Thank you to this Tough Cookie for sharing an incredibly difficult piece of their story. You’re SO SO brave. Thank You 🌟
Bowlby believed that our ‘internal working model’ is based on our early childhood experiences (McLeod, 2015). He believed that early childhood experiences could affect mental health and behaviour and that a secure attachment with the primary caregiver or mother, particularly in the first five years of life, would lead to the healthy development of the child, the child’s personality and future interactions with others (Bowlby, 1969).
Looking back on my own early childhood and first five years of life, this seemed to be true. I have fond memories of my childhood, a secure attachment with my mother and explored my world and environment through sensory based and natural objects. I spent my days exploring in the flower bed, making ‘flower perfume’, playing outdoors and had a very wide imagination. So how is it that a child (me), could have a positive start to life, later suffer from depression, anxiety, bulimia, self-harm, substance abuse and have a long-lasting sense of guilt and shame?
I was bullied at the age of twelve. I was bullied for being ‘different’ in terms of my physical appearance. The bullying lead to self-harm and missing school, and I fully believed, until a few weeks ago, it was the cause of my depression and the reoccurring theme of shame and guilt throughout my life. For the past two years I have grown and learnt to accept my wound, believing that my lack of self-esteem, lack of confidence and feelings of shame, particularly in terms of my body, was impacted by the bullying. However, recently, I have built myself back up again, creating an empowering, emotionally intelligent and strong young woman. Over the last two years, I had built myself to be a woman who truly knew herself, was aware of herself and felt strongly towards her beliefs and values, a woman who stood up for what she believed in, a woman who travelled to the continent of Africa and could singlehandedly banish corporal punishment in schools, a woman who was determined and powerful, a woman who knew the many different characters and archetypes of herself, calling upon them when they were needed.
That was until last year, when my identity, personality and psyche was stripped away or split off. Everything that I had ‘known’ or was aware of, about myself, became unfamiliar.
A year ago, I was sat with my personal therapist. We were discussing meditation. I told her about how I enjoyed the body-scans but did not enjoy the visualisation and imaginative meditations that take you on a journey through destinations e.g. beaches, forests etc. She encouraged me to change my mind, encouraged me to try it again, one last time. I agreed. During the meditation, she brought me on a journey through a forest, to a cottage and to a book written about my life, which I was to read. I began reading, only to awake from the sensation of spiders crawling up the back of my neck. Of course, there were no spiders, just the unwelcome and alarming sensation. I was awoken and back in the room. We spoke briefly about whether my body, my unconscious mind, did not want to read the story. I couldn’t understand why it wouldn’t, after all, I was aware of my wounds, my story, and accepted them.
A few days had passed, and I was sitting in the last module of my college year. I had forgotten all about the meditation. We (myself and my college group) were discussing the games, activities and ways we played in our early childhood. We were remembering all the different toys we played with etc. It was at that moment I felt a sense of panic, an overwhelming feeling right in the pit of my stomach, an overwhelming feeling of shame and of guilt. A memory came flooding back to me, a memory which threw me off guard, caught me by surprise and made me feel vulnerable and afraid. A memory of my sexuality, an event. A memory of childhood sexual abuse, which occurred when I was eight years old.
A memory that my mind had forgotten, one that I had ‘repressed’ (Freud, 1915), A memory that was stored in the body, not accessible by the conscious mind. The memory was an emotional shock that split off part of my psyche and therapy succeeded in bringing these split off parts into conscious awareness.
My unconscious was conscious. I was experiencing an expansion of consciousness. Freud states that some events are too painful for individuals to acknowledge and are therefore ‘locked away in the unconscious mind’. This helped me to understand why I had ’forgotten’ an event that obviously had caused so much pain inside of me. To ‘forget’ the event was my defence mechanism to avoid the feelings associated with it. However, now that the memory is conscious I have realised and become aware of the unconscious ways in which the event influenced my judgements, feelings and behaviours. My mind had forgotten but my body stored these ‘implicit’ memories (Van Der Kolk, 2014) and these memories came to me through my felt sense and in lifelong symptoms.
‘What the mind has forgotten, the body remembers….’ (Sigmund Freud)
The unconscious mind is the primary source of human behaviour (Freud, 1915). My feelings of shame and guilt, my depression, the disconnection from my body and the lack of self-esteem and self-care has begun to make sense. These were my lifelong symptoms which occurred through my bodies remembrance of the traumatic experience. My body’s memories of the experience and the memory stored in my unconscious mind influenced my attitudes and behaviours. I have now become aware and have reached a level of understanding. I understand now that my feelings, decisions and behaviour had been strongly influenced by my past experience, and stored in my unconscious. My experience of sexual abuse has unconsciously lead to negative feelings about myself and the world, leading to depression, anxiety, self-harm, ‘acting out’ behaviours, bulimia and substance abuse. It had also influenced my decisions in engaging with and exposing myself to unsafe and dangerous situations. Perhaps it is also why I found it extremely difficult to cope with the negative behaviour from others, towards myself, in the form of bullying. I was bullied for my physical experience, my body, that I was already ashamed of, the body I had already felt disconnected to and guilty because of. My experience had brought about ‘emotional angst’, disembodiment and confusion. Disembodiment, overwhelming feelings of shame and guilt, and the setting and maintenance of boundaries were and are the result of my emotional shock and experience, and are probably the most lasting and negative responses. It explains why I feel inferior to others, why I feel constantly judged and afraid when speaking aloud in a group or crowd and why I feel triggered or become over responsive to touch or things I cannot control.
I live a life full of familiarities. I do not like the unknown or things that are not familiar. I try my hardest to dodge objects, people or places that may bring me harm or fear. I like to be in control, controlling every aspect of my life, my relationships, keeping myself and those close to me ‘safe’, to avoid pain and suffering, to avoid negative feelings and emotions, to avoid feeling vulnerable and afraid. I have developed anxiety, as a result from my past experiences. However, I am more aware now than ever before. I had found the missing piece of my jigsaw, the missing piece I needed to understand, to come to terms with, to accept and to feel closer to my ‘self’. The missing piece that would bring me closer to ‘wholeness’ (Jung, 1963).
Why is it then, that since my memory reached my consciousness, I feel wounded, vulnerable and exposed? I feel as though the powerful woman I have built over the past number of years, the identity I have created for myself, is being ripped apart and being laid out on the floor, like my psyche has been split all over again, needing to be rebuilt once more.
The only explanation I can think of, which I have been analysing and researching, is that the archetype I have associated myself with for so long has shifted and changed. Deep inside of me, there are aspects of my personality which have formed a self-image (Jung, 1944). What I am experiencing now, because of the shift in my memory, is a dissociation from the archetype I had created for myself and an association with another, a victim or a wounded child, one associated with pain and suffering. Perhaps the archetype I am currently experiencing is the same one I experienced during my younger years and early life, one full of shame and guilt. Carl Jung called this archetype ‘The Shadow’ (Jung, 1944). According to Jung, the powerful feelings of shame and guilt, as well as depression, are all ‘qualities’ of the shadow, which I have experienced and feel I am reexperiencing, to a certain extent.
According to Carl Jung, the experience was internalised to form an archetype, the shadow, and has therefore, built patterns at an unconscious level, forming my ‘internal working model’ (Bowlby, 1969). It has also influenced my patterns and behaviour, leading to an ‘avoidant’ attachment style in terms of my relationships with others.
Jung also believes that archetypes depend on the information supplied by the unconscious (Jung, 1967), that archetypes are resulted from information supplied from the environment. I believe this to be true, that how I internalised my experience, and my feelings of shame and guilt, was due to my own cultural context and society. Depending on the culture, the abuse that I experienced could be labelled as ‘normal, everyday occurrences’ or ‘wrong’ and ‘shameful’. Western culture, the culture I was brought up in, declares my sexual experience as wrong, as sexual abuse, as dangerous and immoral, and declares me as a victim. Therefore, I associate myself as a victim and I’ve bared the shame and guilt of my experience for years, because that is what my society, my culture, has taught me. I have grown up to believe that what I experienced was wrong and shameful, that I was no longer innocent, that I was harmed. The reaction from my father when I told him the part truth of what had happened that day proved to me that what had happened was wrong and immoral. It brought shame and it brought guilt. It brought lifelong symptoms of pain and suffering. My personality had been split off because my experience was unacceptable to society. I was ashamed of my body because society told me to be. I was ashamed and guilty of how I looked, physically, because my culture told me I needed to be.
When I visited Africa, I was exposed to a different culture to the one I had lived in. I was exposed to a culture that accepted my body, that accepted me, for who I was. I was not labelled. I was not bullied. I was not chanted at for looking different. There were no expectations I had to meet. I was me, I was free, I was content, and I was confident. I was powerful and I was whole. That is how I need to feel here, in my own culture, in my own society. I need to accept my wounds and allow them to heal, allow them to heal my soul and not be labelled as a victim. I need to not label myself as a victim. I need to stop this memory from leading me down a path of self-destruction and self-loathing. I need to become ‘the wounded healer’ (Dunne, 2015), to understand my brain and body, past and present, to adjust to a more relaxed and balanced sense of being. The sense of being I felt while in Africa.
I, myself, have an effect on how my wound manifests. I, myself, can choose whether my experience or my memory will be destructive or be empowering. I choose to let it be empowering. I am willing to face, consciously experience and go through my wound, to find its true blessing. It is only then, that I will allow my ‘self’ to be re-created (Jung, 1967). It is only then, that my old self will ‘die’, never to be the same, and the empowered part of self will be born (Jung, 1967). It is then that I will experience a deeper level of being, that I will open up a door to the archetypal realm and experience real ‘freedom of my being’, and a step towards ‘wholeness’ (Jung, 1944).
If I look at my wound as a global field of experience and an archetypal moment rather than feeling resentful and victimised, I can truly heal from it. It is then, that I’ll reach the archetypal form of ‘self’ and be able to heal others. It is then, that I can become ‘The Wounded Healer’ (Jung, 1944).