A Torn Map of the World
Updated: Mar 7
'As children, we start off at the center of our own universe, where we interpret everything that happens from egocentric vantage point. If our parents or grandparents keep telling us we`re the cutest, most delicious thing in the world, we don`t question their judgement – we must be exactly that. And deep down, no matter what else we learn about ourselves, we will carry that sense with us: that we are basically adorable. As a result, if we later hook up with somebody who treats us badly, we will be outraged. But if we are abused or ignored in childhood, or grow up in a family where sexuality is treated with disgust, our inner map contains a different message. Our sense of our self is marked by contempt and humiliation, and we are more likely to think, “He (or she) has my number” and fail to protest if we are mistreated’ (Van Der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score).
The ’torn map of the world’ manifests itself in a variety of situations of your daily life: at work, in an intimate relationship, in your parenting style, in your friendships and your relationship with yourself. You may be engaging in behaviours that are not healthy and even dangerous, but seem to be unable to help yourself. Why can`t you just stop overeating? Why do you find yourself dating a ‘wrong’ guy again? Why do you feel unable to have a meaningful relationship with your children, based on mutual love and respect? Why can`t you stop feeling anxious about seemingly harmless situations? The list of questions is way too long for me to carry on asking.
What do you have to do to start living the life that looks like the one you had imagined for yourself? The answer is simple enough – you have to ‘un-screw’ yourself from all the screwed up stuff you have gone through and are still dealing with. Easy enough right? Wrong. To change things for the better, first of all you must know what needs to be changed.
You might think you do, but nine times out of ten you don`t. Your brain is a sophisticated system that has an important job to do – to protect you from perceived (or real) danger and it would do anything to ensure your survival. It employs various defense mechanisms, such as repression, denial, projection, dissociation, rationalization and a few others. Becoming aware of those defenses and taking them down is a job and a half. Moreover, it needs to be done in a safe environment where you can let your demons reveal themselves gradually, allowing you the time to process and respond appropriately. Some defenses are there to stay for good, depending on how damaging your experiences were as a baby or a young child.
Defense mechanisms are there for a reason. They have kept you going when you needed it. However, relying on them long-term is not healthy for your psychological well-being. This is where all of the ‘unexplained’ stuff comes from, such as hurting yourself knowingly, but being unable to stop it.
What can you do today to start becoming more aware of your so-called programs that were created (most of the time) by the people we relied on as young children?
1. Journaling. Get a notebook and start writing freely, without giving it much thought. Just see what comes out. If you get stuck, write about how you are feeling right here right now. You will be surprised.
2. Breathe. Take a few minutes out of your day to just sit still and focus on your breathing. Just feel what it feels like to be you. Journal about your experience. It will help to reflect on it and learn something new about yourself.
3. Do one new thing regularly (once a day, once a week, or once a month). Take a new route to work, have a different kind of coffee, cook something you haven`t tried before for dinner – anything that would not feel like ‘you’. Notice your reactions and experiences. Get your journal and write it down. When we start a new routine, we may experience resistance. If you stay with it long enough you might get to know yourself a little better. When you know what needs to be changed and how you got to where you are now, you are more likely to know how to make things better.
Those are just a few tips to start readjusting your map of the world. The most important thing is to listen to yourself and pay attention to your experiences in various situations. If you have a habit of neglecting your needs and feelings then I recommend you do something about it right now.