I grew up in a home with a narcissistic/depressed/addicted mother who took up nearly all of the emotional space, which led to me developing this inner child archetype I call The Invisible Girl. She is the girl who wasn’t allowed to take up space with anything that didn’t reflect Mom, which means she was rarely allowed to exist beyond Mom’s expectations and her own imagination. She is the girl who believes she doesn’t exist unless she’s actively serving others to earn both visibility and love. She is the girl who believes she doesn’t exist in people’s minds once she leaves the room. Consequently, I only have an intellectual awareness of my long term positive impact based on what people have told me over the years. I’ve received very little negative feedback, I think because my shadows are generally passive and internally focused rather than aggressive and externally focused.
Until the adoption. In the transformative justice work we did as birth parents in order to be able to restore relationship with our birth son’s adoptive parents, we each had to be accountable for the ways we caused hurt to the others before we sat down at the table together. Everyone had to face themselves before they could face the other, which means that I had to look at the ways I that I violated people that I once called partner and chosen family (for these purposes, violating is the opposite of intimating, so it can look like avoidance as much aggression). I had to face the fact that I caused someone else as deep a hurt as they caused me.
My Beloved Fiend facilitating the process lovingly told me what is real for the others involved – that no matter my intentions I caused pain with my deep introversion, my avoidance, and my expressions of grief. Then when conflict arose, I caused pain with words used like weapons and ending the friendship. While my reasons may be judged as valid for the situation, what was necessary in the process of relationship restoration was my accountability for my impact rather than my intentions and justifications.
I intended to be a good parenting partner and friend. What I chose day-to-day was mostly keeping to myself rather than actively relating and nurturing intimacy. I intended to be conscious about nurturing our little intentional community, even reading books on the psychology of community and recognizing steps that needed to take place in order for us to remain healthy. Instead what I chose was to avoid the emotional tension that was mounting rather than talking it out. I intended to maintain relationship after we moved out of the shared home. Instead what I chose was not to relate at all beyond visitation details for our shared son. I intended for us to be a family. Instead what I chose was healing my grief in isolation.
My Beloved Friend told me that it is a loss for her (and others) that I hide myself and my light. It never occurred to me that I was causing others pain by hiding with my gigantic grief and other big feelings. I thought that’s what I am supposed to do. What I was taught, and then was reinforced by recreating my trauma over and over again in relationships, is that my emotional world isn’t allowed to take up space. I am supposed to center the other’s experience, especially in the family home. When my grief was so big that I couldn’t center others, I went into hiding. I took up space in the only places I knew it was safe to – in my bedroom and on my blog.
I am prone to intimacy. Getting close to people isn’t an issue for me. But now I see how I kept people away when I was in pain. When I was a young adult single parenting and feeling like I was losing my mind due to complex PTSD, I would sit in my dark closet for hours, literally hiding myself away. Now it’s my bedroom. I live in my bedroom, not just because it’s more comfortable for my body, but because it’s the place that has always been safe. Whether living with my mom or with my kids, my room was always sacred space where I could reveal all of myself to myself and to whatever god I was praying to at the time.
Understanding my impact is healing the Invisible Girl, because having an impact means that I am not only visible, I am touching people’s hearts with my words and actions (or lack thereof). There are people who care that I exist and are invested in relationship with me. That is both a gift and a responsibility that I need to honor in the ways that I am able despite big feelings, chronic illness, and all the rest. It isn’t about giving myself away in order to be loved, or putting the other first. It’s about nurturing reciprocal connection. It’s about love as an action rather than a feeling. It’s about understanding my impact and making my choices accordingly.