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Emergence of a sense of self

devils daughter


Anybody who has a history of trauma is at risk for some form of dissociation. For more info, you can look at the website of the Sidran Institute.

When I first went to therapy with my current therapist she described my condition as “narcissistically wounded and fragmented”. She put major depression, DDNOS, and PDNOS as the diagnoses on my insurance receipts.

I’ve been in therapy with her for about 20 months. For the first year and a half we concentrated on getting to know the fragments or parts that I was most horrified by. One of those parts I felt was bad and one of them I felt was evil. Well, actually at the time I went to see her I was not so aware of the part I felt was evil. I was just aware of feeling an evil presence or like I was “possessed”.

Anyway, we got to know them and I got used to having even the “evil” part around. She didn’t feel quite so evil once I got used to her. Just not very good.

Both of the parts that I habitually tried to keep away cared only about themselves/me. They didn’t care about anybody else. My therapist accepted them anyway and said that from her point of view and training the parts were there to protect me. Once I accepted that and accepted them I began to feel that some of my problem with other people was that I could either be totally focused on being there for them, being the person they wanted me to be, meeting their needs, etc., or else I was one of the parts that cared only about me and who cared only about other people to the extent they met my needs. I could switch back and forth between the two poles, but there was no middle ground.

My therapist drew a diagram and a place in the middle, where there would be both respect for self and respect for others. She asked me to think about the middle over the next week.

As I thought about it for the first few days I couldn’t “stay” in the middle. My feeling would switch to either one pole or the other. After several days, though, an image appeared, a circle above the place in the middle. It was kind of shimmery. Inside was a large shadow, which was me. There were also quite a few smaller shadows – in total they would probably make up as much shadow as the single large one.

The large shadow was me and the small shadows were other people. The large shadow could be in communication with the pole that cared only about me. And the smaller shadows could be in communication with the pole where only their needs counted. But in the middle, contained in the shimmery circle, both me and other people were important.

What seems like the sense of self to me is the circle itself. My identity is the large shadow. But it only exists with respect to others.

So, to me, my sense of self became not a narcissistically grandiose image alone in the world or all that the world consists of but my identity (the large shadow) in relation to other people.

I can remember “being” such a person (as the shimmery circle) once at about age 3. I had asked my mother for a cookie I think and she had said no, it might spoil my appetite for lunch (which was coming soon). I looked up at the cookie canister and I thought something like “I like Mommie and I like cookies. If I can I will get up there myself and get a cookie.” But then it was apparent to me that I couldn’t climb up and get to the canister and that’s the end of what I remember. I didn’t feel angry with my mother for not getting me a cookie and I didn’t feel guilty at the idea of getting one myself. I liked myself, my mother, and cookies, and waiting for lunch was just the way it was going to be.

By age 5 I didn’t trust either my mother or my father and I had decided to raise myself for myself. And at that point I was kind of the only person in my world.

Until my late husband.

Maybe with this new experience of myself I will be better able to go forward. We’ll see. I don’t feel exactly like the girl at age 3. I guess there is still some history to bridge.


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