Chair Girl (the name I call the vulnerable and scared little girl who lives inside me) is an elusive, skittish little kid. I named her Chair Girl because when I’m in therapy I usually have her “sit” in the extra arm chair to my left, and talk to her there. I picture her as being about 6 – 8 years old, which is around the time life became too painful for her to bear. She began to go into hiding around that time (or more accurately, I sent her there).
But she never went away. She’s always been a part of me, but a part of me I found shameful and embarrassing. I began to dissociate from her over the next few years, trying to deny her existence.
Sometimes she’s a bit older, around 10 years old; on occasion she is of preschool age — about 4 or 5. When she “sits” in the big black chair, she looks so tiny there, as if the chair is going to swallow her up. She does little kid things, like swing her legs and wiggle, twirl her hair around her small finger and fidget. She’s very cute but has a scared and wary look like a feral animal — or a deer caught in the headlights. Her eyes seem way too big for her pale little face.
Sometimes she’s willing to come out of hiding and talk about the way she feels. I have noticed lately when I’m “her,” I speak in a 6 – 8 year old’s voice. My therapist speaks to her in what I can only describe as a “dad” voice. Sometimes he even calls her sweetie. She likes that and knows it’s sincere. My therapist told me he really likes Chair Girl and wants to get to know her better, but she’s still very shy and not always willing to come out. Sometimes I feel like I have to coax her out, but it doesn’t always work.
It’s harder to penetrate the emptiness and painful emotions inside me when I can’t bring Chair Girl out. It’s like trying to speak or feel through a thick filter. Even when I can describe the feelings I don’t actually feel them. When I’m in my normal adult-mode, I intellectualize these feelings and talk about them matter of factly, as if I’m discussing someone else. I can’t release the trauma or work with the emotions unless I can actually feel them.
That’s why Chair Girl is so important to me. I used to hate and be ashamed of her, but I’ve developed some empathy and even love for her, and am beginning to see her wonderful and positive qualities, and the ways she can help me heal and grow as a person. She has gifts, but was never shown how to use them. Instead, she was shamed for them. I became ashamed of her and sent her into hiding until she rarely came out anymore.
I’ve apologized to her for sending her into exile, and for devaluing her. I told her I love her and want us to have a healthy and loving relationship but asked her to be patient with me.
When she does come out in my sessions, I usually get emotional. Sometimes I even cry because of how sorry I am and how much I regret treating her the same way my parents and others during my childhood did. I cry over the lost years, a life blighted and stunted because of my refusal to accept her as she is. But sometimes I shed tears of happiness too, that we’ve found each other again, even if it’s only sometimes.
Last week’s session was frustrating because Chair Girl didn’t come out of hiding until the last five minutes. There’s not much work we can do in those few short minutes. Afterwards, I told her that she shouldn’t be afraid, that she is in a safe place and will not be hurt during our sessions. She will only be validated and loved.
Even though she’s so elusive, Chair Girl is learning things and gaining confidence. All she wants is to love and be loved for herself, without condition. She wants to play and have fun and have friends and learn about the world and people. She wants to help other people who suffered the same kind of trauma she did. She loves animals and nature and books.
She wants to be able to use the high sensitivity she was born with, and through me beginning to show her the empathy she never received (this felt awkward and fake at first but it’s getting a lot easier and more natural now), she’s slowly learning how to use her gifts instead of being so ashamed of them. She’s finding out what a powerful and beautiful little person she is and that she has the ability to heal us both by bringing us together for good.