Since I was a 13-year-old spending recesses in the schoolyard composing poems inspired by my turbulent home life, I’ve been passionate about storytelling. My career has centered on telling thousands of stories about the interplay between economics, politics and financial markets in developing countries. I also love blogging about the ways the spiritual tradition of Islam, or the act of surrendering oneself to the Divine, unfolds in my life.
Some may say writing comes naturally to me, that it’s my calling. But not me.
Each time I sit on my worn out brown-leather couch staring at the blank Word document on my laptop, I’m overwhelmed by a feeling that this time, I will fail. The same happens when I start almost every editing assignment I get at work, day after day, year after year: a gnawing sensation consumes me that this time, I will disappoint. This time, my efforts will not be good enough.
Self doubt is a glaring, ever-present demon in my life. It creeps up on me in the form of a sharp constriction in my upper chest in scenarios as mundane as whether the friend I’ve invited for dinner will be disappointed by the restaurant I’ve chosen — even if it happens to be a favorite. I’m sometimes so fearful of disappointing others that I feel unreasonably responsible for things that are out of my control, like the weather.
I’d long presumed the excessive lack of confidence that lurked just beneath the surface was an inherent flaw in me; until, that is, I became aware several months ago that I suffer from a condition known as Complex trauma.
Complex trauma is a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, only rather than resulting from a one-off psychological shock, it arises due to repeated, prolonged exposure to different forms of abuse, usually beginning in childhood. In researching the condition, I’ve learned how common it is. Wounds are often inflicted unwittingly and it’s easy to be oblivious to the toll they’ve taken on our psychological and spiritual health.
Working with a psychotherapist who uses a Sufi-influenced approach to treatment that regards the essential nature of clients as spiritual, I’ve come to learn that the emotional injuries inflicted in my youth caused me to split myself into pieces to survive. I denied and subjugated the parts that didn’t fit the image of what I was told I should be, among them: happy, not sad; obedient, not rebellious; calm, not angry.
Because of this, my traumatized younger self was not nurtured or validated enough to feel secure. It is as if, over time, she became locked in a limbo between my past and present; a dark place within my psyche where she hid petrified and underdeveloped as everything around her began to change. I became an adult, the stakes in my life became greater and I unconsciously began to drown out her cries and unrequited needs.
I didn’t realize until now how often this young girl manifests in my life. She’s the part of me that’s so…