“Looking Back At My Younger Self” – An ‘impossible’ drawing I did, inspired by Reuterswärd, Escher and Penrose
Whenever I think about who I am, I always reach the conclusion that there is more than one answer to that question. I have written about the concept of every person having different parts to them before [the baby self, the child self, the inner teenager, the adult etc], but I have been wanting to write more about each individual part for a while now, so that is what I am planning to do in the next few posts. [Emphasis on planning here – no promises, plans sometimes don’t pan out]. I have no idea how interesting this will be to anyone else, but as it is something P. and I do a lot of in our therapy [exploring, defining, trying to understand the different parts and how they work – and sometimes don’t work – together in my internal system], I know that it will be a useful exercise for me. So, I am going to be a selfish blogger for a little while. And I use the word ‘selfish’ here in the purely positive sense of allowing myself and my needs to come first. That said, I know from the emails I have been receiving from you over the years, that many of you share similar stories to mine, and I hope that you, too, will get something from this exercise – maybe even take a little time to think about your own internal system?
I am going to start with Baby S., because that is where the person I am now begun. Baby S. is simultaneously the very oldest and the very youngest part of me. She is the part of me who was there from the beginning, the tiny pre-verbal part of myself. She is the one who was around when I was living at the Indian orphanage in the first seven months of my life, she is the one who first experienced being abandoned, first experienced loss. When this happened, I don’t know, because I don’t know if I was born at the orphanage or if I was brought there. And if I wasn’t born at the orphanage, then I don’t know whether a stranger found me somewhere on the streets of Calcutta and handed me in, or if my birth parent made the decision to take me there themselves, because it was what they believed would be best for me. In fact, I don’t even know if my separation from my birth parents was forced upon them or if it was a choice they made. All I know is that at a very early age I experienced the extreme trauma of being abandoned.
Baby S. is also the part of me who for the first seven months of my life experienced a serious lack of human-to-human [or rather adult-to-child] contact and care. This I do know for a fact. I know this, not from having a conscious memory of this lack of close contact, but because I have been back to the orphanage I came from, and I have seen the little metal cots shared between two or three babies [hence correcting myself earlier; there was most certainly human-to-human contact, but not adequate adult-to-child care]. This inadequacy was not because I came from a particularly bad orphanage, it is simply down to the fact that I come from an exceptionally busy and over-crowded one. [Actually, scratch ‘exceptionally‘ – it is probably no more busy or over-crowded than any given orphanage in India]. The nuns working at this orphanage no doubt tirelessly do so because they care very deeply about all these abandoned babies and children, and are passionately wanting to do what they can to provide for their tiny little charges, but there are simply not enough of them going around, and – sadly – their job becomes never ending rounds of nappy changes and bottle feeds – conveyor belt style – to ensure that no child is missed. So, in spite of these heroic efforts, precious little time is spent with each individual child, and the opportunity to form any kind of meaningful attachment is virtually nil.
I was ten years old when I went back to visits the orphanage I came from, and even as a child of that age I was acutely aware of the Baby S.-part inside, and I didn’t need an adult to explain to me how lonely and frightening it must have been for me as a baby to be in that environment. It is hot, crowded and noisy, with little colour or comfort. No toys, no safety blankets, no dummies [that’s British for pacifiers], no cuddly teddy bears.. Bleak, bare and loud, with hardly any Big People to care for you; a very sad environment for anyone to be in, no matter what the age. Needless to say, visiting that orphanage had a big impact on me, and it has played a huge part in why I have always been so much more interested in understanding the effects of starting out in an environment like that – void of significant caregivers to form attachments to – than wanting to find my birth parents.
Anyone who has been adopted will be more than familiar with Everyone Else’s two compulsive-intrusive questions: “Do you know who your real parents are?” and “Would you like to find your real parents?” My answer is invariably: “Of course I know who my real parents are – I grew up with them, and, no, I’m not hugely interested in finding my birth parents.” An answer, which is more often than not, met with disappointment. It is as if, being adopted, one ought to have a strong desire to trace one’s biological roots, and if you haven’t got that desire, well, you must be lying to yourself. I genuinely don’t feel I am lying to myself; I just haven’t a strong desire to trace those roots. That isn’t to say that I won’t ever feel that desire, merely that – as of now – it’s not played a big part in my life. Yes, of course I have at times wondered about them, but – somehow – I have always had a really strong sense of who my parents were and what they were like – even though I couldn’t possibly have any conscious memory of them. Maybe it is a biological imprint that we are born with..? I don’t know. All I know is that I’ve always been far more interested in understanding how my early life experiences have shaped me, than finding out who the people I came from were. So, let’s go back to exploring that:
Apart from being abandoned, Baby S. is also the one who had to deal with the most extreme life change out of all of the parts that make up my internal system. At seven months old her whole life was turned upside down and inside out when she was brought from the orphanage in the loud and crowded city of Calcutta, to a tiny coastal town in the very north of Sweden. I don’t think the climate or cultural change could have been greater. This was a new life, in a whole new world, with strange new smells and sounds and ways of doing things. And a whole new set of people. A mother and a father and two older brothers, one of whom was also a deeply traumatised young child [2.5 years old on the papers, in reality closer to four] brought over from an entirely different part of India, at the same time.
One of the things that is always said about me as a baby, post adoption, is that I was “such a good little baby”, meaning that I was a very quiet baby; I rarely fussed and I slept more than most. I was also out of nappies before I was a year old. Every time another story gets retold for the umpteenth time of what a good baby I were, I always have an urge to scream that “Of course I didn’t fuss! Why would I?” and I can feel that it is the Baby S. part of me having this reaction. By the time I was seven months old and came to Sweden I had already learned that there was no point in crying if I needed something, whether it be food, a new nappy or a cuddle, because no one would come, no matter how desperately I cried.. I simply had to wait my turn, whether I understood the concept of waiting or not. So, I stopped crying, stopped fussing, stopped trying to get the attention, care, and love that I so desperately needed. Because I knew that it was pointless. And the sleeping? Well, I’m no expert – but it sounds to me like either a stress relieving coping mechanism kicking in, or early depression. Or, more than likely, both.
Because of Baby S. inside of me, I experience intense anger whenever I hear people asking new parents “Is he a good baby?”. What’s the answer to that? “No, she’s an absolutely terrible baby, she demands feeding and changing and she won’t let us sleep for more than half an hour at a time!” To me, good does not equal quiet – and I know that my sensitivity to this kind of talk is really Baby S. having an emotional respons. She can’t help but to kick off when someone starts talking in those terms. Which is great – finally she is able to express herself, be it through emotions rather than words.
That brings us to one of the challenges of allowing Baby S. space in our therapy. Baby S. is pre-verbal, she doesn’t have language – or rather, she hasn’t got words. So, how can she be part of the therapy? I haven’t got a definitive answer to that. I mean how do you get a pre-verbal part to speak? My solution so far is to work on getting Adult Me to become more attuned to Baby S.’s emotional signals, so that she can verbalise on Baby S.’s behalf. It’s not an ideal solution, because dressing a baby’s emotional world in adult vocabulary requires translation, but it is a starting point in terms involving Baby S. in our therapy. The first step to giving Baby S. a voice in the outside world is to listen for it. So, I try to get Adult Me to actively listen to what Baby S. is communicating. It’s sometimes – often, actually – rather a difficult thing to do, especially if what Baby S. is desperately wanting to say, happens to be the exact same thing that Adult Me is wanting to hide from, and still needs to defend agains.
I believe that Baby S. only ever communicates truths – she has not learned that truth can be manipulated to suit one’s needs – and conflict can occur when Adult Me is not yet ready to face that truth. Still, it is work in progress. Through Adult Me’s active listening, and through her translation into spoken word, Baby S.’s feelings can be brought into the open in the space I share with P., and together we can work with it.
And there is a lot of stuff to work with. Trust me.
There is an excellent blog called Everyone Needs Therapy – a sentiment I share. Only I would take it one step further and say that Every Part Of You Needs Therapy.
Take good care of your Selfs,