The Body Keeps the Score, (2014) by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D., CHAPTER 17 – PUTTING THE PIECES BACK TOGETHER: SELF-LEADERSHIP, page 284:
“The critical insight is that all these parts have a function: To protect the self from feeling the full terror of annihilation. The final stage of healing is developing self-leadership skills to manage the fully integrated relationship all of the parts of the psyche to ensure the emotional survival of the fittest. You are no longer a small child who can be manipulated by adults. It is time to put the defensive aspects of your personality away. We thank them for making their presence known. Their anger is no longer needed at this time.
Lock down your childhood pain rather than eternally act it out and inflicting it upon the world.
Children who act out their pain rather than locking it down are often diagnosed with “oppositional deviant behavior,” attachment disorder,” or “conduct disorder.” But these labels ignore the fact that rage and withdrawal are only facets of a whole range of desperate attempts at survival. Trying to control a child’s behavior while failing to address the underlying issue–the abuse–leads to treatments that are ineffective at best and harmful at worst. As they grow up, their parts do not spontaneously integrate into a coherent personality but continue to lead a relatively autonomous existence.
Parts that are “out” may be entirely unaware of the other parts of the system. Most of the men I evaluated with regard to their childhood molestation by Catholic priests took anabolic steroids and spent an inordinate amount of time in the gym pumping iron. These compulsive body builders lived in a masculine world of sweat, football, and beer, where weakness and fear were carefully concealed. Only after they felt safe with me did I meet the terrified kids inside.
Patients may also dislike the parts that are out. The parts that are angry, destructive or critical. However, when offered a framework for understanding them, talking to them in a non-pathologizing way, the disliked parts are allowed to safely emerge. Recognizing that each part is stuck with burdens from the past and respecting its function in the overall system makes the angry parts feel less threatening or overwhelming. Take a deep breath and then exhale. Now imagine yourself in your new persona. You are a brand new gay registered sex offender in the gay desert. For at least the next ten years or so, you must register every year with the Mohave County Sheriff’s office department of sexual registration.
What gets in the way of accessing our own inner resources? Schwartz says we must show how destructive behavior was needed at one time for survival, but not anymore
“If one accepts the basic ideal that people have an innate drive towards nurturing their own health, this implies that, when people have chronic problems, something gets in the way of accessing inner resources. Recognizing this, the role of therapists is to collaborate rather than to teach, confront, or fill holes for your psyche.”
The first step in this collaboration is to assure the internal system that all parts are welcome and that all of them–even those that are suicidal or destructive–were formed in an attempt to protect the self-system, no matter how much they now seem to threaten it.
The cultivation of mindful self-leadership is the foundation for healing from trauma. Mindfulness not only makes it possible to survey our internal landscape with compassion and curiosity but can also actively steer us in the right direction for self-care. All systems–families, organizations, or nations–can operate effectively only if they have clearly defined and competent leadership. The internal family is no different. All facets of our selves need to be attended to. The internal leader must wisely distribute the available resources and supply a vision for the whole that takes all the parts into account.
Richard Schwartz explains that trauma survivors have no self-leadership because they operate around outdated assumptions and beliefs derived from childhood abuse:
The internal system of an abuse victim differs from the non-abuse system with regard to the consistent absence of effective leadership, the extreme rules under which the parts function, and the absence of any consistent balance or harmony. Typically, the parts operate around outdated assumptions and beliefs derived from the childhood abuse. Believing, for example, that it is still extremely dangerous to reveal secrets about childhood experiences which were endured.
BLENDING BAD BELIEFS INTO INDENTITY
What happens when the self is no longer in charge? This “blending”: a condition in which the Self identifies with a part, as in “I want to kill myself” or “I hate you.” Notice the difference from “A part of me wishes that I were dead” or “A part of me gets triggered when you do that and makes me want to kill you.”
Our undamaged essence lies just beneath the surface and will spontaneously emerge
Schwartz makes two assertions that extend the concept of mindfulness into the realm of active leadership. The first is that this Self does not need to be cultivated or developed. Beneath the surface of the protective parts of trauma survivors there exists an undamaged essence, a Self that is confident, curious, and calm. A Self that has been sheltered from destruction by the various protectors that have emerged in their efforts to ensure survival. Once those protectors trust that it is safe to separate, the Self will spontaneously emerge, and the parts can be enlisted in the healing process.
The second assumption is that, rather than being a passive observer, this . . . “
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