We all have different parts of ourselves: wounded child, inner critic, brave warrior. We can be in therapy or not and still recognize those parts.
And then there are the parts we don’t recognize or have cut out from most parts of our lives: the exiles.
I have a part like that, the part that shows up when I’m sexually aroused. I’ve known about her for a long time, I guess, but I never thought about her or cared about her. If anything, I was ashamed of her: ashamed that she existed, ashamed of the way she thought and behaved.
Flashback to a therapy session some weeks ago, when E and I are approaching the topic of this exiled part. E thinks it could be helpful for us to get to know her better. I’m not so sure.
“What is she like?” E asked me.
“She’s passive, receptive I guess. She allows things to happen. She doesn’t have any boundaries.”
E wants to know what that means, “She doesn’t have boundaries in how she interacts with others, not respecting their boundaries? Or she doesn’t define her own?”
“The latter,” I say. I try to think of words to describe her. It’s hard because I don’t know her well. It’s also hard because of the shame I carry. “It’s like she is empty, and she can be filled up with the intention of others.”
I can see why that kind of description doesn’t help E very much, but it makes sense to me. This part receives the sexual desires of others and becomes what they want her to be. Except I don’t manage to come out and say it like that. Instead I flail about, unable to find the right words.
“She has trouble maybe knowing her own mind and saying what she wants?” E asks. She stays calm and non-judgmental, but I grow increasingly uncomfortable. Talking about this part doesn’t feel freeing at all. I want to change the subject.
I nod, yes, right, she doesn’t know her own mind. Or doesn’t have one. I look at my piece of paper, where I am trying to take notes. I scribble a little. I don’t know where to take this conversation.
E waits for me to say something. Then she asks, “Are you feeling shame? That’s what I am sensing.”
“Yes,” I say. “That is exactly what I’m feeling. It makes me want to pull back.”
“Right, I can feel that,” E says. “So let’s take a step back. We don’t have to push on this part. What if instead we welcome her? And let’s try to make it feel safe…”
She reminds me to put a hand on my heart, to breathe. Then I rub my neck, touching my own skin, which can help release oxytocin. From this calmer, more settled place, E says, “We can tell this part that she is welcome to join us. We are happy to have her here. We invite her to share with us, if she wants to.”
I can feel right away that this is a better approach. Yet I remain tongue-tied. There seems to be a wall between me and this exile.