People who have suffered trauma often find themselves disconnected from their inner feelings and even from their physical feelings. They had a time in their lives when they suffered significant physical or emotional pain and (sometimes without even realizing it) have trained themselves not to feel. Overcoming that fear of feeling when it is no longer a genuine reason for fear is challenging.
Emotions are a significant part of what distinguishes us from rocks and plants and animals and make us like God. They make us warm and alive and compassionate, rather than cold and lifeless and machinelike. Abusers, however, often try to dehumanize those they hurt by not wanting them to express emotions. Often they beat their victims if they show emotion and thus cause alters to fear that emotions will cause them to be beaten. Chances are, however, that you are now older, stronger and more independent and your former abusers cannot physically hurt you anymore. If so, you are able to get in touch with your emotions and no one will hurt you for it. And doing so will bring healing.
Another reason for parts of you being unable to feel is that the enormous burden of carrying the effects of traumas is often shared among alters so that only some are able to remember the feelings and emotional impact of certain traumas. Your mind cleverly compartmentalized the experience, with part of you storing the memory and part of you storing the emotions to make it less painful. There are several downsides to this, however. They fit into two categories:
1. Some parts of you that feel are likely to be in needless torment because they have kept their distress hidden from other parts who would be able to inform them of critical things the hurting parts do not know, such as that they are now safe from further abuse, the abuse was not their fault, and so on.
2. Other parts of you are likely to be scared to let themselves feel and – as explained below – this, too, ends up causing needless problems.
Being cut off from inner feelings is like having a local anesthetic. Suppose you had a wounded leg and were given a local anesthetic to stop the pain. That’s okay in an emergency but medics use a local anesthetic only temporarily when the pain is at its worst. It would become a negative thing if you ended up fearing pain so much that you kept numbing your leg for years. Even though you would not feel pain, it would still feel very unnatural and a little unpleasant. It would even be a little dangerous. You could, for instance, further injure your leg by knocking it on things because there is no feeling to warn you.
Just like King Midas, who wanted everything he touched to turn to gold and then discovered to his dismay that this applied to food and to touching loved ones, not being able to feel pain sounds wonderful but the implications are much worse than one would expect. For example, leprosy does not directly cause flesh to rot or body parts to drop off. It merely causes parts of the body to no longer register pain, but this leaves lepers vulnerable to burns and injuries that can result in loss of fingers, toes and so on.
Physically, unless you reach the point in your healing where you are willing to stop the local anesthetic and connect with what your leg is really feeling, it will end up harming you. In order to walk properly and get on with life, when an injured leg begins to heal you would need the courage to stop having it artificially numbed. Having feeling return to your leg might initially be unpleasant but it ends up being the best thing to do once the emergency has passed. You would end up with a leg that feels so much more natural and you would be able not only to feel warning pain to lessen the danger of re-injuring it and enable you to walk properly, but you could also enjoy nice things, such as the warmth of a shower on your leg.
Likewise, getting in touch with your inner feelings might seem scary because you think it will expose you to pain but it also exposes you to so much that is positive. It facilitates healing and allows you to begin to have nice feelings and enjoy life like never before. Emotions are so much a part of our humanity that remaining emotionally numb would leave you feeling less than human and this has huge implications, such as causing you to feel isolated from the rest of humanity and damaging your self-esteem.
In Cure for Self-Harm I write:
When people receive bad news they are usually left numb with shock. How long this lasts varies, with a key factor being how willing the person is to face the reality and full implications of the news. When someone has been traumatized, this numbness lasts indefinitely if the person is unwilling to face the full reality of what happened. People can be so determined not to let themselves feel the natural horror, grief and anger that such an experience produces that they become disconnected from their feelings. An added reason for this happening is that some people believe that anger, hate and bitterness are wrong. Some even feel condemned over experiencing deep sorrow. So, rather than resolve such feelings, many people keep suppressing the feelings, refusing to admit to themselves that these feelings/attitudes are boiling just below the surface. It’s like having cancer and supposing that if you stoically refuse to think about it, the cancer will magically disappear. Just as removing from our consciousness an unhealed part of our body does not cause it to heal, neither does removing unresolved issues from our consciousness cause them to become resolved.
This denial of one’s true feelings produces a numbness so unnatural and disconcerting that many people feel driven to inflict pain on themselves simply to give them something they can feel. Pain feels a particularly appropriate choice to them because deep down they know they should be feeling and expressing their pain over past suffering that still haunts them because it remains unresolved.
Some Christians mistakenly imagine that not getting in touch with the depth of one’s feelings is a sign of being godly but, as explained in Real Christians Grieve, this is distorting biblical truth until it becomes quite unbiblical.
Here’s something profound an alter said: “Pain is the bridge between numbness and healing.”
For you, the emergency has passed and now you need to let yourself feel so that you can move to your next stage in healing. It is very much worth the risk. You need to courageously reach out to alters and encourage them to share their memories and feelings, assuring them that it is now safe for them to do so and they no longer need to bear those things alone.
The other side of this matter is that parts of you that have held these feelings have been suffering unnecessarily. They need you to connect with them so that you can reinterpret for them what they are feeling. For example, they might not know that they are now safe and that the cause of their pain has ended. They might fear things or feel guilty when there is no need for them to suffer these fears and guilt. Also, having been kept isolated from you has magnified their pain and loneliness. They need you and you need them.
What causes D.I.D. is parts of a person keeping secrets from each other – such as keeping the pain to oneself. Some alters take upon themselves unpleasant feelings to free up other parts to focus on other critical matters. Although in one sense this is heroic, there is a massive downside: it puts a gulf between each alter, with the result that not only are bad things kept from each other but also many good things. In fact, now that the abuse is over, the good things actually far exceed the bad. There are good feelings, as well as unpleasant feelings, and not connecting with the unpleasant ones keeps you from being able to enjoy the good feelings and causes other problems as well. Once anesthetic is pumped into part of you, you cannot say, “I want to feel some things but not others.” It’s all or nothing.
The emergency is now over for you but you have felt so traumatized that parts of you have been acting as if the emergency were still present. In fact, you are continually creating an emergency and hurting other alters by not letting them share their pain and heal. You need to now start moving toward healing. Every part of you needs to connect with each other’s feelings. Even though getting in touch with one’s deepest feelings might initially be distressing and scary, it opens the way to more joy, fulfillment, peace, fun and pleasure than you have ever known. It will end up with you truly coming alive.
It is only by a willingness to embrace past unpleasant feelings that one can enjoy current delightfully pleasant feelings.
An Ater (Insider) writes:
My host (I call her Mama besause she is like a mother to me) takes us little ones out for various activities such as walks. At times some of us stay inside, but she never forces us out. Mama reassures us that it is okay to be okay. It is okay to smile. On our walks we stop and giggle at a bug, we look at the sky and we know it is okay to feel the sun. We never knew it was safe to feel the sun. How sad and depressed we were, living in a dark cave in our hearts, locked away from other people, isolated and never feeling human – just zombies with pain as a constant friend. Now I get to giggle as the sun warms my face. I get to watch a sunset and talk to my Daddy God about it. I get to be me. Sometimes I don’t know who that is, but I am beginning to learn who I am. I don’t have to live in pain. I choose not to. I had to deliberately work at changing my thinking.
Alters are super-sensitive. We take everything so personal. We had to be taught that it is good to live outside in the real world, instead of hiding inside. Most alters want to be good but believe it is hopeless and that they are freaks who deserved what happened to them in the past and deserve to be miserable for the rest of their lives.
A very important thing we learned is that feelings must not be allowed to lead us. When we let our feelings control us we end up in a mess. Feelings should be followers, not leaders. I make the decision to be happy and my feelings eventually follow. Sometimes it takes a while for feelings to catch up and for alters to understand that it is safe, but that is okay: God understands.
Sometimes it can seem scary to feel. In the past, we had times when we felt horrific things. We needed to learn that it is now safe to feel. That is why we needed to guide our feelings. I had to teach myself to feel. For example, we would put our hands in the sink, letting warm water run over them, and I would tell myself, “Okay, now we are feeling warm water on our hands.” Or, when outside I would say, “Now we are going to feel the sun on our faces.” My sister alters and I did this over and over until we came to realize that is was safe to feel.
Then we alters became interested in water and the sunshine. We knew what wet felt like and what a warm sun felt like.
I ached for so long to have my hand held. When someone is holding my hand I have to process how I feel – not just how my hand feels but how it makes me feel inside. It is confusing, but I tell myself, “I am safe. I am not alone.” It evokes emotion – inside feelings.
Inside feelings are a bit harder to cope with than outside feelings, but once you grow accustomed to outside feelings – such as cold, warm, wet, dry, smooth, rough, hard, soft – then you can try the inside feelings.
This is how I learned not to cry all the time.
For much more insight and help, see:
© 2009, Grantley Morris. May be freely copied in whole or in part provided: it is not altered; this entire paragraph is included; readers are not charged and it is not used in a webpage. Many more compassionate, inspiring, sometimes hilarious writings available free online at www.net-burst.net Freely you have received, freely give. For use outside these limits, consult the author.
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