Stories of Transformation can trigger strong emotions. Take care of yourself.
Born and raised in South America,
I learned at a very young age just how tedious and annoying my behaviour was to my parents.
Even simple requests or expressions of need were rejected. My mother’s availability was limited. She spent a lot of time having fun with her own friends rather than spending time with her husband, and my brother and I. Dad tried hard but he worked a lot, and I saw him infrequently. I never had the chance to express any individuality or desires. Even simple things like my clothes, books, haircut, shoes, toys, food and treats were all chosen by my parents. I never knew what to do or say, and I lacked so much confidence. My mom left us all when I was 11 years old. I vividly remember her saying to my dad “I do not want to take the children.”
My dad is the best. He radiates a positive attitude no matter how bad the situation is. Somehow, he kept going even during the darkest times. He tried his hardest to raise me on his own, while working more than 60 hours a week. Dad had all the difficult conversations with me about drugs, sexually transmitted diseases, and how to avoid getting robbed in the streets. We never really talked about interpersonal relationships.
We never talked about feelings and what they meant, or how to solve conflicts.
Whenever I felt sad, Dad would leave the room and we wouldn’t talk about it until the next meal, by which point we would both act like nothing had happened. So, I didn’t know how to talk about my emotions or feelings. Instead, I would cry and shut down like I had seen my mom do. I didn’t know it then, yet
that would be one of the biggest challenges I would have in life: managing and expressing my emotions.
I had my first boyfriend at 17 years old. Unfortunately, it was an unequal relationship in age as well as expectations. Eventually, we broke up and I focused on my studies and didn’t have a boyfriend again for some years. Whilst at college I was very insecure. I have always worn clothes that hide my body because I do not want people to see my shape. In my eyes I have always been overweight. After I moved to the United States, I met my now ex-husband and in retrospect, I realise he was abusive. At the time I had no idea what abuse meant; I thought it was to be hit by someone. When we were alone, he would yell at me and belittle me and humiliate me. When we were with family or friends, he would appear to be loving and charming. I was so ashamed. I could not tell anyone. I felt broken and like there was something wrong with me. In both the relationships I had had with men, I never enjoyed intimacy. It was physically and emotional painful and I felt a lot of guilt. At the time I was confused, but I now understand sex was painful because I was fearful. There is nothing wrong with me physiology wise, and while I was never forced to have sex physically, I was emotionally coerced to engage in it. My self-love, protection and safety depended on my partner and I wanted to show them I did love them, which led me to do things I didn’t want to do at the time, to prove that love.
Then I had a car accident and that was a major turning point. My husband blamed me for the accident and I struggled a lot with guilt. It was suggested I see a therapist. I started going to therapy but I limited the content to only talk about the car accident. I remember wanting to raise the issues in my home life and relationship in the therapy sessions, yet I was ashamed of what my therapist might think of me. So, I stayed quiet.
This notwithstanding, I was in the therapeutic process now. As the weeks went by, I started opening up little by little to measure my therapist’s reaction to my words.
She made me feel incredibly safe, her non-judgmental reactions and supportive responses helped me open up much more.
The more I would tell her, the more I discovered that what I was going through was not healthy. I came to understand the difference between a supportive relationship and an abusive relationship. I had never had guidance like that before. She was my main support to get out and find shelter somewhere else. She helped me construct a safety plan and gave me so many resources which fostered within me the courage to start to look after myself and be safe.
Eventually I had to say goodbye to my first therapist, I remember how upset I was she was “leaving me.” I think throughout life I’ve given myself to anyone who shows me any kind of appreciation or care and I was desperate to be loved, cared for, and appreciated. I needed to be seen.
Then I was assigned to my current IFS therapist – Hanna.
I remember thinking she was too young and I wasn’t sure if she had any experience.
I kept comparing my sessions to those with my previous therapist, where I would simply talk and be listened to. That was validating and helpful, but Hanna didn’t want me to just endlessly talk. She wanted me to practice IFS. At first, I thought I wasn’t going to get anything out of it.
I did not understand what the Self and the Parts were.
As time went on and I began to practice some of the things Hanna taught me, therapy became a place where I would get relief from my stressors, where I would understand my wounded Parts and why I had been triggered during the week. I also learned to understand why others behaved the way they did. Because it was still early days, the relief would only last a short time – usually just the length of the session. Hanna insisted I could do this on my own, but I didn’t believe her. I didn’t think I had the tools and, at first, I didn’t even try.
With Hanna’s encouragement, I joined an IFS study designed for people with PTSD and started doing weekly sessions with the group while having individual therapy. During one of the individual sessions a part clearly told me she felt abandoned and needed me to check on it every single day for a month. I was fearful about this: a month? How can I do that? And on my own? I had a lot of questions and it felt daunting. I kept a diary and I started doing the practice with a recorded guide. Every day, I would go inside and meet this part which would share all its fears, insecurities, desires, wants and needs. At times, I noticed other Parts trying to get in the middle of the conversation; although,
I kept hearing Hanna’s voice in the back “Let’s ask this part to give you some space” and they would. I couldn’t believe it, they were trusting me! They believe in me!
Somehow, I became the caregiver of all these Parts! Parts that never trusted me, that believed I would keep causing them pain, now found relief, support, love, validation and acceptance in me. I can’t even explain the fulfilment I felt. This thing I thought I could only get from someone else, outside of me – who would love me – I was feeling that now myself for the first time ever. I was the one who did it!
IFS has changed my life.
Even though I started practicing it more than four years ago, I feel like it finally clicked this past year. I developed a trustful relationship with my Parts and they can sense my Self-energy. I’ve gained confidence, self-love, acceptance, respect, safety, and care – all from myself.
It has been a year now and the group has ended. We now have another group where previous members help lead the sessions. We are all practicing what we learned this year with Hanna and MC. I’m motivated to continue doing the Parts work with the group and with myself. I also realized I don’t need to have weekly therapy sessions as I did in the past. I now have the tools to help myself and to discover what’s going on with my Parts.