We all need validation. If everyone received the full acceptance and acknowledgment we require, I imagine the world would fill with an immense, sudden, satisfied stillness.
While growing up, too many of us were surrounded by invalidation instead. When conflicts arose, we learned to argue, defend, and prove our point, or perhaps yield quickly to the person in power. When something went wrong, we pointed fingers of blame and fault. There was rarely room for exploring both points of view.
Most of us have internal voices which are not always in harmony. It can be as subtle as a muscle holding tension while we tell it to relax, as common as having mixed feelings about a decision, and as clear as hearing entirely different messages from our Inner Critic and Inner Nurturer. Survivors of childhood trauma often hear from an inner child or children who respond as if the past is still happening.
Some survivors of complex trauma have internal voices with defined, separate personas. Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly called Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD), occurs on a spectrum. Alters can be fully co-conscious, in partial communication with each other, or entirely unaware of other alters.
Take a moment to notice your experience of internal voices. Is it quiet or noisy inside? Do you recognize discrete voices, or is there a fluid shifting of opinions? How do you, the one noticing, respond to internal conflict? How do other voices respond to you?
By default, we reproduce familiar power structures when facing internal conflict. Most of us grew up in hierarchical families. Someone is right and gets to be in charge. Everyone else is wrong and must be corrected or silenced. External appearances are more important than internal integrity. Rules must be followed, not questioned.
It is easy to see that an Inner Nurturer has your well-being in mind. Surprisingly, Inner Critics, terrified children, and tense, painful muscles are also doing their best to help you survive and thrive. Conflicts arise when voices have differing assumptions, memories, and skills, as well as limited views of the present.
Rather than create a hierarchy, you can treat all parts of yourself as allies. As you establish communication and look for common ground, all voices learn from each other. With DID, this can lead to integration with alters merged, or to a comfortable working partnership among alters.
Inner Critics urgently need us to follow those unquestionable rules. When we open negotiations with them, we learn about what the rules are, whether they are outdated, and what the consequences might be of breaking them. While the Inner Critic’s tactics can be unacceptably cruel, their concerns can highlight present-day threats. Close-up, some Inner Critics are unexpectedly young and scared.
A terrified inner child may not understand that she is now safe from abuse. She might have been too busy surviving to learn how to soothe herself when upset. The adult can help her see the present and share skills acquired in the intervening years. At the same time, the busy adult may have lost connections with sensations and emotions in the body that the child still holds.
Connect and ask
A tense muscle could be reacting to scar tissue, suppressed emotions, stored memories, a current injury, or a habitual posture. Rather than order the muscle to relax, you can:
- Allow yourself to connect with it directly and experience it from the inside.
- Acknowledge that tension exists for a good reason. It solves a problem or achieves a goal.
- Gently inquire if the muscle has a message or request for you. Wait with openness and notice any words, images, sensations, or emotions that arise. You might receive emptiness or non-response.
When you connect and ask, you change your relationship with your tense muscle even without a clear answer.
When we treat parts of ourselves as enemies, we feel surrounded by enemies. When we greet all parts of ourselves with kindness and compassion, we feel some of the validation, acceptance, and acknowledgment we seek. Over time, compassion spills over to reach the people around us. While we may need to express boundaries about their behavior, we understand that others are doing their best to survive and thrive just as we are.
In The Mother I Carry: A Memoir of Healing from Emotional Abuse, Louise Wisechild describes her internal voices arguing and playing together as she wrestles with past ghosts and present decisions.