On Thursday May 11th I made perhaps the biggest, bravest step of my life so far. I told my family truth for the first time publicly. I have survived it, contrary to any limiting beliefs, and would like to now share the story that has been the foundation for my one-woman show at this years Brighton Fringe.
This is my talk – in my Voice
When I was 23 I told my mother I was giving up modelling, something I’d done since I was 17, and was going to study Psychology. In her horror she said ‘why do you always have to analyse everything?’ I said ‘because no one I know is investigating the fat elephant in the family room!’
It was a clear moment of permission for myself. 25 years later, on March 24th 2016, I decided to fully accept that permission.
Who I am today
I’m Vikki Parker.
I’ve taught drama in schools for 15 years. I’m an actor, a singer, a writer, a director and an artist.
I founded a company called Arts Unwritten that develops new writing for theatre about personal journeys in performance. I collaborate with movement and visual artists to create poetic storytelling in beautiful and healing ways.
I have written a new one-woman show called ‘Voice’ that I’ll be performing in the Fringe at the end of this month. I’ll be telling you more about that later.
I also have an exceptional ability to pretend that everything is not only fine, but is apparently ‘so amazing’ that I’ve even fooled myself.
I’m here tonight to talk about why I learned to do that, and how damaging the consequences are when this is your go to survival skill.
My father has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. My late mother was co-dependent, depressed and suicidal and always ill. I no longer have any contact with him, or my brother or 99% of my extended family. I have chosen this.
A narcissist is someone who has rejected their true self, believing it to be worthless, bad and unacceptable. In their striving for an existence they have developed a false self that is only sustained via external sources. They have split off the true essence of who they are and can no longer sustain themselves or their own self worth for themselves. They need other people to validate their existence. It’s not a whim. It’s a survival strategy. It is a very sad disorder even though it manifests itself in truly terrifying and manipulative ways.
My childhood was a heady cocktail of emotional chaos and shifting realities. A cycle of idolisation and diminishing. An expectation of forced loyalties. A silent, daily, non-verbal reinforcement of the subtle contract between the abuser and the abused.
I was 3 years old when my mother had an affair. I witnessed my father begin his path of destroying my mother’s mind as he relegated her to 2nd class citizen. If he was going to let her stay… she would pay. I witnessed her letting him do that. The unspoken, but very real expectation of my role was clear. She was no longer useful. I would replace her. I would be his champion. I would be his princess. I would be his captive source of ultimate, pure-grade supply. It would be my job to make him feel special.
I learned about betrayal from both my parents. It took me a long time to realise how much I betrayed myself, daily, as an adult.
I learned about lies, revenge, punishing silences, being mocked and being humiliated.
I learned that outside of the house people thought my parents were amazing.
I learned about what generosity, kindness and empathy could ‘look like’
I learned I lived in 2 worlds.
I learned that my intuition was to be ignored at all costs.
I learned to play the game.
I learned that no one can be trusted.
I learned that the world was not safe and that I was alone.
Unless I complied.
The guilting and threat of abandonment writes its legacy on the nervous system.
If there is no way to fix, calm, soothe or escape, then the survival mechanisms of the brain remain on high alert. Hypervigilant. And it’s exhausting.
People who suffer consistent trauma never make a narrative of their life because in their mind, they left. Anguished memories assault and finally divide the self.
When a self is marinaded in the lies of others, you watch life, not knowing that YOU are allowed to live it.
The developing child is supposed to be answering-
Who am I?
What can I do?
What can’t I do?
What am I good at?
Do I matter?
Do I have impact?
Am I loveable?
The impact of chronic, persistent interpersonal violence on this process is staggering. It literally alters the brain chemistry. I am fascinated with this.
Shame develops, and acceptance of blame. Children think egocentrically so they think it’s their fault.
I didn’t develop the skills to self-soothe or regulate normal emotions and impulses. I couldn’t modulate anger, I acted out a lot as a child. I had massive tantrums. I also went to bed worried all the time. The only way to get away is in the mind. Through dissociation.
To dissociate means to be out of your body. To observe life from afar and to disconnect. You are no longer there.
Dissociation prevents processing in the here and now. It leaves you without a narrative. It leaves you open and you literally don’t notice when people aren’t treating you well. But at the same time when you are hypervigilant you are literally trying to process all of the sensory information you are being overwhelmed with. You don’t miss anything that could spell danger. Even if it’s not danger.
There are no files in the brain of a child’s mind who is traumatised, where their whole story can be accessed and understood. It is stored all over the place, in partial memories, sensory information and associations.
If you tell me it’s safe here, why would I believe you if my body is telling me otherwise?
Meditation & yoga… first time I ever had a quiet body
We are stuck until we wake up and push through the fog.
You can only attract what you feel about yourself.
My healing journey – How did it start?
So what did my stuck self look like?
Obsessive thoughts, anxiety, depression, destructive romantic relationships, self-harming, will o the wisp, elusive, evasive, defensive, argumentative, combative, and surrounded by people who were abusive in some way. At the same time as being academically successful and holding down a challenging job with teenagers in London’s East End. Working on autopilot all week and crying at the weekend. My external world literally mirrored the way I thought I should be treated. And I treated myself the worst of all.
The Rabbit Hole is what I call the lost place I go to, the depths of despair and blackness, rocking, picking at myself and disappearing into other worlds, especially my addiction to TV. I’m talking 10 hour marathons, regularly.
I have also lost myself in shopping, creating debt, and also in food and alcohol.
I’ve spent a long time trying to work out how to ground myself and how to be in my body.
I’ve also spent a long time running away.
Since I started questioning I’ve learned a lot about myself and other people through –
Psychology & travelling. India especially.
Living in China & Japan.
Institute for Arts in Therapy (IATE) training & therapy
Reflexologist & Reiki Master training
Psychic work / Archetypes
Melanie Tonia Evans – The Narcissistic Abuse Recovery expert.
My journey so far has taught me that I’m –
A recovering Codependent
I have a difficult time holding onto myself in the presence of others and their moods.
Anticipates the needs of others
Appeases others and people please
Anticipate the emotional response of others
Waits for others to validate them
Waits for permission to feel their feelings
On an energetic level all of this attracts people whose agenda is NOT to see you or hear you and keeps you on the hook seeking their validation. A narcissist knows when you are willing to put yourself last. Anyone who wants to manipulate or treat others badly knows where to look for this type of easy target.
I wonder how many people here know that story.
Have you looked at who you surround yourself with?
Who do you accept into your space?
As a child I had no option to believe what my parents told me about the world. It took me a long time to realise that what they showed me was how ‘they’ were, not as it is.
I have experienced CPTSD – Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I didn’t even know it was a thing until I started my healing journey.
The abuse cycle carries from generation to generation, as it is ingrained in the abused child’s brain that the way their parents behaved toward them was perfectly natural.
Those who endure trauma for an extended period, especially under the age of twelve years, are open to devastating consequences. This is because morality, social skills, and life skills are all taught in childhood. The child’s sense of right and wrong becomes altered, as well as their understanding of social function and their interpretation of the world around them. This can sometimes result in a personality disorder with traits like these;-
Altered way of dealing with feelings and inability to regulate anger.
Altered attention span.
Altered self-perception, chronic sense of guilt and responsibility and shame.
Adopting the belief systems of others even if they are abusive.
Not being able to trust
Problems with relationship boundaries
Difficulty communicating needs, wants and wishes
Fragmented and disconnected autobiographical narrative
And no one can see this from the outside.
Vigilance for danger all the time leads to chronic anxiety. I experience this often.
Before art therapy I was haunted by feelings and visions of persecution and being attacked. Every situation was a punishment or an annihilation. 3.5 years of this profound personal care using the arts reduced this obsessive preoccupation.
How have I explored staying in the body?
Meditation, yoga, dance, shamanic journeying, drumming, singing and acting!
Writing. I’m doing it right now during this talk!
How have I explored being out of body?
Art, daydreaming (plenty), Netflix. I used to like being drunk, but not anymore.
What ways do I bring myself back that are not so healthy?
I pick my skin and scratch my scalp until it bleeds.
My permission moment
So let’s go back to March 24th 2016.
Why is that date so important?
It’s the day I walked out of teaching in primary schools, having had 3 months of panic attacks and heart palpitations.
I’d started the healing programme and could not maintain my presence in front of so many children who needed my attention on them. I had nothing left to give them. I found myself in tears in the toilets, utterly broken and ready to surrender.
It was the beginning of my permission year to rest, heal and take stock of everything.
It was my permission to myself to tell the truth about my life.
So this brings me to my one-woman show. Voice.
My Blues-inspired autobiographical story of my own way out of a fragmented mind.
Told through theatre, movement, comedy & song… I play a woman, and the three parts of herself she speaks through. In it we see the lost and obsessed self, the Blues singer who seeks to unite the audience in their own shadows through the music and the TED talk self who guides the audience through the chaos. Its aim is to be brave, to provoke, inform and heal the shadows of mental health.
In this time of Trump-inspired fascination with the narcissist this piece finds itself curiously relevant as a commentary for the mass awakening of consciousness and connection of the disparate and lost parts of the societal identity. The poignancy of finding your voice amidst the fear-mongering and control of the world stage is echoed here. As within, so without. The play illustrates the power of beginning with yourself to be the change you want to see.
Giving a voice to all the personalities within my fragmented self is an effort to integrate them, stop dissociating and feel safe when present in my body.
I’m writing and framing this story from a place of healing, hope and heart. For now I’m writing it at a time when I’ve done enough to dare to tell it, dare to return to the stage and dare to tell the truth.
If I diminish myself in any way I am saying I am still being controlled.
If I dilute the topic in any way I am following family rules.
I’m showing you the fragmentation of a dissociated self.
At times I still live it.
But I’m writing from a place much bigger than me where there is a wisdom I’d forgotten about. And an understanding that until you wake up you are repeating your childhood and it’s not on purpose and it’s not your fault. (Lisa A Romano)
Trauma therapy must seek to re-set the limbic system in the brain and release the trauma at a cellular level in the body. You can research the works of Melanie Tonia Evans for a full insight and healing programme for Narcissistic Abuse Recovery. I’ve been engaged in this kind of inner child / family generational trauma enquiry for 16 months now. This is what has changed everything. This is why I can do this talk. This is why I can feel safe in myself and observe the world without reacting. Most of the time.
I do watch with interest what world pain and global loss of self we are experiencing and how a Narcissist has found his way to the pinnacle in the USA, to be witnessed by the eyes of an astounded world, desperately trying to search within themselves for their humanity so they can reassure themselves that he is not their mirror.
I’m not here for armchair psychology. I just recognise the energy of the narcissist as a trigger and a gift to lead you to your inner wounds so that you may heal.
A child cannot get away. The child within me thought she was still trapped, until I let her out. This is my soul purpose.
If you can hold the idea of a soul contract you can accept the idea that you choose who you are born to for a higher lesson. This has helped me greatly with forgiveness.
So it’s been 16 months now since I truly dedicated myself to my own healing journey. I listened to my body. I asked for help. I signed on and began to live very simply. I went for walks on the beach. I slept and slept. I became best friends with my PJs. All the time negotiating with myself my level of worthiness for taking the time. I meditated and I did (and still do) the deep and painful work with my inner self. There are decades of real and imagined horrors to release. But there is always a space made with each encounter, to let the light in.
The permission to hold the space for myself with kindness and non-judgement has been a profound and moving revelation for me. It has taken me 48 years to mother myself and accept and know that I am enough simply because I exist.
I have no control over other people or situations
I observe my gut instinct to involve myself in the drama of others and choose not to.
I have released the need to rescue, fix or save other people at the expense of myself. And this is why I walked away from all my family. I didn’t want the role.
I treat myself kindly & have radically changed my self-talk. What a game changer.
I sought counselling and mentoring with Libby Davy, Buddhism, Work Coach, friends.
I journal everyday and make art.
I now choose where to put my energy carefully. You won’t often see me out. I like silence.
I don’t rush.
I don’t entertain liars and I say NO without guilt. I’m not in the business of guilt anymore.
If I’m your second choice, choose your first and move on. Life’s too short.
I like my own company but I’m also grateful for small moments over coffee with good friends.
I’m grateful for music.
I love my spiritual practice and the perspective it gives me.
There is no one to blame, there are simply stories to be shared, acknowledged, felt and released.
This talk is part of that storytelling.
‘Voice’ is the symbolic inner landscape presented for shared catharsis through the arts. The place where message hits home on an unspoken level.
‘I was hidden, silently keeping the flame alive, whilst all around played scornfully with the ‘puppet’, mocking her delightful facade.’