I have wondered a few times in my life if I was crazy. Looking back, it’s surprising I did not ask myself this question a lot more.
I felt crazy within relationships : stakes were high, and relationships were great to project my inner drama.
And when it happened, watch out. I could not understand my behavior, my emotions, my thoughts, my choices, my desires. They were very, very far from my usual strong common sense.
Falling head over heels in love with someone I barely knew was bizarre. Getting stuck for months in a painful obsession over someone who did not care was senseless. Falling out of love from one day to the next, from lovestruck to utterly non interested, was outright frightening. So was crying after making love with the man I loved.
Outside of relationships, things were confusing too: why was I so unhappy when my life was going very well ? Why did I feel a few frightening urges, like a sudden urge to jump from a building, while nothing was wrong ? Why was it difficult for me to go out of my house and into the world ? And what about self sabotage ?
From strange to even stranger
When I was a young adult coming out of my abusive family, most of my feelings and behavior were strange. I paid attention to look like others, but I did not understand myself. I was scared by my inner world.
I was ashamed to be different, but at least I was consistently different.
As I got better, spells of confusion (from a few minutes to a few months) started to stand out from periods of being what I had learned to see as my understandable, normal me.
At some stage I was going in and out of distress several times during the day. One moment I was feeling so much emotional pain I could not take it any longer, the next moment I was calmly buying my groceries online. Back into emotional pain, and an hour later joking with my colleagues. And on and on.
I wasn’t just distracting myself. While working, I was not only feeling calm, I also could not understand for the life of me why I was so distressed a moment before. And while drowning in distressing feelings, I could intellectually grasp that my reaction was way disproportionate. It felt so, well, crazy.
And then it hit me; the proverbial (and rare) aha moment changing the way I saw my inner world, and explaining everything.
The new normal
Here it is: there is not only one me. There are several “me”, at least two that I can easily see now.
It’s not that I sometimes loose touch with reality. It’s that emotionally, I live in two distinct realities, and only one of them was acknowledged – the adult, functional me.
The other one – the hurt child – was most of the time hidden from my awareness but having a huge influence. And then, when in stress, this part of me was invading my whole inner experience.
The adult me is working efficiently, buying the groceries and organizing the next holidays. This part of me is capable of, say, take a rejection calmly and move on: there are a lot of cool people in the world, no time to waste on an uninterested dude.
In the same situation, the child me is devastated, especially when it comes from someone she has decided can save her from her pain and shame (which cannot happen, but she does not know that).
Because I was educated to not see this hurt child part of me, and because I had decided very young that I should keep her away from my life, I could not feel her presence. But she’s here.
I know it may sound weird, and it did for me, but this is real. We have a child living inside of us. And as long as she feels lonely and scared, she will wreak havoc in our lives.
The Internal Family System
What I’m describing here is not just my take on how we are organized inside our heads. Authors and therapists have been touching on the inner child for a long time.
You can for example read John Bradshaws’ Homecoming, reclaiming and healing your inner child.
But where it really hit a nerve for me was books from Richard Schwartz, who designed the internal family system therapy (or IFS).
If you feel your inner world is frightening, bizarre or mysterious, if you don’t understand why you feel the way you feel or do the things you do, I strongly advise watching this video summarizing IFS, and reading No bad parts.
It may well help you to make sense of your inner world, as it did for me. It has been such a relief…