Object Permanence

Each morning I park my car in my son’s school parking lot. I exit the car, put my mask on my face, and open the door to help him gather his belongings as he climbs out. I walk him to the edge of the parking lot, give him a hug and a kiss on the head, and wish him a good day at school. I stand at the edge of the lot as he continues along the crosswalk. Then I walk back to my car. I stand next to my car and watch him as he walks up the pathway to the side entrance where he enters the building. At some point along his path towards the school he always turns around to look for me. I wave my arm in the air, and he waves back. He then continues walking, sometimes turning around again and looking for another wave. I smile even though it is hidden under my mask and he is far enough from me to no longer see the details of my face, and I wave again. I repeat this process as many times as he wishes to turn around on his walk up that path in the morning.

I look forward to this small moment each day. It’s sweet, and it feels bigger than just watching him walk to school. It feels like he is routinely checking to make sure I’m still there for him – to make sure I don’t leave before he is ready – to make sure I don’t turn my back on him. To me these moments are priceless. I know a day will come when he won’t turn around to look for me anymore. Yet regardless of whether he turns around or not I choose to stay and wait while he is in my sight. I never want to be too busy or too preoccupied to remain fully present and connected in these small moments.

Kids are constantly engaged in a dance of stretching their independence and then turning to make sure that their stable base of support is still there. Just as a child grows to achieve the developmental understanding that an object continues to exist even if they cannot see or hear it, in a nurturing sense they also begin to learn that their own safety and care continues to exist beyond the immediate presence of their caregiver. A secure attachment between a child and caregiver enables that child to thrive and spread their wings facing new challenges while feeling seen, supported, and cared for in the process. As a parent that is what you work for – that is what you wish for. I can only hope that is how my son feels.

When a child is sexually abused their stable base of support is dismantled. Instead of turning towards others for safety and security, they learn how to provide those needs for themselves through a variety of coping mechanisms. They learn that trust is a dangerous weapon that can be wielded against them. This can teach them to become guarded, distant, and distrustful of others and of themselves. These are the lessons I learned as a child, and these are the lessons I strive to unlearn through healthier healing connections as an adult.

As I work to connect with and find healing for my inner child I feel much like my son on his walk to school. I feel this regular need from within to check and make sure my support is still there. Yet when I turn around I am unsure of who or what to look for.

One of the many challenges of being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse is learning to become the protective and nurturing caregiver that the internal wounded parts were lacking at the time of the abuse. It’s learning to pay attention and tend to the unmet needs that still exist and cry out from within. Yet here lies the tricky part. As I learned to cope with routine abuse on my own as a child, over the years I adopted a variety of coping mechanisms to keep me going – to keep me alive. Some of these choices like running, art, and music were and continue to be healthy and serve me well. But there are other less favorable choices I have made and at times still make as a result of the pain that was thrust upon me. These choices have created a different type of harm. These choices have constructed a barbed wire barrier where internal connection and trust is required. The aftermath of these choices leaves my entire system incredibly unsteady and unable to fully trust itself. So when my therapist calls upon the nurturing mom in me to tend to and care for these young wounded internal parts, it doesn’t yet feel right. It feels to the young parts that they are being tricked and will just be hurt, ignored, and left alone again.

Can it be okay that these young parts trust the comforting words of my therapist more than my own words right now? Can I stop asking and expecting more than what my own internal system can handle at the moment and just lean into the support and safety that comes from her? Can I help these young parts continue to build trust with her while she works to help and prepare me to take on that task when my system feels more capable of doing so? While the ultimate goal in healing may look different, can it be okay that it is her wave that I turn around and look for right now?

15 thoughts on “Object Permanence

  1. I think it’s perfectly normal doing this kind of work for the young vulnerable parts to be looking back for T. It’s definitely about trying to create some kind of object permanence. It’s lovely that you are consciously and mindfully doing this for your son. 💓

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    1. Thank you. I think each time my therapist tries to bring my nurturing mom parts into the room to help tend to these wounded parts, I start to feel incapable, foolish, and judgy about relying on her so much. I guess it’s just part of the process and requires much more patience and self compassion.

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  2. It all comes with the threat of risk and fear.. We just have to (in time after a lot of work in slowly building as sense of ‘safety) learn to walk through the wall of fear or allow it to slowly crumble as we take in a little more of that sustenance over time.. Just be loving and patient with the hurting part of you.. she needs so much tender holding and en-couragement from adult you..<3

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    1. Thank you for this. I completely agree. I know I lack patience for myself and for healing in general…and I know patience is exactly what I need in order to create space for self compassion and healing connection. I truly appreciate your thoughts. 💕

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      1. But that is what we are shown and learned as we developed. I am coming to see the self rejection of who we really are is pretty much endemic to a lot of traumatized people and maybe even all humans.. At least you can see that now so that is a huge step forward.. I was so touched by the first part of this about your son… my Mum just drove off and left me as I cried screaming at the school gates. when I went to kindy.

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      2. You bring up a great point about self rejection…a very natural byproduct of abuse. Being a parent is my greatest driving force towards healing – to protect my kids from the horrors I faced from others and to protect them from the lasting aftermath that seems to consume from within.
        My heart hurts at your kindergarten memories. It’s moments and memories like this that remind me to stay and wave for my son.

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      3. You have inspired me to write about this.. I hope you dont mind but i am going to embed a link to your post in it.. I will send you a link soon after I post it.

        Your son is so so lucky to have you Sara and I am privileged to share in your journey too..

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