When I was a little girl, I used to practice being invisible. If I was invisible then I couldn’t be yelled at, devalued, or hurt. At least that is what my childhood mind told me. Now, I know that doesn’t make any sense, I am not, nor have I ever been, a vanishing girl. I was always seen, just often ignored.
Being ignored then worked to my advantage. And, I, being the relatively astute child that I was found ways of making sure others were seen before me. My siblings came to resent me because they would get the brunt of the beatings. It wasn’t until I was older that my little game of invisibility stopped working quite so well. And, as it were, the game never really worked with certain people. They still saw me, they still used me up, they still found ways to make me gratify their needs. Invisibility, I learned, was both a blessing and a curse. The complexities of which I am, to this day, trying to untangle.
Currently I am reading a book titled The Truth will Set you Free by Alice Miller. In it she refers to a woman who, “learned to banish her own needs and feelings, to hide them from herself and others, to be absent, nonexistent.” This, I believe, is what I have also learned from my childhood experiences. Miller argues that in order for us to be free from these childhood traumas we have to 1) tell our stories to an understanding, empathetic witness and 2) confront the childhood defenses that no longer serve us. She acknowledges, however, that it is difficult to find a professional to be that witness because often these professionals are too scared of confronting their own childhood traumas. I am baffled by how so many of us are just so broken by childhood. And how that brokenness is perpetuating a pattern of broken people further breaking people. I wonder what we can do to put a pause in that pattern. I know for my part, I hoped that if I confronted the defense mechanism of invisibility here it might do some good. I mean, it all has to start with each and every one of us individually, right?
I know that being invisible protected me and for that I owe it gratitude. But, it also meant that when others were hurting me, they were able to do so in private. It was like I gift wrapped myself and tied the pretty little bow. I offered myself up on a silver platter, made it easy. Perhaps there is some anger there, not at those people but at myself. I know I was just a child and I was just doing what I thought I had to do in order to protect myself but there is always that little voice that says, “what if?” I guess, though, the whole point of confronting our defenses is to dispel that little voice. I have to convince myself, some how, that I was not to blame for those things. In those moments I was an innocent victim. But, that doesn’t mean that I am a victim now. I am a grown woman. I do have control over that defense mechanism now. I can learn how to stop making myself invisible with others. I can learn how to stop preventing people from getting close. I can learn how to let people love me. I can learn how to open my heart. I have to realize that even if those things make me less safe, even if I take those risks, I am strong enough now to handle what might happen to me if something were to go wrong.
I think that, actually, is why it is so important to have a solid professional to bear witness to our stories. And to walk alongside us as we figure all those things out. Because, at first, it is just taking risk, it is exposing oneself to the same kinds of trauma as we were exposed to in the past. In many cases, when the professional isn’t on solid foundation, they can even be the one re-creating the past traumas. So, it is vital that the professional have a good grasp of their own shit and that they not be afraid of staring it in its ugly face. That’s why I haven’t given up on therapy. That’s why I’m still seeking to stare my story down and dispel the myths of my defenses. Because, I want to be that professional for people, some day. I want to be able to walk alongside people as they figure it all out, as they tell their stories for the first time and are met with understanding. I want to end the pattern of pain, one small act at a time.