a temporary employee; then as an independent contractor; finally as a full-time employee. And here I learned about people, relationships, family, friends, and safety. The people in this company became my pseudo-family and support network. Because of my full-time job there, I was able to make myself safe when the time came to separate from my family. And I had a support network of safe people who liked, respected, valued, and accepted ma as I was then. They still do that now.
Punishment Comes in Many Forms
Shame is my biggest emotional enemy right now. It undermines my feelings of self-worth and pushes me to punish myself through backlash. By the time I started seeing my current therapist, I had stopped practicing and using the worst of my self-harm coping strategies. The ones that caused physical injuries and life endangerment were off my list because I (we) decided to continue living. But the punishment had to come from somewhere. And it had to hurt bad enough to convince me that experimenting with more good choices was a bad idea.
So, even as I worked to surround myself with safe people, parts of me sought out people like the abusers and surrounded us with them too. They felt that they/we deserved to be surrounded by people who emotionally and verbally abused us, used guilt and shame or manipulation/intimidation, to bully and tear us down all the time. And since that was the type of people we spent most of our lives with, it was easy to find them; and easier to manipulate them into hurting us; easiest by far to gauge these individual’s emotional status and then put ourselves in a position of emotional/verbal whipping post.
For me/us, the backlash is triggered by shame and feelings of self-disgust that come from past lessons. The shame floods parts or all with memories and feelings in the form of flashbacks and body memories and nightmares. Sometimes the dominant personality does not know this has been triggered and can’t understand why she/he/it is being put into such situations. Other times, an alter switches with the dominant (a complete switch with memory loss, etc.) and goes through the process without anyone else knowing. The only way any of us knows something “bad” happened comes from the feelings of anxiety that crop up every time I/we are near or have to interact with the individual. And no one except my therapist or people who really knew me would realize (let alone believe) that I was harming myself by doing this.
This is part of what damaged relationships with good people and caused communication issues with co-workers and supervisors that almost cost me my job. I am lucky that my current therapist understands DID and specializes in trauma because she helped all of us learn to communicate better, establish internal and external safety, boundaries for work and home, and ways to interact with outside people who do not trigger shame or backlash. But we still had to make the choice to use these options.
In the abuse cycle, the victim’s choices and free will are taken away. In the recovery cycle, choices are given back. But making choices, and living with them, is difficult for people not used to them. Making choices, showing preference for something, sharing an opinion is anxiety-provoking and scary to the point of freezing. By freezing, I mean not making any choice at all; avoiding the situation so one doesn’t have to make choices. It’s funny to share this because I’ve always advocated for other people’s right to choose even as I shied away from mine.
One Year without Unsafe People in My Network
Once I realized I was doing this, I asked myself why? Then I asked my parts why? When none of us could answer, we asked our therapist for help. You see, there is a hard-wired rule inside my head that says I am not worthy of interacting with safe people. I don’t deserve surrounding myself with people I like and respect, who value and accept me as I am and vice versa. And that rule is strong. It’s one of the strongest pieces of conditioning that rule kept being reinforced until the day I walked away from my previous life.
Last year, I decided to not spend time around people who made me feel bad about myself. And If I had to because of work or friendships, I chose not to let them make me feel bad about myself. The choice was mine because I was the only person with the power to let others hurt me. I stood up to various people. We severed relationships. Now, my circle of friends is small. My support network and co-worker base slightly larger. But I am happy and safe. So are my alters.