It was a breezy September day in 2015. I was walking back from the Dreamforce conference to my office on Montgomery Street in FiDi San Francisco when I sighted an acquaintance of mine.
After exchanging pleasantries, the conversation turned to a subject I dreaded.
“DB really loves you,” she said.
I knew it, I thought. Every time I ran into someone who knew DB, they inevitably asked me about him and tried to guilt me into contacting him.
I met DB when I was twenty-five. Our romance was the stuff of a dark fairy tale. His piercing gazes bore into my punctured soul and filled the gaping hole left by my traumatic childhood.
The intoxication of his attention soothed my ugly duckling syndrome, and my listless soul awoken in the warm glow of his spotlight. That is, until he discovered my imperfections and got bored.
He discarded me for someone else…then spent the next four years trying to rope me back in while carrying on a relationship with her.
For years, I was confused about his behavior. There was a great fissure between how he treated me and the love he kept proclaiming for me. It made me feel guilty for “abandoning” him—even though I knew that he was narcissistic.
Psychologists term this fissure between two different realities cognitive dissonance. All emotionally manipulative people excel at creating this dissonance because it allows them to confuse their victims so that they can abuse without opposition. It’s how they trap others into their web of lies, deceit, and covert aggression.
Gotta hand it to him, DB knew how to manipulate me even from afar. With my cognitive dissonance running high, I blamed myself for not doing enough to keep his interest—yet doing too much and being too clingy at times.
Freud said that our subconscious will attract circumstances that resemble traumas of the past until those events find resolution in our minds.
In exploring the emotional abuse DB brought upon me, I found echoes of my childhood home. My five-year-old self had blamed herself for the sexual and emotional abuse she’d endured at the hands of her family members. So I grew up and blamed myself for other people’s abusive actions.
In the same way that my family gaslighted and called me bothersome when I asked for something I needed, I kept attracting people who mistreated me—then gaslighted me into believing that they were not at fault.
I ignored signs of disrespect and mistreatment until they gradually snowballed into huge roadblocks. Then I would unleash onto my provokers all the hatred I could never allow myself to feel for my siblings and parents.
It was an intricate dance of passivity and aggression that left others confused about my personality. The saturated grief, rage, hatred, and vengeance I buried from my childhood seethed beneath the surface of my unconscious mind.
This unintegrated part of my psyche, this shadow self, trailed me in each waking moment.
I knew of its existence and wanted it surfaced for examination and release, but I didn’t know how. I tried NLP, hypnotherapy, regular talk therapy, and various types of meditation. None gave the improvements I yearned for.
My first major success at shadow work came when I chanced upon a book titled “When Panic Attacks” by David Burns.
Its cognitive behavioral therapy techniques relieved a huge portion of my anxiety, which had been exacerbated due to the unhealthy work culture in Silicon Valley and my shadow self sabotaging my efforts at every turn.
Still, the shame had not been surfaced, and my shadowy twin continued to throw shade at me. Since I was blind to my repressed emotions, I also cast a curtain over the dark traits of others. It was how my five-year-old self dealt with living in a horrific home: by pretending that it wasn’t all that bad.
I lied to myself in the same way she had repressed her knowledge and perception of what had happened to her.
That little girl got frozen in time within my psyche, and her resistance to growing up affected my efforts at entering womanhood. I could not become a woman until I freed her—the kid who did not want to grow up, who did not want to be sexual, who did not want to have power because she feared she would misuse it.
She sealed off my sex appeal because of her belief that she was somehow responsible for her father raping her.
Sex became tied with prostitution in her mind because her father called her a prostitute after he assaulted her when she was eleven. And on separate occasions in her teenage years, her sister said she should become a whore since she had the body features and sensuality to be one.
My younger self had blamed herself for the abuse and believed that she was somehow a bad person for the things that were done to her. She made the adult me feel ashamed of my own sexuality and sense of power.
This shame attracted into my life people who spoke to this part of me that I did not want to own and express. I kept encountering women who used sex to get ahead in life and men who raped me financially and psychologically.
It was as if my subconscious was saying “look! Look at what’s inside of you that still needs resolution.”
And I knew there were things that were unresolved, but the most frustrating part was that nothing ever seemed to fully address these issues from deep within me.
The fog didn’t lift until after I allowed myself to truly grieve for what I lost, what I never had, and what I never will have with my family.
It was the biggest missing piece of the puzzle that none of my therapists emphasized enough: grieving was the most important part of releasing the past so that one could live in the present.
Thousands of dollars on therapy didn’t help as much as reading books that encouraged me to grieve.
Giving my child self space and time to express what she wasn’t allowed to express in childhood gave her the chance to loosen her grip on me. It was okay to cry and express herself now. There wouldn’t be anyone screaming at her when she mourned her losses.
This helped her to see that growing up didn’t equate to getting beaten down and humiliated. It was, in fact, her ticket to freedom—freedom from the tyranny of her family home.
Adulting was not the frightening proposition she once thought it was, because here and now, she would be allowed to have all those things that were withheld from her in the past.
Grieving wasn’t just about releasing emotions or even honoring them. It was about honoring ourselves enough to honestly express our true preferences. It was about staking our claim in this physical world by revealing to it our emotional one, and in the process, helping each world find a way to coexist peacefully with the other.
Once I decided to honor myself by carving out time to grieve, my internal self became more cohesive—more adult.
As I grew more adult within myself, I began to see that my past relationships were destined to fail: for destiny is but the continuation of what’s inside of us. If we cannot see what’s within us and cannot resolve the inherent conflicts borne out of the variety of our life experiences, then it will not be possible to give ourselves the gift of a better destiny.
DB changed my life not by being the love of a lifetime. He changed it by being the mirror I needed to look deeply within.