You Did Not Deserve That

from an IFS (Internal Family Systems) session with one of my teenage parts

Self-love used to be dangerous. It was much safer to believe I was worthless, to shrink, to erase myself completely.

I look at the 14-year-old part of me, standing in my mind’s eye; my own frizzy hair, that green striped shirt I used to wear, that sullen expression that looked bored, but actually conveyed a cry for help.

My skin looks gray, thin, like it’s falling off of my bones. I’m freezing, lips blue. I can see my own ribs and hip bones and shoulders jutting through those old clothes– I’m starving. 

Now, I know that 14-year-old me didn’t actually look this desolate. This part of me presents this way, because inside, she’s starving.

She’s starving for love.

I take a deep breath. 

“What do you need from me, honey?” I ask.

The 14-year-old me wraps her arms around herself, shivering. 

“Tell me the truth, again,” she quivers.

So I begin.

“Sweet girl. All that they said and did to you was so utterly wrong,” I say, leaning in to hug her cold body. “You’re at an age right now when you need nurturing. You need attunement. You need someone to sit beside you and say, ‘Are you okay?’. Someone to remind you how absolutely valuable you are. How you light up a room when you feel happy, safe, and loved. Someone to understand all those tough feelings that swirl deep within you.” 

She rests her head on my shoulder and cries. 

“All they said to you– and about you– was so, so, so wrong. They took all of their shit and dumped it all over you, and you had no choice but to take it in. No choice but to accept their name-calling, their character assassinations, as the absolute truth of who you were. And that was deeply and horribly fucked up of them to do that to you.” 

She’s beginning to understand. 

Just yesterday, in a session with my coach, this 14-year-old part took every memory of her family’s mistreatment, and blew it all up. 

Every name she was called, every time they slapped her or pushed her, every time they made her feel worthless, she turned it all into hundreds of little pebbles, and scattered them throughout a field. Then, she buried dynamite sticks in the ground, and blew it all to pieces, screaming with rage as her pain went up in flames.

“You did not deserve that,” I continue, as she recalls the cathartic explosion. “You did not deserve their emotional abuse.” 

She begins to soften.

“You did not deserve that. You did not deserve that. You did not deserve that,” I repeat, over, and over, and over again.

And this may be the first time in my life that I’m actually believing it myself.

Believing that, with a decent supply of love, I am actually a decent– no, a beautiful– human being. I’m actually wanted on this planet. I’m actually valued. Actually looked up to. Actually loved.

My brain will find any reason whatsoever to disbelieve this. After all, that’s what I was taught to do! Disbelieve in my own worth. Search instead for every little flaw and make mountains out of them all, to ensure that I never realized that I deserve love instead of shame. That’s why feeling loved actually feels threatening to my system: self-love used to be dangerous. It was much safer to believe I was worthless, to shrink, to erase myself completely. I learned that well. Too well.

This little fourteen-year-old part seems to have sucked up that message, like a dry sponge thrown into a kitchen sink full of dirty water. It’s still not the truth of who she is. It’s never been the truth of who I am. 

We did not deserve the name-calling, the scapegoating, the character assassinations, the violent and unpredictable physical punishments. We never deserved the othering, the ousting from the rest of the family unit by way of cruel “jokes” and constant belittling. Call it what it was: absolute and total shit. 

Furthermore, what is the result of this constant belittling? What follows us through to adult life until we work to heal it?

Toxic shame. 

The worthlessness. The desperate desire to be loved, paired with the intense fear of being seen at all. The deep urge to isolate, to hide in a dark room and never speak to another human again. The flushed face and racing heart. The heat creeping up the back of your neck. Constantly begging Life or God or whoever to just let you feel okay about yourself, to feel safe, for once, please. 

That’s what this little teenage part has embodied for over a decade of my life now. Yet for the first time, I’m witnessing her. For the first time, she’s relaxing. For years, I thought that I could never heal this shame– I thought I was stuck with it forever. But with a little love and compassionate attention, that little sponge is finally wringing out all the nastiness she’s carried around– unfairly– for 13 years. 

Finally, now that she’s breaking free of that shame… She can do anything. Anything she wants. And for the first time, she’ll have a compassionate witness right there beside her.

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