Stabbed, pummeled and stomped them into the ground. Blew them up in fiery explosions.
I’ve stood in victorious glee over their corpses, even though those bodies were sometimes members of my own family.
And, believe it or not, this was an act of the greatest compassion. Let me explain…
Of course I didn’t actually kill anybody! I’ve never even been in a physical fight of any kind in my life.
The most important thing to understand first is, that when it comes to trauma (and sometimes even when there’s no trauma involved at all), most of us have more of a relationship with an internalized version of people than we do with the actual people themselves.
Unless a person is a total stranger, we will usually have preconceived notions and memories about them – and even if they are a stranger we may have preconceived notions about their “type”, be it their skin color, religion, political party or other.
There is a great story about the Buddha that goes something like this….
A king and queen heard tale of this spiritual leader that had emerged, and about the work he was doing helping people learn to meditate. They decided to see for themselves what the fuss was all about and so travelled to where the Buddha was teaching, that they might learn from the great master.
They followed his instruction and passed through the many days of self-examination that he led them on and, at the end of those days, the Buddha called them together and asked them what they had learned.
The king looked at his wife and the queen looked at her husband and they both told each other that what they had realized, upon deep examination, is that they didn’t actually love each other. They only loved the versions of the other that they had created within themselves.
So often this is the case.
It makes sense, even though it isn’t particularly useful or truthful, to create a version of someone within us that we can “depend” on. This internalized version may even be monstrous, but it will at least be dependable, and a dependable monster can actually feel safer than the unpredictable, changeable nature of real people.
These internalized avatars can then become a permanent fixture within us, regardless of whether or not the actual person is present, or not.
Then we expect the other to behave in certain ways that support these preconceptions. Then, when the actual person’s behavior doesn’t support the avatar we’ve built in ourselves all hell breaks loose and we feel we’ve been betrayed. But the only thing that has been betrayed is our own expectations.
When a child is growing up in an atmosphere of abuse, where the caretakers are misattuned, or absent, or violent, or chronically stressed, it is almost impossible to avoid creating this internalized version, because as children we actually DO need our caretakers to be dependable, reliable and sure.
Sometimes these avatars may be an idealized version of the caretaker that does not have the flaws and/or abusive behaviours, or it may be a monstrous version that is actually more dangerous than the real person – usually they will exist in some form of extreme.
Then, once we grow up, these internalized idealized versions may keep us blind to big problems with the other’s behaviour, or they may become the internal critic who is behind the negative self-talk and persistent voices of self-hatred, or violent thought loops and fantasies about hurting others that we can’t seem to stop.
They can be in the somatic feelings of shame and unworthiness, the feeling that we are somehow “not enough”, that we don’t belong, or don’t deserve to be seen.
They can show up as the inner-directed violence that becomes depression, and the constant unseen threat that is anxiety.
They also have nothing whatsoever to do with the actual person.
Even though our abusers actually did DO those things, they are also fundamentally wounded, suffering people who didn’t know how to NOT re-enact the abuse or neglect that they themselves were subjected to. They are not monsters, simply humans who have not gotten the support and resources they needed to work their own stuff out.
A lot of trauma work stops with this viewpoint. When a trauma survivor can get to the point where they recognize that their abusers were only passing on what they had received, that they were simply flawed humans struggling to find their way, when they can actually feel compassion and understanding for the ones that did them harm, this is considered a great victory and it’s often where the work stops.
And this is an important step, but unfortunately it does nothing to address the internalized version of that person that we’ve created in ourselves. This is where this very tricky and powerful work of annihilation comes in.
Before we go any further into this, realize this…. When it comes to responding to threat, your nervous system does not have compassion.
The wiring responsible for self-protection does not have mercy. Think of a mama bear defending her cubs from a cougar. She is not going to consider whether or not the cougar had a good childhood. She will kill. That is what her nervous system is wired to do and she doesn’t have a highly developed neocortex to get in the way.
Our nervous system is the same, but we do have a big ‘ol brain that gets in the way.
We do feel compassion and mercy and so we should! We need to have understanding and empathy for our fellow humans, often (but not always) even those that caused us harm – as I said, this is an important step. AND, we also need to let the full force of our pent-up rage and violence descend upon our internalized abusers with devastating and ruthless force.
We need to destroy our internal monsters so that they can’t hurt us anymore and, especially if our abusers are people that we still need to see and interact with, so that we can have actual relationships with those actual people in a way that doesn’t trigger us into total rage or collapse.
Please note that this may not be possible to do at all if there is still tremendous charge around whatever happened!
The following is pretty advanced work and I actually hesitate in sharing this at all. Yet, there are so many people walking around with internalized monsters that are slowly sucking the life out of them that my intuition is that sharing this exercise will do more good than harm. But please be aware that this is hard work.
If you feel overwhelmed already, if your pulse is already elevated or if you feel panicky in some way, if your breath is rapid or shallow or you just feel uncomfortable in some way, then please stop now and just sit with what you have already read for a while. Maybe read the rest of the article tomorrow.
Ok, if you feel ready to give it shot, try this….
Very often, the first step in doing this is differentiating between the real person and our internalized version of that person.
One caveat – this first step may only be important if you are someone who is scared you may hurt the other person energetically by doing this process, or if the person concerned is someone that you still are in relationship with in some way, or still have to see on occasion, like a family member, spouse, or co-worker. If the person who hurt you was a stranger that you’ll never see again, and/or of you already understand that you can’t hurt the other person by doing this internal work, then this step may not be so important, or it still might be worth a try if it makes you feel safer about what comes after.
See if you can imagine whoever it was that hurt you in a way that I’m going to call, “outside of time”.
You know what they look like, but see if you can imagine what they may have looked like, or been like, as a kid. What would they have been like if they had gotten all that they needed as a kid? What were they like in their best moments? See if you can get a sense of their fundamental essence that exists, eternally, outside of this particular slice of space-time – what is their color, their texture, their nature?
See if it’s possible for you to imagine their best possible self, because that is most likely closer to who they really are, outside of all the wounding they’ve experienced.
Once you get a sense of this more amorphous kind of soul bubble, see if you can imagine that bubble floating somewhere outside of yourself. See if you can imagine it simply floating in space somewhere, at peace.
From here on, if you feel your sense of unconditional love, compassion, understanding, or mercy starting to rise up, THIS is where you can direct that energy. Send it to that eternal, floating soul bubble and know that it’s going to where it needs to go.
Now, let yourself remember the hurt. Remember some of the really painful experiences that the person put you through and notice the image of the person that arises in your consciousness. Notice the feelings in your body – the constriction, sickness, numbness, disgust, or rage. Let all those feelings connect with the image of the person that arises from these memories.
Now see if you can notice these two different versions of the person. Go back and forth. Sense and feel that floating soul bubble outside of yourself, then sense and feel the dark, scarier version inside yourself. Back and forth, back and forth. Really notice the difference.
Ok, now let yourself understand that the scary hurtful version inside you IS NOT THEM. That is the avatar of them you have made in yourself, that is the monster sucking your energy, and making you feel afraid. It is NOT them.
If you can make this distinction and identify in your body and mind the different felt sense of these two experiences then bravo! You have a made a huge step in freeing yourself and that is probably plenty of work for now.
Feel free to stop here. If you feel lightheaded or disconcerted or uncomfortable in some way, then maybe come back to this exercise again tomorrow or the next day, keep noticing how you can notice the distinction between the internalized monstrous version and the eternal, best-self soul bubble version, and know that the actual human concerned, the one that has been your focus – in day-to-day reality they are probably somewhere in between these two versions.
Remember to pay attention to the slow unfolding of energy as detailed in the instructions in the Healthy Aggression article.
Do not force it.
Please read through the following completely before actually trying any of it. Then give it a go.
Read through the Healthy Aggression article again and when you get to the part with practical exercises, do them with the yucky, scary, internal version of your abuser in mind.
Let the snarl be directed at them. If sound emerges let it be directed at them – imagine that sound as fire that you can breath on them.
When you use the towel, imagine that it their neck you are twisting and breaking. Feel the strength in your hands, hear the bones breaking.
These specific exercises are just to give you a starting place, now consider what else you might like to do to those bastards. Blow em up? Stab them over and over again? Melt them with laser beams from your eyeballs. Your body knows.
When you feel compassion and mercy start to rise up to stop this process remember to direct it to their eternal self that is outside of you, then resume annihilating the internalized version with murderous glee.
Eventually, what we are going towards is for you to have the felt experience of standing victoriously over the beaten, bruised and bloody body of your internalized abuser. To really see their expressions of horror, helplessness and defeat, and feel the animal sense of triumph that the mama bear has when she successfully defends her little ones.
With this work you are actually defending and liberating your own internalized little one, the one who couldn’t defend him or herself at the time, when whatever it was that happened, happened. That younger you (the one who, incidentally holds your magic, your life energy, your purpose) has been waiting for the opportunity to let out all the self-protective aggression that has been sitting inside you; stifled and misdirected and making you sick.
This is hard work.
It goes against a lot of what we have absorbed from spiritual teachings about being compassionate and forgiving. But remember, even though the actual person who hurt you is a human being too, and even though they do deserve all those higher qualities, this isn’t actually about them. It is about the facsimile of them that exists in your own psyche and physiology. And that son of a bitch deserves no mercy whatsoever.
Be merciful and compassionate towards yourself by allowing yourself to annihilate these internal demons. Believe me, the real, actual people will not be harmed. In fact, when we destroy a monstrous version of someone else that we have built up inside ourself, it actually frees up the real person a bit because we are no longer holding the projections on them that they are that monster.
It creates healing for all parties involved, and the only thing that is destroyed is something that was never actually real to begin with.