As I have struggled through some very dark days of trauma recovery, I have come to understand some universal laws that have helped make sense of my chaotic life. The most basic law is that the inner child will recreate the challenges of the childhood until the challenges are resolved. To the inner child, the perception of resolution may be very different from the adult’s logical brain.
But I have learned that the resolution can come in many forms.
For a sexual violence survivor, this law holds no more true than when navigating adult intimate relationships. Sometimes, this law is referred to as “women will always marry their father.”
But it manifests in other ways too. It would be easy to address if it weren’t happening unconsciously. Unfortunately, we rarely know we are recreating our childhood. In the case of memory repression, it is worse because we don’t remember the events we are recreating. Sounds like a losing battle, doesn’t it?
When I reached adulthood, my self-esteem was non-existent. I was convinced that I was not worthy of a partner who had the potential to love me or make me happy. I was convinced of the opposite. I was sure that the only partner for me was an abusive addict who would eventually leave. Of course, all of these beliefs were unconscious. In my conscious mind, I was convinced that I was deserving of a great partner. Unfortunately, the unconscious always wins.
And so began my series of painful, impossible relationships. But never fear — my inner child had a plan.
I knew exactly how to avoid being abandoned or abused. If there weren’t any guys who wanted me, I would just find guys who needed me. I would find guys who could not hold a job, or could not find a better girl than me, or had no spine, or had the exact same issue with their self-esteem. That sounded easy enough. There were plenty of those guys. And this wasn’t about love anyway. I didn’t even know what love was. My heart had gone missing when I was a young child. This was about circumstances. This was about logic. This was about what would look good to the rest of the world.
But there was a problem with my plan. I could not sustain a loveless relationship. Sometimes, they left despite all my attempts to keep them around. Sometimes, I could not contain my deep longing to find something more — a longing that surpassed all of my fearful attempts to play it safe. Then one day, I actually woke up. I realized that my life and relationships were eerily familiar.
During my awakening five years ago, I came to an understanding that my unconscious was running my life, and that my unconscious was unhappy. These realizations started my journey through a series of memories that were so horrific, it was everything I could do to stay alive. I slowly realized that my abusive, addicted partners of the past were a spitting image of the men in my family. I just had not remembered them in that way.
But there was one question I could not resolve: the abandonment. My father never left. Honestly, I often prayed that he would. The men in my family were not the type that left. They were the type that stuck around until they sucked the life out of everyone around them, sometimes literally. I just didn’t understand why I was faced with so much abandonment. It didn’t make sense.
And then I remembered. My unconscious was not trying to recreate my relationship with my father (not entirely). Even a child’s mind can understand pure evil. My unconscious was trying to recreate the relationship my would-be rescuer, the young college student who was supposed to remove me from my family madness. I was expecting a savior, but instead he left for college. My emotional reaction to the abandonment was so intense that it provoked my memory repression. It was in that moment that I chose to forget.
He did come back. But it was too late. I had already forgotten him. The damage was done.
And so, with a deeper understanding of my unconscious abandonment struggles, I move down the scary road toward intimacy. And I face a man with every reason to leave. And I watch the fearful, unconscious thoughts as they pass through my head, the thoughts that can only be noticed through intense awareness.
“He will leave if he doesn’t like my kids.”
“He will leave because I have so much trauma to overcome.”
“He will leave if he doesn’t like where I live.”
“He will leave if he doesn’t like the way I look with no make-up.”
“He will leave if he doesn’t like my dog.”
“He will leave because he can.”
The list of doubts is endless. And it is not based on an educated analysis of his character. It is based on one historical fact. I was abandoned when it counted most.
I have been a slave to abandonment for most of my life. If I continue to feed these unconscious insecurities, I will fall into the trap once again. I will become someone who I am not, in an attempt to keep someone around who may or may not like who I really am. Of course, he can’t like who I am if he never knows who I am.
So I will work hard to stay me. I will remind myself that, although abandonment may have destroyed my childhood, it can’t do that damage now. There is only one thing worse than losing another. It is losing me.