We are all multiple, and so are the people who hurt us

This morning was a rare one, everyone in my little family home for breakfast. I cooked pancakes and realised my heart is never so full as when we are together. My girls are so precious to me, I feel warm, strong, fierce, joy-sadness when I’m with them. Their happiness is my happiness and their hurts break my heart. It breaks and mends over and over.

I am different with them. There’s a theory about the ‘self’ which states that who you are is not a fixed thing, like a rock or a plant. It’s a unique dynamic. That ‘self’ is what emerges in relationship with another. So each ‘self’ in each setting, each relationship, is slightly unique, and has aspects that may differ from all others. This is both separate to and part of multiplicity. I experience this in both which parts are brought out and also the different selves we all have. This is an aspect of multiplicity which is universal to all of us.

This dynamic also goes in two directions. We ‘hook’ each other into roles. When I feel young I bring out the parent in you, and vice versa. You may recoil from my aloofness or warm to my charm. Relationship dynamics bring out age old stories and patterns between us. They move us deeper into the grove of who we have been accustomed to thinking of ourselves as being, or bring to light new aspects of ourselves we had forgotten or didn’t know were there.

This curious TED talk “Rethinking Infidelity” explores the idea that being in search of a self we have lost for a long time is an aspect of why we are unfaithful to each other. (jump to 9.30 if you want to skip to this part) That in time we put away the parts of ourselves that don’t fit with our partner and community. And a new, different person can bring to light a self that makes us feel more vital and alive than we have in years. Unable to see that this is a normal challenge of navigating community – finding the balance between the social homogeneity and the wild individual – we embrace the new person as a salvation and shatter everything we’ve build and loved until now. And then we do it again.

It isn’t that we are looking for another person, but for another self.

Esther Perel

Integrity is about the threads of beliefs and values we hold through these transitions. The nature of universal dissociation is that it is entirely common to have three beautiful relationships and one in which we are horrifically abusive. Some nazi guards came home from violence and were loving to their families. A man may be kind to his children and friends and brutal to his wife. A mother may love three children and hate and abuse the fourth. When you think of self as one static thing this is horribly confusing and we keep trying to understand which story is true and which self is real – the kind or the vile. When they are understood as both true, real, genuine, there’s both a kind of devastation and a relief in being able to hold them equally in mind. No longer are they different sides of a coin that cannot be viewed at the same time, they are different aspects of the same person and both true.

So the abused person who struggles to find their way to the ‘truth’ of their situation – wrestling with competing stories of who their abuser ‘really’ is, finds a way out by embracing the whole of them. They are both Jeckyll and Hyde. They are sweet, wounded, sincere, and savage. It’s all real, inasmuch as any self is real. You cannot have a relationship with only one of them, however wonderful they are and however much you adore them. And you cannot soothe the savage ones through further abasement, sacrifice, and suffering. Until and unless the sweet ones take responsibility for the savage ones, they will continue to let their demons take their pain and rage out on you, debasing and destroying you both in the process. In some cases the savage selves use the sweet selves as little more than bait to trap the people they envy and wish to harm.

Some relationships – and these are the precious ones – help us be our best selves. With my girls I have the opportunity to parent, mother, mentor. There’s a groundedness and centredness I feel in that role that I treasure. An opportunity to be someone I have always wanted to be. I am incredibly lucky to have the chance to help them grow up and find who they are.

Love & Narcissism

I’ve touched before on my dissatisfaction with our cultural ideas around romantic love, in posts such as Being in Love. Considering my personal experiences of attachment issues, loneliness, abusive relationships, and being stalked, I’ve done a lot of thinking about love in my life. It’s certainly clear to me that we get confused about love and obsession and often tangle the two together – one doesn’t have to watch a lot of romantic comedies (or kid’s movies!) to find examples of that. This confusion has certainly cost me dearly at times, when I thought that I was rewarding persistence, or that if the other person felt so strongly about me then maybe they were seeing some possibility for us that I’d missed.

Narcissism is another quality that we get confused with love, and tangle into our romantic relationships. I’ve been dating Rose for over a year now, and it’s wonderful and life changing and unforgettable and sometimes damn hard work. (for both of us, not that she’s hard work, but that our relationship is hard work) Considering that I’m a multiple, that we each have trauma histories, and that we’re gay (ie vulnerable to issues such as prejudice, judgement, and ignorance from our communities), this is entirely to be expected. Sometimes I find it helps to remind myself of a truth it’s easy to forget: that Rose was not put here on this earth to become my perfect partner.

She is in fact an entirely separate person, with her own journey. That her path and mine have crossed is joyful and wonderful. That she has tremendous skills in supporting and loving another fierce, dark, vulnerable person is something I’m grateful for. That she has wonderful qualities of compassion, loyalty, and honesty is something I admire. But when I’m scared for us and how vulnerable our little family is (on so many levels, financially, socially) or how vulnerable I feel at times when the skills she lacks (or we both lack, like budgeting), or her choices are not what I’d have chosen in my perfect partner, it can be hard to remember that that is not actually her role in life. It is also a liberating realisation, because it likewise frees me from trying to fit or be fitted to an idea she has in her head about her perfect partner. We each of us are free to be who we are, and then to engage compassionately with the ways in which that can be hard or painful at times, and to rejoice in the unexpected blessings that a partnership between equals who are different and who are free can bring. Sometimes I think one of the greatest challenges in life is learning how to afford others the freedoms we so deeply crave for ourselves.

So we live alongside these ghosts, these dreams of idealised partners. We learn skills and take responsibility for the times we hurt each other. We build a relationship together that’s deeply passionate and loving, and also values freedom and authenticity. We celebrate not only our similarities but also our differences. We work to be good partners, a good team, to bring wonderful things to each other’s lives. But we breathe beyond that role and we live outside of that relationship also. Our lives remain our own. Love is not the key that locks the trap. There’s something frightening, but also profoundly exciting about not writing our partners into our own life story as supporting characters and trying to make them into our best version of them, but respecting and honouring that they star in their own story, that they are separate, and that for a time we are privileged to share their life and know their love.