Content warnings (click to show)
in-system badness, codependent dynamics, mentions of suicidal ideation
By Phosphor (with input from other Ghosts)
Last updated: 7/14/23
(Please note that this piece was written from the perspective of our system, which is composed almost entirely of adult headmates with highly individual senses of self. This is by no means a claim that other systems should stop taking care of their littles, or that "inner child" therapy and similar ideas are harmful. These experiences were harmful to us not because parenting your inner child(ren) is bad, but because it placed uneven and unsustainable demands upon certain headmates while putting other headmates in the role of "helpless rescue-ee.")
Every so often, I come across a character who just... sparks this keening pain in me. The familiar pain of the lack of a familiar experience - a character who was the parent, or mentor, or [general protective and nurturing figure] we never had.
And, you see, we don't get new headmates anymore. We kind of half-accidentally stumbled into being that way through the work that we've done on ourselves and we honestly prefer it this way, for a lot of reasons. But still there's always a bit of me that's like, haha, wouldn't it be nice if we did have them in our system though? Wouldn't it be nice to have the Parent we never had, in our own literal internal support system?
And then I think about how in college, that already happened, we already tried that, and... it didn't work out.
Without naming them, there were some characters that we were obsessed with for the reason I named earlier - they were the Parent we never had in our life. And, because our plurality was far more volatile then, of course our brain ended up making headmates based on them. We did, to our credit, assure them that they were allowed to be whoever they wanted to be and they weren't obligated to Be those characters.
But the context of why they were created still stuck with them. They still tried to Be what those characters were to the rest of us and the rest of us still looked to them to Be what those characters were. And oh goodness, did day after day of trying to haul screaming and crying and suicide-wanting headmates through self-care and classes and homework burn them out. Especially when said headmates kept also panicking about whether any of this was real or not, and kept making them jump through hoops to "prove" their realness on top of all that.
Supporting, nurturing, and protecting others, in a way that doesn't spiral into codependency... helping someone who's deeply messed up in a way that both keeps them alive and guides them towards self-sufficiency... these are not character traits. These are skills. And they were skills that we lacked. And thus, anyone who formed in our system was no more inherently capable of them than they were of doing gymnastics or speaking Italian or doing any other kind of skill we didn't know.
We did eventually learn how to support each other. But it was a long process. A collaborative process. A still-ongoing process. One of the things we swore when getting our shit together was that we'd never subject anyone to that kind of thing again, not even each other. We would still lean on each other and people outside for support. We would still allow ourselves to be "weak," to struggle and cry, to need things, to take as well as give. To be part of the immense interdependent web of this world. We are well-aware that total self(s)-sufficiency is not a thing that exists.
But we wouldn't make anyone be our Makeshift Parent again if we could help it. Not even each other.
Everyone defines adulthood differently, but for us I'd say it was when we stopped looking for someone else to place all our faith and trust and hope in, and realized that we needed to learn how to place it in ourselves - our own selves.