Many of us have suffered trauma that disconnected us from our deepest human desires – to love and be loved, to touch and be touched, to see and be seen. Wherever you’re at on your path, you’re right on time. You’ve somehow made it to reading these words. You’re doing the work to illuminate your shadows. That’s HUGE! Once you can see the container you’re being constrained by, you’ve already done most of the work to escape it. It goes much faster now.
Trauma causes you to disintegrate. What does that mean? According to several belief systems and healing modalities, the self is made up of different parts, each with different values, memories and habits. Freud called them Id, Ego and Superego. Internal Family Systems calls them Exiles, Managers and Firefighters. The essential concept is that the more unprocessed trauma you hold in your body, the less these parts of self share information. At the extreme you find the class of dissociative personality disorders such as schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder. It’s easy to see how the facets interact in these extreme cases. People suffering from these will have missing memories when a different facet of themselves is in the driver’s seat. It’s as if their usual self is asleep. Their different facets don’t talk to each other. This extreme is called disassociating.
In people who hold less trauma, facets of self share memories and information and have conversations about how to make decisions. It’s as if you sit everyone down on the sofa of your inner monologue and let everyone have their turn speaking. The teenager self who wants to go out for a movie with friends gets to make her case. The manager self advocates for staying in and doing another 2 hours of work on the big presentation for next week. The little girl begs for sushi and green tea ice cream. Everyone gets to have their say.
None of them are wrong. All have something good to contribute and want the self to be happy. The teenager in us makes sure we’re getting into adventures and not taking life too seriously. The manager pays the rent. The little kid in us connects us to the purest joy of simple delights. We truly do need all of them. This is what it means to be more integrated. The word “integrate” means “whole” or “repaired.”
It’s only when they’re not talking and one of them flips the table and takes control without taking the others’ needs into account that things go sideways. This happens when one of them doesn’t trust the others. This is where the more extreme, self-sabotaging behaviors show up. When the manager no longer can keep your shit together, the firefighters swoop in to do anything they can to distract us from the pain. They have the ideas like going down to the bar and drinking so much you get into a bar room brawl, suicidal ideation, cutting, binge eating and substance abuse.
If you’re struggling with disintegration, you can find a qualified provider at Internal Family Systems. Dr. Peter Levine wrote an excellent workbook called, appropriately enough, Healing Trauma, which offers 12 weeks of body-based exercises to help you process and release trauma which you can do at home.