This is from my journal for May 1991. It describes the process that Bessel Van Der Kolk called “Hijacking.” “The big issue for traumatized people is they don’t own themselves any more. Any loud sound, anybody insulting them, hurting them, saying bad things, can hijack them away from themselves. And so what we have learned is that what makes you resilient to trauma is to own yourself fully.” Interview with Krista Tippett, in Becoming Wise, p88.
I wrote this journal piece years before I got on medication, and before I discovered I had been traumatized.
Talk with Dana last night about the problem of fear and not feeling that I own my own life. He reminded me of the time on the ski lift when I said “This won’t do” and ended my acrophobia forever — at least on ski lifts. He said I had to do something analogous with my life, to claim it, to take it back, and to be willing to risk anything to do so. That sounded exactly right to me, and at the same time I felt terrified at the prospect. I see that this is something that I must do, and at the same time that I have no idea how to go about it. Dana said “what have you got to lose?” but the fear that I would lose something infinitely important is so great. What am I so afraid of losing? I think about other situations where I have asked “what is the worst that could happen?” I could lose $1000, I could make a fool of myself, no one would sign up … and if the catastrophic expectation is finite, I see that I could handle it, could survive it. Or if the catastrophic expectation is physical death, I’m even willing to risk that. But in this, there’s some level of fearing that I will lose something that I’m not willing to risk. What can that be? I think of the time that I was working with Phyllis and she moved a pillow toward me saying it was my mother and I scrambled away in extreme terror, I felt that she could destroy me somehow, something worse than death. What is this part of me that I feared she would destroy? Only spiritual language will do — it’s the soul, it’s my self, my identity. Would I risk my life to save my self? I would like to think that I would, but I fear that I would not. But that was the choice I was faced with as a child, and I didn’t have my life to risk it, my life, my physical survival, was dependent on my parents, how could I chose to give it up in order to save that intangible “self”? So I gave up my “self” — what I wanted and what I knew — in order to placate them, and then felt that I had betrayed myself. and then felt that I had freely chosen to betray myself, so my identity becomes that of a person who would betray what is most dear — I am a collaborator with the enemy. How can I own myself, or even want to own such a miserable creature. But that is not who I am, I am not a self-betrayer, I did not do that freely. It’s analogous to feeling turned on by stories of rape — that is a result of early conditioning for which I was not responsible. It is not true that I want to be raped, but that is what it feels like from inside. When it is so deep and so basic, how does one get free of it? where is the “I” who knows she does not want to be a victim? When I did that structural consulting session with Dana, he had an image of me sitting there sullenly, eying a “carrot” that my family (parents) held out to me. The carrot was their approval, and consequently my self-esteem, but I could only get it by being the person they wanted me to be and not by being myself. What a double bind: if I choose myself I am made wrong, but if I choose what they want my “self-esteem” is spurious because it’s not based on who I really am. That’s the source of the self-betrayal. Many thousands of times of choosing what I wanted and then feeling wrong and bad because they were angry and rejecting, many thousands of times of choosing what they wanted and then feeling wrong and bad because I knew I had betrayed myself. No matter what I choose I feel wrong and bad, and I have no way to tell which choice is mine, and which is to please them. This is my life.
And what if you did collaborate? What if you did betray yourself? Surely this is not final, surely it is possible to say “I was wrong, I take it back.” St. Joan recanted her voices, and then rejected the recantation, even though it meant death by fire.
How can you risk what you do not have? That’s the other double bind in this business: how can I risk what I don’t own? How can I risk my life to claim it again? And how does the person in the city under the bombers “risk” their life? It’s a real different proposition from going into battle where you are fighting actively for what you believe in. What happens when you have to wait passively for destruction, and can’t fight back, and can’t do anything to save yourself except hide in a bomb shelter all the time? Then daily living itself becomes actively fighting for what you believe in. This is my life. A soldier under fire as I make my cup of tea, write in my journal. Perhaps that’s why it means so much to me to have the little book of poems that went through the war with Dad.