“Patrick,” I said, “It’s like looking in a mirror.” Those were the exact words I replied with to the question my ex-boyfriend asked me shortly after we started having an affair. Patrick had been in my life for two decades. We had intersected in life on so many occasions, like working together for the same company, moving to another state with that company, and attending parties with the same group of co-workers. I even attended his first wedding. The question was, “So what do you think about being my girlfriend so far?”
We had sort of a relationship that was flirtatious in some ways, but yet safe to do so because we never crossed a physical line between us. He was great looking, charming, and the man that every woman wanted to be with. More than anything, he made me laugh, which attracted me to him, because the reality of my personal life was dark. I didn’t often have a reason to laugh, and it felt good. Fun had disappeared from my vocabulary, and my life a long time ago.
Two years after leaving my husband for Patrick our relationship ended in the same way it had started. Emotionally explosive, overly dramatic and painful. Patrick was like a drug to me, intoxicating. He was seductive, intelligent and mysterious. Yet by the time our final nasty words had been spoken to each other, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that what I had fallen in love with was an illusion. But there was something more to it, because there also wasn’t any doubt that his role in my life … was no coincidence.
See, Patrick was the third man in my adult life to show up in a certain way, with specific behavior patterns and characteristics that identically replicated each other. All three of these relationships started in a very dreamy, “thank God I found you” kind of way, and ended in an over-the-top chaotic, destructive fashion. With the middle part slowly, over a long period of time, making me sicker and sicker, emotionally, physically and most damaging …psychologically.
By the time we went our separate ways I had been to countless doctors, numerous therapists, and completed dozens of tests over the course of about five years. Ultimately, I was the one to diagnose me correctly. I had Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD). And what I was experiencing were emotional flashbacks. But how? This didn’t even make sense. I had never been to war. And to the best of my recollection these symptoms had started almost 10 years prior. I later learned that when the right triggers are switched on, and the root of the symptoms go untreated, emotional flashbacks can last for years. Once I realized this, and that I hadn’t been getting the proper treatment for the right thing, I took recovery into my own hands.
I threw myself into the research and recovery. I wanted my life back. I wanted to be happy again. I wanted to feel love again. To feel excitement for life’s pleasures once more. I learned to meditate, to induce self-hypnosis to reprogram the thoughts plaguing my mind, and began diligently doing journal work. I knew that in some way, even prior to fully understanding what happened to me, I had to let Patrick go. Just as I had in some way knew I needed to leave my husband. Later, as the truth was revealed to me, I even let some friends and family go.
Along the path of recovery I came across something called Shadow Work. According to world-renowned psychiatrist Carl Jung, the shadow is the unconscious part of our personality that is mostly negative, and for the most part remains unclaimed by us. Nobody likes to acknowledge the parts of them that are less than attractive. "Everyone carries a shadow," Jung wrote, "and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is."
In other words, the more you deny or ignore it’s existence, the harder it knocks on your emotions to get your attention. Guess what it shows up as? You got it. Anxiety, depression, rage, loneliness and a myriad of other unpleasant feelings.
According to Jung, much of the shadow lies in the depths of our mind below the veil of consciousness. Because of its clandestine-like nature, it’s prone to use psychological projection in order to be seen. This is when you project your own feelings of inferiority onto another in the form of moral judgement or deficiency. So, like a mirror, the people and things you surround yourself with are a reflection of what you believe to be true about yourself. For example, using this concept, I could conclude that the romantic relationships I allowed in my life were reflecting to me that I didn’t believe I deserved better. I had to ask myself, do I really believe that? I hated to admit it, but I did. The next question was … Why?
Core beliefs are downloaded into you at a young age. In childhood. What you believe about the world, about people, about religion and even about love is programmed deep into your mind from birth to 7 years old, and then reinforced by observation through to adulthood.
When raised in an adverse childhood home, the downloaded beliefs are dark and self-damaging. My father was an alcoholic, and I remember living in fear most of my childhood. He wasn’t outright violent most of the time, but the few times he had been, were enough to cause us as children to never want to provoke his temper. Sadly, this also put a distance between us in developing a bond with one another. I rarely sought his comfort. In fact I rarely sought him out at all. The more I remained invisible to him, the safer I felt.
So, how did that affect my core beliefs? Well, even without ever being told this I believed I was invisible and that my feelings, my happiness, my well-being didn’t matter. Don’t you know I ended up falling in love with men that I ultimately felt invisible too. No matter how much money I made, or how attractive I looked, or how well decorated our homes were, it was never enough to be treated as though my well-being mattered.
Upon reflection, I could clearly see how each one of them actually behaved in a way that reflected a deep hidden shame of mine. When you have been traumatized in childhood, you act out in adulthood. I made lots of bad choices and did my own hurtful things to others out of anger and resentment. Hurtful things were done to me. All of these painful memories were re-enacted in my adult relationships. Every. Single. One.
I knew at this point I was onto something. Light bulbs were going off all over the place. I began testing out this concept in all areas of my life. Every day I began to pay close attention to how I was “showing up” in the world. I would take notice of people’s interactions with me. Not just their words, but their tone, their body language and all the other metadata I could detect in the environment I was in. I began to use my entire external world as a mirror in order to identify my wounds, so they could be healed and upleveled.
When a survivor has gotten to the point that they know they are suffering from CPTSD, they have also gotten to the point of noticing how much of their environment, the people around them, and the things they are attached to are hurting them. When a trigger gets tripped, a wave of fear consumes you, and if you’ve lived in abusive situations for a long time, hundreds if not thousands of wounds can come to the forefront. Each time I got triggered I would take a deep breath, look around me, notice I am safe and not in harm’s way, then dig for what belief had been brainwashed into me that needed to be identified and eradicated.
For the first time in my life I stopped running from my pain. I actually walked toward it. I looked in the mirror, stared at my reflection and said to my shadow “OK, this bullshit has to stop, so hear me clearly. I am coming for you, and when I’m done, you will either learn to play by my rules, or I will choke you to death. Until YOU are invisible!”
In the end it would seem that my encounter with Patrick was a divine intervention. I now realize that I had been looking into a mirror … my black mirror. My disgust at what I saw motivated me to punch that mirror right in the face, over and over and over, until there was nothing left but shards of glass scattered around me. Then, like the pieces of my psyche that had been broken in much the same way, I swept up the mess …and threw them away.