When you’ve spent your lifetime in trauma, peace is scary as fuck. (Underlined words are explained at the bottom of article)
Your manager parts will scream, “what am I supposed to do now?!”
Your firefighter parts will desperately seek actions to bring you back to feeling trauma, like an addiction.
Your exiles will fly up to awareness with thoughts, emotions, and sensations that will erupt like a volcano from your core, shake you like an earthquake, and hit you like a tornado.
It’s safe for them to be heard when you are at peace and they will take advantage of it. After all, they’ve been shoved down and dismissed when you were trying to just function and survive. They will roar.
And you will freak the fuck out.
It’s so hard to sit with what you NEEDED to control before. It’s like asking a fish to walk. But this is good. This is all good. Exactly what is supposed to happen and you will make it through. If you’ve survived the descent, you will survive the rise. You can only feel these eruptions when it is safe to do so. You are safe. For the layers coming up now, you are safe. And at some point, you will feel safer to feel even deeper stuff.
I would like to tell you what I so desperately needed to hear and see from my therapists when I was wringing my guts out, wailing like a toddler in a tantrum, and feeling like the nerves were going yo blow up….
You got this.
Of course you do. You’re still here. After all of that, you’re still here. And there is no wrong way to process trauma. Everything is right. Your body knows what it’s doing. Everything is as it should be.
Three times, a precious co-regulator did something that changed my whole perception of “I can’t.”
1) As I’m feeling crazy acting out my traumas, my one therapist simply observed and held space for me to complete the processing. No words said, no hesitancy, no body language of concern. Just pure acceptance of what was happening as normal and needed. Having that witness to validate my responses was exactly what I needed to feel empowered; confident that I can handle myself at l times.
2) My other therapist pushed me through the pain until I processed it. This sounds dangerous but if the timing is right, it’s not. Too many times, I had therapists or people stop me mid-processing, telling me to be careful. All that did was keep that bounded energy sitting under the surface, circling over and over again while I had to sit in it. It reinforced the narrative of “I can’t” and instead of healing the pain, I lived in it.
3) I was literally told, point blank, that there was nothing to control, nothing to fix, nothing to “do” about my feelings and sensations. I kept fighting her as I needed to fix me cause I’m broken. Instead, she looked me directly in the eyes, held my hand, and said “there is nothing wrong.” The wave underneath my resistance to hearing this was pure peace. I could let go of trying to improve myself and handle myself better and I could just be. “And whatever comes up, we deal with it here until it no longer needs to be dealt with,” she said. I cannot tell you the utter relief I felt when I heard I could stop managing myself.
Of course, my manager parts need time and practice with this, but they felt the relief too, even just for a moment.
So often, in therapy, we are treated (even subconsciously) as weak and needing special care. And we do need to be safe and secure about what is happening. But there is a fine line between taking care and being overly cautious. Sometimes it’s not what is said or done but the simple energy that is shown to us as we seek help. If your co regulator (professional or not) seems timid in how to help you, I say walk away. You need someone who is as courageous as you are for living with your trauma to help you process it. You need to find the energy that can match your powerful healing energy waiting to be heard and seen so it can do what it needs to do.
And you can do it. You really can.
Managers, firefighters, and exiles are terms used by the IFS model (Internal Family Systems). It is a therapy growing in recognition. It deals with parts of us that fragmented from our whole selves due to trauma. These parts play a role in our body and brain, helping us to function as best we can after a harmful experience. Because they are split from our whole, they tend to be dysfunctional in their behaviours, even though their intentions are good, and can cause distress to ourselves.
Managers are just that: managerial parts that want to control the system (us). They will use techniques that keep us in “should” behaviour. They love to work and will do so relentlessly to help us avoid the underlying pain of trauma.
Firefighters are our dissociations and addictions. They react in a frenzy when painful sensations come up and will lead us towards behaviours that take us away from it as fast as possible and as deep as possible. They want the rush of numbness to ease off the pain.
Exiles are the trauma. Big feelings of hurt and suffering are held in these parts. They can overwhelm our body easily which is why managers and firefighters take on their roles, to keep us from feeling ripped apart from trauma. Our deepest healing comes from un-burdening these parts and it’s also the most intense work we will do. It takes a lot of time, patience, the right therapist, and persistence to heal exiles. When it happens, our body and brain restores itself more towards wholeness, peace, love, and happiness.
You can read more about IFS here:
We talk a lot about this therapy in my facebook group:
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