The ‘Victim’, the ‘Critic’ and the Inner Relationship: Focusing with the Part that Wants to Die - Barbara McGavin
I first remember wanting to die when I was about six. And while my attempts were doomed to failure -- holding one's breath or attempting to smother oneself with a pillow doesn't work very well, and perhaps was less than whole hearted (thank god) -- there was within the attempting a sense of there being no hope of real love or contact or understanding from my parents. There was a deep sense that I could not and never would be OK. And I wanted to die -- it seemed the only hope of escape from something that was unbearable and would continue forever.
To survive, I stopped trying to be really me and acted more and more the way they wanted me to be. I turned away, locking my heart away, the essential me always out of reach. Throughout the years that followed, there was respite from these feelings of hopeless despair. Being involved in outer activities distracted me and were even enjoyable in their own right. But I can sense how I was never fully connected with my riding or painting or reading or singing or piano playing. There was always a gap between the 'real' me -- it feels like a physical disconnection at my navel -- and the me who was enjoying all these activities. I could not risk exposing myself. By really being committed to something and putting my heart into it, I risked having the heart of me destroyed. By revealing my enthusiasm for something, really caring about anything or anybody, I was vulnerable to attack. And my father was master of the art of crushing an idea or a feeling or an enthusiasm with just a look or a simple dismissive comment. I mastered my defense; if I didn't really care about anything, nothing he said could really reach me and I couldn't be destroyed. And life went grey. It has taken me years to realize that the breakdown that I had when I was fifteen, makes sense. I was not crazy or bad or inadequate. I made the only choice that I could have made and still stayed alive. I can feel the contempt my father had for me during this time. There was something wrong with me. I was not OK. Even through my seeing a child psychiatrist (who was a nice man but totally useless --- writing this brings tears, as I realize that he was perhaps the first person in years who just let me be without any pressure to speak or explain myself or be different), there was this weight from my father of wanting me fixed, wanting me different, a silent critical, contemptuous, hateful push, push, push...
When I was eighteen I went to another psychiatrist. I was having nightmares and couldn't sleep, I had outbursts of rage, including more than once when I attacked my father and would happily have killed him. I still remember the extreme anger that I felt when I said that my mother was unhappy and the psychiatrist replied, "Don't you think that your mother is happy and it is you who is unhappy?" Years later I found out that only a few months earlier my mother had tried to commit suicide. I felt so unheard; even my grasp of reality was being questioned. I felt so scared that I was 'going crazy' and this person was only intensifying that. And my father and mother were treating me as if I was sick, that it was all me. The sense of shit inside was so strong, and my sense that I could cope with life was so weak. Thoughts of suicide were with me almost constantly.
By the time I was 21, I was convinced that I was useless and was never going to be able to amount to anything. I was weak, crazy, incompetent, lazy, contempt was too good for me. Worms had more value. I was enrolled in a horticultural course at a local college. To get there meant traveling across town every morning (two buses and the subway). There was a railway bridge that we went over and every time we passed it I fantasized throwing myself off. Traveling the subway became more and more difficult. I hugged the wall in fear. There was such a strong feeling that if I let go even for a minute, I would find myself under the wheels of the train. The struggle between the part that wanted to die and the part that wanted to live was so intense. And the part that wanted to die was getting stronger and stronger. (Although this was not how I experienced it at the time. It just felt like it was only a matter of days before I would jump.) I am very clear that if I had not read a small notice on the board at the college that I would not be here today. It was for the counseling service, open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons between 2 and 4. It was 2:30 on Tuesday afternoon. A small, dark, bearded, smiling Jewish man came forward when I asked for Jan Shoicet and my journey back to myself began.