Most people who decide to work with me have been journeying through recovery for many years. They have been struggling to reduce their traumatic pain for decades. They have tried many approaches over the years. Some have worked a little. Some have worked well, but only for a while. And some have brought them permanent relief, but they seemed to hit a wall.
Despite all these efforts, there is one statement that is all too common when I talk to survivors. “It feels like I’m getting worse.”
That statement isn’t a dramatic exaggeration coming from years of trying to heal to no avail. It isn’t coming from the inner tantrum thrown by the controller. It does feel like it is getting worse because we are getting closer to the trauma. It feels like it is getting worse because the traumatic emotions are rising to the surface while our defenses are dropping. Let me explain what is happening from an inner parts perspective.
When we were growing up in a traumatic environment, we developed defenders. Our defenders are the protectors of our inner children and their secrets. The goal of our defenders is to keep everything as safe as possible. They do this by keeping the emotions squelched and the memories repressed. They push the inner children away with invalidation and scathing insults because they believe this is the safest route. They are willing to sacrifice our integrity to ensure safety. And the controller is the leader of the defenders. Their goal is to ensure we are safe no matter what. They employ many different defenses, including extreme levels of dissociation, to avoid risk.
While these defenses served their purpose in childhood, they are not working now. They are holding us back from who we are meant to be. But most importantly, they are not sustainable. We cannot use these defenses to push down the truth forever. Eventually, the defenses will not be able to squelch the innate power that comes from our core being. So while our controller may have been firmly in charge in our twenties, showing up as high levels of productivity and the ability to plow through almost anything, it won’t last forever.
As our controller begins to lose control of the unconscious traumatic pain, things do appear to get worse. Inner parts begin to come to the surface and share their emotions and experiences. Our job is to differentiate these from the present moment. The controller will try to make these emotions about right now. But they aren’t. They are about the past. They are messages from the past that we have been ignoring for decades. And we cannot ignore them any longer.
When we are unaware of what is happening, it can feel like we are being attacked by emotions that weren’t there before, that seemed to magically appear as we got older. But it isn’t true. We are shifting. We are exploring our pain in a new way. The period of time during which we could overpower our pain with external drives and manifestations is ending. And while this feels horrible, this is actually a good thing. Why?
We are waking up.
We are accessing our deeper unconscious so we can heal our earliest traumas.
We are making a choice (albeit not conscious) to live from a deeper, more authentic self.
I know it hurts. I know it sucks. I get it. I have spent years cursing my lack of productivity and wishing I could still plow through the unconscious emotions like I did when I was younger. But I also don’t want to live behind the mask anymore. I don’t want the exhausting tasks of overpowering my past emotions and wading through the external manifestations they create. I am tired of living that life. I want to be free and if that means feeling a bunch of “yucky stuff”, I have learned this is ultimately better. My controller had me convinced it would kill me for many years. But I have learned that it won’t.
And so I have come to understand that feeling of “getting worse” is actually the process of going deeper to a more authentic place within me. And being authentic is what I want, what I am meant to achieve. So I will stay with it (most days). And just like you, I will grow stronger. And worse will become better.
Written By Elisabeth Corey, MSW