None of us want to have behaviors that don’t serve us! Yet we’ve all still got some, right? What if it turns out it’s simply a part of us driving those choices and behaviors – not all of us?
“Call 911!” screamed the woman through her open window as she frantically drove past me as I walked my dog. I stopped and looked back at her, readying myself to follow her orders, but unclear why I was calling 911 – until she stopped and got out of her car. Tears were streaming down her panicked face, swelling and bruising already forming around her eyes. And I suddenly understood a bit more and quickly placed the call.
I’ll leave out many of the details I went on to learn simply to protect her privacy. What I will say is that it became clear this wasn’t a first for this battered woman standing in front of me. Her partner was the person who’d inflicted the injuries. He’d done it many times before and I could sense her utter despair even while understanding how impossible it can feel for a person to leave an abusive relationship despite how badly a part of her may want to.
You see, I was in an abusive relationship myself many years ago. It wasn’t physical abuse, but emotional and verbal. Before that experience, my understanding of the abused partner who remains in the relationship was something I only understood on an intellectual level. But I also secretly assumed those abused women simply needed to be stronger and leave.
And then that woman was suddenly me. And no matter how many times I ended things, part of me always made the choice to go back over the course of that relationship that lasted many months. Why? Because my sense of self shrank in the face of the abuse. I felt smaller and smaller. My strengths became buried as my sense of helplessness grew. I fell into this distorted perspective that if I could just figure out the right way to navigate this relationship, things would get better.
Those who loved me watched in surprise as I moved through many months of this abuse. I repeatedly told my friends it was over. Because I wanted it to be. I needed it to be. But again and again, that other part of me made the choice to return, which only deepened my shame.
As I stood beside this woman as she wept in her car last evening, I suddenly felt a strong urge to hold her hand. I asked if this would be okay while we waited for the police to arrive. Her hand landed in mine in one fell swoop. You see, not only does this woman hear the relentless, belittling messages from her abusive partner, but I have no doubt she’s also judged by so many others and herself because she keeps going back. Yet underneath it all, I suspect she’s desperate to be accepted for exactly where she is in this moment.
Here’s the thing. We EACH have parts of us that lead us toward behaviors that don’t serve us. Yes, for this woman, it’s abuse. For others, it may be poor self-care. Or maybe it’s overeating or excessive alcohol consumption that repeatedly and negatively impacts health. Perhaps it’s couch potato behaviors that keep showing up. The list could go on.
But you know what else we have? Other parts of us that DO long for healthy, functional, safe, balanced, fulfilling lives, whether it’s related to our relationships, our bodies, or something else altogether.
And this woman I met last night reminded me of this. It’s likely she also has that part of her that longs for a safe, healthy, functional, fulfilling life. Yet it’s so easy for a cloak of shame to quietly convince a person that they don’t get to have that. And that they might not even deserve it in the first place.
This is why I held her hand. To remind her of her God-given right to feel loved. And accepted. Exactly where she is. In the mess. In the grief. In the confusion. In her choices. And in her helplessness.
Why did this feel important to me? Because it’s so much harder to tap into and nurture the part of ourselves that longs for health when we feel shame about the part of us that’s fighting against it.
None of us wants to choose behavior that doesn’t serve us! But that doesn’t change the fact that we all have parts of us that still make those choices. And judging those choices leaves little room for us to become curious about what’s driving those parts of us to make those choices in the first place.
After some time, the police arrived and the next steps were decided. When it was time for me to depart, I once more reached for her hand and quietly said to her, “Honey, you deserve to feel safe. I want you to know that you deserve to feel safe.” I watched these words slowly sink into her. And what had been tears of shame appeared to momentarily transform into those of recognition.
Do I know what will happen to this woman? No. Of course, a part of me wanted to save her and make her get the help she needs. And while I did make sure she wrote down the phone number for a local domestic violence agency, another part of me knows that it’s her journey and she has to be ready.
And that’s the truth for all of us. We can’t make those changes that feel so hard until we’re ready. And judging the parts of us that repeatedly make those choices only increases the shame we feel. But when we approach those parts of us with an ounce of curiosity, even if the shame is still present, the possibility of change is quietly born.
So whatever unwanted behaviors you’re navigating in your life, consider the possibility that it’s simply a part of you driving those choices and behaviors – not all of you! Become curious about why that part feels convinced those are the best choices. What is this part afraid will happen if it doesn’t make those choices?
You see, curiosity opens the door to greater understanding. It makes room for these parts of us to update their beliefs. It makes it possible for real change to unfold as compassion takes the helm instead of shame.
This is what my unexpected interaction with this sweet woman reminded me of last evening. And it seems only right for me to pass this reminder on to you, too. ❤️
P.S. Know a loved one or friend who is looking for relief in THIS moment? Share my free MICRO-MOMENT RESET with them so they can move into relief, feel more ease, and find more clarity without having to work so hard to make it all happen.
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Emily Colwell, MSSW, ND
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