There is a part of me that is tender, hurt, grieving and super-sensitive. He feels like something very young. Of all the parts that make up this mysterious something that I call ‘I’, he is among the smallest.
Deeply loving, filled with emotion, he easily gets caught up in a story of abandonment. His fears are specific, and strongly predictive. ‘You’ll leave me’, he says. By ‘you’ he means just about anyone – friends, lovers, family, teachers – and bigger entities too – community, this country in which I live, life itself. And by ‘you’ he also means ‘me’ – the one of whom he is a part, the one who is his home.
‘You will abandon me’, he says, ‘and I will not be able to tolerate the loss itself, nor my grief at the loss. And what’s more, I know when I get abandoned it will be my fault. I’ll cause it by my actions, or by my inaction. Or because I was not able to prevent it’.
He’s onto something, of course. Loss is a given of any human life. He – as I, as you – will eventually lose everything and everyone that we love. And his grief and tenderness is real, and appropriate to the scale of the coming bereavement. But this part, so young and with such a small horizon, is scared to live in the world because the loss feels like it is now. The abandonment he fears, ever present.
He has some quite sophisticated strategies to try to head off the losses that terrify him. He wants me to feel his fear, always, so that we won’t make a mis-step. He’ll do his best for me not to feel, nor let on to feeling, the grief that he holds, nor any feelings that might make me vulnerable. He holds on very tight, and sometimes as a result I hold on very tight too. And he’s a master at getting his abandonment in first, finding ways I can get resentful and abandon other people before they can abandon me. He’s done this many many times – I have done this many times in his name. In a way, he feels vindicated when people do actually leave, because it shows that his world view, and his deep fear, are justified.
He wants us to live in a very narrow space of possibilities. He’s only open for being seen by others in a very particular way (only with love and appreciation, never with judgement) and if he doesn’t get seen this way he’s quickly wounded, withdrawn, sullen, quietly rageful or doing his best to manipulate others so that the world is back to the way he wants it.
Because this part is in such difficulty, he grabs my attention frequently. And when he does I identify with him. I take him to be me, and me to be him. And this is the big mistake. When he is in the driver’s seat I forget that there are things to feel that are different to what he is feeling, ways of seeing that are different to what he’s seeing, and different ways to act. When I think I am him, I am at my smallest and most afraid.
Over time I have come to see that my work is one of self-remembering. Remembering that I am vast. That I contain multitudes. That as well as this part, there are others. And that my work is not to turn away, not to run from this tiny scared part of me – it is so easy to push him away, to visit upon him the very abandonment that he fears – but to hold him close, to cradle him, to honour him and his gifts. It is my work to welcome him home. To say to him, “Yes, I see you. I have you. You are safe here. You cannot fall”.
And my work too is to know that, just as I know he is held in the vast something called ‘I’, I too am held in and am part of something vast that has no given name but might best be called ‘life’. When I know myself this way, as one expression of a phenomenon which brings me into being and out of which I cannot fall, I am freed from being a prisoner of my fear and available. I am freed to love in the way I want to love, to create, speak out, be vulnerable and intimate and angry and truthful and real and to risk the risks that are required to be fully alive, the very risks that he is too afraid for me to take.
Photo by Dmitri Popov on Unsplash