Editor’s note: This article represents the second of two parts. The first part moves from disconnection to autopilot, then from autopilot to self-awareness.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” —Carl Jung
Complex trauma represents an expected response to ongoing and extreme interpersonal threats, revealing in its process the capacity of a core “Self” to preserve what matters most, even when it means separating from it. Part I of this article framed multiple selves as a natural adaptation to systems in which we must “fit” by placing parts of Self in storage, giving examples of potential self-containment strategies. Part II now moves toward reintegration of what was necessarily preserved while navigating the tunnel of childhood.
From Awareness to Attuned Self-Compassion
After years of automated disconnection and internal judgment, integration is often felt as an awakening, a softening toward what was once perceived as an enemy, a protective hesitance becoming a grateful encompassing. It is felt most profoundly in the surprising arrival of ownership and empathy for Self. The epiphany, or “aha” moment: a recognition that “I am not this intense emotion, nor the judgment of it.” It’s the point at which we realize this “part in exile” has been trying to get our attention, to elicit from us a response it never got from our caregivers. This gives us a chance to feel what it felt, to finally see it, to stop containing it as something evil and instead embrace it and feel with it.
Likewise, the containing part ceases to be perceived as a bully when we realize it has been protecting us all these years, that some part of us believed our core to be so valuable and worthy of protection and preservation. It’s a simple moment of self-compassion (often with a response felt physically), telling Self: “Yes, this did happen. This present feeling is how you felt for so long. I feel it in my body. I get it. You did not deserve this pain nor create it, and I will not punish you or leave you.”
After years of automated disconnection and internal judgment, integration is often felt as an awakening, a softening toward what was once perceived as an enemy, a protective hesitance becoming a grateful encompassing.
“I am too much for others” becomes, for instance, “I have been judging myself as too much in order to contain myself and avoid re-creating the feeling of distance I felt from my father.”
One might realize: “I am afraid of others because I fear myself.” Or: “I depend on others because I have abandoned myself.” Or: “My emotions grow and overwhelm precisely because I try to diminish and dismiss them.”
In the experience of abuse and neglect, these are the missing ingredients: attunement and compassion, allowing a moment of empathy for that contained part, that child who was hurt, who reacted the only way a child could. And a recognition in that moment of empathy: “All of this pain is also me, and everything that matters most in me has been preserved.”
From Compassion to Integration
Healing comes through integration, balancing of extremes, an olive branch offered between “enemies,” an internal dialogue of acceptance and compassion. It requires access to some part of Self that can simply observe—some witness able to watch our thoughts and emotions without landing in them, without becoming them. (This is where mindfulness comes in.)
When we know each part—when we can observe without judgment and treat it with compassion—it has no reason to polarize or amplify. It calms and centers. It synchronizes. It trusts our own core.
Many people, when imagining some part of Self as a child outside of their body—experiencing that child’s life, feeling their feelings—notice an internal stirring, even a release, recognizing that as they are empathizing and speaking compassionately to a child outside of Self, they are also landing in their own child part, hearing their own words of compassion, and feeling accepted.
This internal love—acceptance and appreciation without judgment—changes the entire experience of living.
Intentional self-compassion offers release from all these arbitrary rules we’ve carried. It’s a chance to experience both freedom and connection simultaneously, internally, knowing that as we navigate the countless systems of the world, external integration echoes internal.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.