A story from one of my favorite films, Lost in Translation:
A starlet humble-brags that everyone thinks she’s anorexic because she is so skinny. She says she’s not anorexic, however: her father is. She goes on to explain that while in a POW camp, he was starving because when his captors gave him food they told him was poisoned.
So, there he’d be: a full plate of food in front of him not knowing if the very thing that should sustain him would possibly kill him. The starlet goes on to explain that he would eat some of the food and then spit it out or force himself to vomit, thus creating an eating disorder that stuck with him.
I think for many of us with traumatic family-of-origin experiences, a parallel can be drawn between this story and what it is like for us to try to experience intimacy in relationships.
I’ve felt like that POW who’s starving and had a plate of food put in front of him and told that it’s poison; starving for a sustaining connection but not trusting that it won’t kill me.
There is healing simply in realizing this powerful parallel and drawing the connection to my disconnection. Most emotional traumas lead to a splitting of self. A new self is created in order to preserve the true self. Not all trauma leads to a full dissociative disorder, but so often in order to survive the pain a certain amount of disconnection occurs as the only way a person can survive.
It’s called coping.
Coping mechanisms can, at times, manifest in varying degrees of self-sabotaging behaviors or chemical dependency, addiction to food, sex or any other number of things that serve the protective discomfort of the split.
This separation from the self is mirrored in our relationships with others. If we have been trained to not trust our families, we have difficulty trusting others and ourselves. The grief of this is reflected in our relationship with ourselves that has been fractured by our very much needed and very ingrained survival mechanisms.
In order to heal, we must heal our relationship with ourselves.
Healing will not result from first repairing our relationships with others, or cutting our ties with our dependencies or unhealthy behaviors. Healing comes from reestablishing a nurturing relationship with yourself. During this time, I recommend focusing on self-love. It is self-loving to maintain a distance from those who hurt you, though you may grieve the hole they leave in your life. Repairing those relationships may or may not come later. Sometimes you cannot afford to be your authentic self around those who’ve inflicted pain on you, and that’s OK.
Your healing will come from within, not from them.
During this time, it might be self-loving to learn to work with your coping mechanisms as you gradually and gently reestablish your relationship with yourself. As you go towards what feels good, to honor your internal compass, you will reestablish the connection with yourself that coping mechanisms have served to buffer.
As you go through and towards the growing pains of rebirthing oneness with yourself by honoring yourself, as you sit with yourself and grieve the loss of connection that the trauma you’ve experienced has caused within you, you will become more whole. As you become more whole, this will be reflected back to you as you are open to your current relationships becoming more nourishing and/or creating newer open and connective relationships. It’s possible that certain unhealthy relationships will fall away as you change and go towards yourself. This may hurt, for a while, but over all, you will feel better as you embrace the self you thought you’d lost.
Disintegration of the pain will result from a re-integration of the self, a melding of the split off version of yourself back into your whole, true self – the authentic and beautiful self you were robbed of spending your life getting to know and feed after the time of your trauma.
This is a process. There is no timeline. There will be times where it doesn’t feel good. There will be times when it seems counterintuitive to do what’s right for yourself – that discomfort is a good indicator that you’re doing it right. This can take months or even years, but remember that it’s taken years to arrive at a place where you’re ready to reconnect.
You are your own guide back to yourself.