One of the most frustrating aspects of trauma recovery is the constant feeling we are torn in multiple directions. It renders decision-making almost impossible. And it feels like we are crazy.
As a matter of a fact, many people believe that holding two opposing opinions simultaneously is not possible or is the basis for a psychological disorder. Cognitive dissonance is often touted as a problem that needs to be solved. But let me tell you a secret. Everyone struggles with it.
When I first discovered my own inner parts, it was amazing to me how many things suddenly made sense. I could explain the unexplainable things in my life through the existence of inner parts. As time went on, I discovered that my own inner parts had taken over at times (often referred to as switching). This is also known as dissociative identity disorder (D.I.D.). In my case, I had stopped switching by the time I discovered it. But the presence of such a strong inner parts system has led me to deep understanding of my inner landscape. So for that, I am grateful.
But the presence of inner parts is not restricted to those with D.I.D. and severe complex trauma. Everyone has parts. The separation of parts of self is a natural response for children growing up in a traumatic world. Everyone has had a traumatic response in childhood. It is a given. And these inner parts are responsible for the dissonance that lives within us. It is there whether we see it or not.
You may be wondering what it looks like, so I will give some examples of how dissonance shows up through our inner parts. I have three examples of how our parts fight with each other, creating all sorts of dysfunction in our external lives.
- Oppression. There are inner parts who are specifically created to oppress other parts. They repeat the statements of the abusers. They numb the system out completely or use defensive emotions (like anger and futility) to avoid the more vulnerable emotions that lead to memory recovery. They flood the mind with lists of trivial tasks and analyses of the world in general. Their entire goal is to avoid the expression from other parts that scare them. The controller and the mean kid are two of the parts most likely to employ these tactics and will do it at the moments when breakthroughs are more likely.
- Yin/Yang Twins. Some parts are literally born to be opposites. They are created simultaneously from a core memory for the purpose of addressing a cognitive dissonance too intense for the child to process. One inner part believes one thing. The other inner part believes the opposite. And they spend their lives fighting over that perspective in your head. Sounds like fun, huh? I have found two examples of this in my own system. My mean kid and karma kid were created from one event. One hated my abusers. The other saw me as just like them (turning the hate inward). My love seeker and inner rebel runner were created from one event. One wanted to find love at any cost. The other wanted to avoid it at any cost.
- Sabotage. While all our inner parts are different, they have one thing in common: fear. Their goal is to keep their fear under control by ensuring avoidance of whatever they don’t want to happen. This means that nothing ever really happens to fruition. This is most damaging (and likely) when we are attempting to make progress through our grounded adult self. Our intuitive and purposeful steps forward are terrifying to our defenders. They will go out of their way to fight our progress as much as possible. And when our defenders are winning the battle and keeping things calm and quiet, our other parts will sabotage their efforts. It is an endless cycle of sabotage.
You may be wondering if this is happening in your own system. After all, I am discussing a pattern that is largely unconscious unless we are actively looking for it. But as I said earlier, it is inevitable. There are some signs you can look for. If you are experiencing these realities, your inner parts are fighting.
- Anxiety. I have often talked about anxiety being the “battle of the parts”. When we are experiencing anxiety, it is a guarantee that our parts are fighting. Someone is angry and needs to express in writing. If you need a good writing prompt, start with “What the fuck are you thinking?” Let the parts battle it out with each other or your grounded self.
- Paralysis. This can be caused by anxiety, but it can also be caused by a flood of futility and hopelessness leading to a full depressive episode. This is caused by a defender or freedom fighter who is in sabotage-mode. If you sense paralysis, take a few minutes to write from the futility. If you are looking for a prompt, try “What’s the point? Nothing will change.”
- The Opinion Pendulum. Often our parts will take turns driving us crazy. One minute, we are heading toward one extreme. The next minute, we are heading toward the other. We will know it is our parts because the opinion is rarely balanced. We are either the worst person on the planet or we are superior to all the idiots in existence. Let that express too.
- Desperation. When we desperately want something, it is often a sign of an inner part who is being sabotaged by another. It is a sign of an inner block as opposed to an external one. That can be hard to consider since we are used to assuming it comes from outside the self. If there is something you desire desperately, listen for the unconscious inner part who doesn’t want it. Believe me, it is there. Write from it.
Written By Elisabeth Corey, MSW