Liminal Space-The In-Between Period From Old To New Self Rebuilding a new self post-trauma healing is a slow process

Currently, I am in a liminal space, an in-between state where my traumatized past self is nearly gone but my new personality is still in development. For years, I was frozen in time, a frightened, helpless 13-year-old.  My personality and sense of self were the product of trauma.

After shedding the many layers of trauma identity we feel a void, of nothingness – who we really are.  This is a tough period of unsureness and doubt. We have to put together pieces that were broken and also create new parts.

It is not easy being in this state of ‘not-knowing’ – unsure’ of who we really are and how to operate in the world.

Liminal Space-The In-Between Period From Old To New Self
Liminal space is the in-between period of transition from old to a new self

This is a time when we need to find new ways of dealing with people and our environment. Or else we could be again get sucked into old patterns of relating which are familiar but could re-traumatize us.

It is an in-between phase where one struggles with making the right choices.  How do I deal with this? What should I do?

Understanding Liminal Space

The word “liminal” comes from the Latin root, limen, which means “threshold.” The liminal space is the “crossing over” space – a space where you have left something behind, yet you are not yet fully in something else.

In architecture, liminal spaces are  “the physical spaces between one destination and the next.” Some examples are hallways, airports, and streets.

In psychological terms, liminal space is a period of growing into something different. The cocoon period where a moth becomes a butterfly.  It is a place of transitioning and evolving.

However, this waiting, and not knowing feels scary and daunting. Will I ever reach my destination is the question that constantly assails us. And all we can do is have faith and patience.

Practicing New Behavior Patterns

Like learning to play a musical instrument, there will be a lot of off-key notes. Our foray into the real world with new beliefs and behaviors can be daunting. Furthermore, it can be easy to slip back into old patterns of relating.

Technically,  our brain is highly resistant to change. It does not like the extra work at firing neurons in a different way. It likes the cool comfort of the familiar – old automatic responses that come easily.   Nonetheless, real change can happen only through repeated practice of new thinking and behavior.

Those of us who grew in dysfunctional families did not learn normal healthy skills in relating with the world. We had to repress our feelings and adjust our behavior to what was expected or else the consequences were dire. We developed a false self that survived but was one that was deeply hurt, feeling not good enough, angry, and resentful. And it was through that lens we related to the world.

Post-traumatic growth is all about finding our real authentic self – what I want, what makes me happy, what are my preferences, what really upsets me, how much do I tolerate, what are my boundaries, etc.

There are so many issues we have work through during re-creating a new healthy identity/personality: Something that should have happened naturally but was thwarted due to our traumatic childhoods.

Some key issues I struggle with are:

1)  Maintaining Boundaries and Managing Conflict:

Saying ‘no’ was never a choice when I was growing up. But now have learned that I have a right to say ‘no’. And neither do I have to give reasons or offer alternatives.

But I still fear having to deal with conflicts, my father was would physically turn on us while my grandmother would go into silent mode. It was traumatizing.

Additionally, my Christian indoctrination makes me feel guilty about this. Also, I fear not being liked or rejected.

Regularly, I have to work at dealing with these issues along with the meta-emotions that arise.  EFT tapping, sound healing music, and listening to youtube videos on boundaries help me get me back into my window of tolerance.

In retrospect, I realize that not setting boundaries does not make someone love you, it only encourages toxic people to take you for granted and treat you with disrespect. And gradually, it erodes your self-esteem. Rebuilding myself has meant working on my boundary setting.

2) Having Idiot Compassion

Caring for a dying mother made me overly tuned into trying to assuage other people’s pain and suffering. Hyper-empathy became my default program. I just could not bear to see anyone hurting and would jump to be of service even when they were mean to me.

Thankfully, I learned deep into my healing journey this arbitrary empathy for undeserving people is ‘idiot compassion. A term coined by Buddhist teacher Pema Chödron:

Compassion doesn’t only imply trying to be good. When we find ourselves in an aggressive relationship, we need to set clear boundaries. The kindest thing we can do for everyone concerned is to know when to say “enough.”

Having idiot compassion has a lot more to do with our own expectations, self-image, and desires and when these are not met we are filled with resentment.

Being cued into this pattern means learning to restrain my encoded habit. Not jumping every time I see someone struggling or in need. And, becoming aware of what I am feeling and why?

I need to help only when asked for and if I am in a position to do so.  Moreover, I cannot fill someone else’s cup when my cup is empty.

I am learning it is not my job to make other people feel okay. I have to take care of myself and my child first. If they feel disappointed with me or are hurt, they have a choice to leave.

3) What and How Much Do I Tolerate

Forgiveness not once or twice but 70X7 times was another faulty Christian belief that was indoctrinated into me. In my childish naivety,  I actually, tried to keep score of the times I was hurt. But after the 10th time, you kind of forget with the counting and automatically acquiesce, adapt and accommodate all kinds of shitty behaviors. Unbeknownst, the program gets imprinted into our subconscious and our mind-body automatically bow in subservience to icky behavior.

I still feel unsure of how to react when someone’s behavior makes me feel uncomfortable. Growing up in an incestuous family where even the women condoned the bad behavior left me feeling confused. For long I pretended that all was okay and went along with the pretense.

But now I know this has to change. I feel a maximum of 2 chances are enough. That’s who they are and call them out on their behavior. I shouldn’t keep quiet. It is important to stand up and fight back.

But how do I react? What do I say? How to say?  Also, knowing when to walk away without worrying about being rude. So much to learn.

Nonetheless, now my new belief system is I  don’t need to tolerate what makes me uncomfortable. And if fighting back is not an option, I must walk away, no need to succumb to my old habit of fawning and making shitty people feel okay. I am an adult I don’t need them to survive.

4) Minimizing/Repressing Strong Emotions

One of the reasons I believe I developed scoliosis was repressing my emotions. I did not know then that emotions are our body’s signaling system that is telling us something does not feel right. Tuning in to the reason for that feeling is key to protecting yourself, both psychologically and physically.

For years after suppressing and trying not to feel I struggle with expressing my emotions. I guess it will take time for it to come naturally. That it is okay to be angry when someone violates you or your values.

Or it is normal to feel hurt when someone does not keep their promise.

I struggle to cope with these difficult emotions when they arise due to interpersonal dynamics. Talking to someone, or sharing on self-help forums/social media have been my go-to coping strategies. I have found Reddit-CPTSD to be a good place for sharing and getting a fresh perspective on my struggles.

Moreso, knowing that one is not alone really helps me get over my programmed shame of feeling what I feeling.  Everyone feels it is normal to feel like this. Feelings are what make us human.

5) Being Needy, Over-Friendly, and Feeling Abandoned

Healing made me realize how deeply I was betrayed which led to having abandoned issues. I so desperately wanted to be loved and accepted. My trauma response was to become a fawner. My trauma identity was being over-friendly and pretending to be overly nice.  This got me into serious trouble, I got into relationships that were disastrous.

I still struggle with being abandoned and have to keep working on my distress tolerance and regulate my nervous system. I am slowly getting to a place where my sense of well-being does not plummet whenever someone does not like me, my clothes, my beliefs, my posts or fails to answer my emails/messages. F**k them.

6)  Gut-Feelings (Intuition) or Trauma Trigger

Living most of my life in a state of hypervigilance I have difficulty accurately casing a situation. Is it truly my intuition guiding me or my trauma triggers in an overdrive. It will take time to correctly make a judgment call – whether to trust someone or not.

Nevertheless, I am learning to be less reactive and tune into understanding my body’s signals. What is my interoception telling me? Am I reliving a past memory or is it my present situation cause for concern?

Currently, I always bounce my apprehensions onto my son, since he does not have my kind of trauma, his assessment is usually reliable.

7) Managing Triggers Without Projection

Most of us from abusive homes were blamed for whatever went wrong in the home. We were scapegoated –  all the blame and responsibility were projected onto us

My father was an expert in blame-shifting. All his inadequacies were projected onto his kids. And subsequently, my brother took on the defense mechanism of the projection. I was responsible for all the shit and him not being able to get married.

Understandably, this can become our learned pattern of behavior. Even though we may be aware, in times of being triggered we unconsciously revert to our childhood patterns of relating. I have done this often with my son. Thankfully, he would fight back.

I am still learning how to stay with my triggers without feeling the need to blame-shift and project these uncomfortable states onto anyone else. Every time I feel triggered, I pause, take a deep breath and try to focus on what the trigger is telling me.

I read somewhere that, triggers are our flashlight pointing to where we need healing. Dealing with our triggers means understanding their origins and releasing the negative emotion associated with that time period. Undoubtedly, healing our triggers brings clarity and wisdom. We begin to live in the present without the past negativity obscuring it.

The Start of Self-Transformation (Understanding Liminal Space)

Creating A New Self Takes Time

Forging a new self/identity is a slow process. Most of us who did not have supportive environments missed out on the usual rites of passage into adulthood.

Sad to say, having to be responsible and repressing my developing womanhood created a warped identity. An overly responsible adult who felt like a child. I had to play house, pretending to be something I  really was not. It is not easy living like this in the real world. Constantly, putting on a fake-adult persona because the real me was still 13 years old.

I feel compassion for that little girl that survived through all that turmoil. Nonetheless,  I am truly grateful for having the opportunity and resources to heal those painful wounds.

I’m not quite there yet. But I am beginning to believe that someday, maybe not too far away, the past will no longer hold sway over me. And will be able to wake up in the morning feeling alive and present. Every day in every way I feel I am getting closer to becoming the new authentic ME.

Image Source: Pixabay

Further Reading:

No Bad Parts: Healing Trauma and Restoring Wholeness with the Internal Family Systems Model – Dick Schwartz

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