I’m excited to be doing this process, and already feel shifts taking place inside me, just from reading the book and remembering to connect first thing in the morning. That said, I have something else, which is pressing on my mind.
I’m talking about the eight-year-old.
In my obsessive way, I've been exploring co-consciousness and integration for the last several weeks. I have been looking all around the internet and re-reading old message board comments I remembered seeing years ago, and writing long journal entries about these concepts.
This morning, I'm a guest blogger at author/therapist/blogger Mary Armstrong website. an excerpt from one of my blogs about the eight-year-old, on her website. The post is about the concepts of co-consciousness and integration.
Over the past few years, I’ve gradually been integrating lost pieces of myself, into the whole which I think of as “me”. This is not an easy process. It’s stressful and confusing, time-consuming and disorienting. It’s also well worth it. To have access to these parts-of-self which were previously closed off to me, is amazing. To be able to function from a place of wholeness instead of from only a fraction of who I really am, brings me a kind of peace I didn’t know was possible. It is allowing me to be more active and less reactive.
In any given situation, our actions and reactions are not only based on the current circumstances. In an instant, without effort, our minds take in our situation, categorize it based on past experiences, and then offer possible courses of action. If this didin't happen, each experience would stand alone, there would be no connection between what happened yesterday and what's happening today. It's necessary for us to exist in a time-line to have stored memories and use them in our decisions about what to do now.
For the most part, we aren’t aware of the process. In fact, it takes a great deal of effort to become conscious of this process, and even more effort to look at the suggested courses of action before moving into action. Moving forward without making a conscious decision is living reactively. Looking conwsciously at the situation and then deciding whether the messages from the past are warranted or should be ignored and then moving forward is living actively.
The more emotioanally charged your past situations are, the stronger your mind’s "suggestions" of action will be when they are triggered. If your mind categorizes your current situation as the same as something traumatic from your past, the “suggested” course of action may feel more like a demand.
For instance, if you are aware that there is something extremely hot in front of you, your mind is going to say, “don’t touch that.” If you move closer to the fire, your mind may begin screaming at you to move away. It may take a great deal of will and self-talk to override this message. If it was necessary to touch the flame – say to rescue someone else, or to keep something important from burning – you could override the message, but it would cause you a great deal of inner turmoil.
If you’ve experienced trauma, there may be unusual links inside you which trigger this same kind of turmoil. Personally, I am uncomfortable thinking of sunflowers, or dolls with eyes that open and close, and I panic if I think of something covering my face. (I actually drew in a deep breath just writing that sentance.) These may seem irrational on the surface, but because my mind has linked them to danger, it feels the same as the 'don’t touch it – it’s hot' message.
Before I began integration, I stayed in one aspect of myself most of the time. This aspect was unaware of a lot of the trauma and the links my mind had set up. I knew I didn’t like dolls or sunflowers or having my face covered, but I didn’t know why.
Because denying my past was a survival strategy I'd become used to, I didn’t look too closely at the why. I sometimes wondered about it, but the memories were not available to me and I moved quickly into another strategies. It is not possible to override the messages without looking at them closely, and that seemed impossible, so instead I would go into panic-mode. It left me feeling out-of-control, as if the world and my experiences had power over me and I had no power of my own.
As I’ve integrated the pieces of me which carried the memories attached to sunflowers and dolls and the hand over my face, I understand where the messages are coming from, I’m not afraid to look at them, and I can take that moment to decide how reactive I need to be. I calm myself down. I think, This isn’t really hot, at all. Eventually, I am able to put my finger right on that imaginary flame, and when I do I find that it can’t burn me, anymore.
So integration is the answer. Right? Well... it has been the answer that's worked for me, thus far, but then, we come to the eight-year-old.
I’ve lost count of how many pieces of my past have integrated into the person I think of as me. I thought I understood what integration looked like, for me. Although each one has been different, there were certain givens I’d come to expect.
The eight-year-old has been different from the beginning. She is much more complex; more complete. The other parts I’ve integrated were connected to specific memories, or specific ages. Despite her name, the eight-year-old is really not just eight. She seems to be made up of all the ages up until eight.
I think she is who I was before I became “me”. I’ve been trying to integrate her into me, when in reality I may have to integrate into her… and I’m not even sure what the distinction is. It feels very different in my head, but when I try to explain it, it doesn't sound different at all.
I feel a bit like I’m the infecting virus.
She seems to be the one who was here first… doesn’t that make her more worthy than me?
The things which are triggering for her are the exact things I still can’t look at closely, and consequently the messages they bring up for me are very hard to override. When she is angry, I feel angry and the anger doesn’t easily subside even when I know it is about something from the past and not about what is happening right now.
When she feels slighted, I feel an intense sense of failure but at the same time, I feel very defiant. Her message may be, I need. Mine is, I have to meet that need but I don’t want to.
I know this eight-year-old part and I have to be completely open with each other if we are ever to get past these old trauma-based triggers - and I'm not the only defiant one. She is fighting this as much as I am, even though she is pretending that it's all my fault.
I haven’t really been discussing my obsession with co-consciousness versus integration with my therapist, until today. It may seem like a surprising oversight. So much other stuff is going on and I send her so many emails but sometimes I just don’t seem to get the right pieces out there and she will say, in the kindest way possible, "you should have brought this up sooner." Unfortunately I don't always know what is most important, and that’s probably because I am reacting to the messages being triggered by current situations.
You see why I need a consciousness cleanse?
I see that I’ve been reconsidering my position on co-consciousness, but I am aware that I am doing it out of fear – which is exactly what I’ve seen in others. I’ve felt as if integration was the more functional choice and avoiding it in favor of some kind of agreement between parts-of-self was going to be confusing and distracting. It’s interesting, to me, that now that it feels like I am the one who may be lost in the mix, I am much less willing to move into a full integration. And this feeling - this fear of being lost - is not based in reality because as I've gone through this process nothing has been lost!
The idea that she is the "real me" is bringing up a lot of stuff from the past, and so I am aware I am being reactive in not moving forward with integration. Logically, I understand that we are both real. I know that we need each other and that we are truly two sides of the same coin.
Emotionally, I feel as if my sense of being real or valid is being threatened, and this is something that's come up again and again, in therapy. Although I've worked with old messages of "I'm not real" or "I'm not important" quite a lot, it still seems to be screaming in my head, right now.
So, I am trying to override this particular “don’t touch-it's hot” message. I’m trying to get myself to walk into the fire, and accept integration with the eight-year-old, whatever that takes. I am also allowing myself to hold back until I feel more comfortable. I've had many years of separateness. I am still here, and so is the eight-year-old. I can give it time to unfold.
Holding back rather than pushing my way through is a huge step for me. It shows that I am looking closely at what's happening and so when I do proceed it will be actively and not reactively. Patience is what I need right now - for myself, for the eight-year-old - for the “us” which I'm hoping will one day simply be me.