CW: Suicide attempt
During my freshman year of college, I sat in my biology course, taking a final. Somewhere in the back of my mind, something clicked into place. I knew enough about my triggers to know I was suicidal, but I didn’t want to die.
As if my body weren’t my own, I floated home. I knew today was the day. I made my preparations and woke up four days later after being put in a medically induced coma.
I felt light and told everyone that I felt so much better. I wasn’t lying. The me that was inhabiting my body didn’t want to die.
So, how did I go from depressed but wanting to live to making an attempt on my life on the same day?
At that time, I didn’t know I had someone inside me that learned that death was a coping mechanism.
So, when I first learned about my system, this conflict arose. This person was willing to risk our lives and well-being. They would control from behind the scenes and take over the body. And during that initial high amnesia time, I would often wake to a horror scene of terrible coping mechanisms.
I hated them. I wanted them gone from the system, locked away forever. And most of the system agreed. We turned against this alter, telling them we didn’t want them in the system. This increased amnesia and this power struggle. They fronted (took over the body) more often, and I lost more time, waking to destructive actions.
Then I saw this video. This alter was a persecutor.
What are persecutors?
Persecutor alters typically hold trauma and cope in destructive ways, often jeopardizing the system’s safety.
Persecutors often engage in anti-social behaviors. They may burn bridges with relationships, engage in self-harm or suicide, berate the system, use drugs, alcohol, sex, or other addictive behaviors, lash out at inappropriate times, or do unsafe things and put the body at risk of harm.
They can be a direct reflection of real abusers in the system’s life (introjects), children with a lot of trauma, fictive villains, non-humans, or other less savory self-parts.
Persecutors sound like the worst, don’t they? That’s often how (particularly new) systems view their persecutors.
When an abuser is outside the body, the system is well equipped to handle them by any means necessary. When that abuser is inside the body, it becomes a sort of auto-immune response. The system will often self-destruct in an attempt to rid it of this perceived pathogen.
In reality, persecutors are nothing more than protectors with harmful coping mechanisms.
Breaking down the wall
Once I understood that my persecutor was just an injured part of me, it was easier to know how to help them.
I sat with myself and meditated as part of self-therapy, holding space for them to come forward.
Marion (Host/”Me”): I know you’re hurting.
Zed (Persecutor): You don’t know sh*t.
Marion: You have a lot of pain from everything they did to you. All the pain you’ve gone through.
Zed: Oh yeah? And how would you know that? All you’ve done is said how awful I am and how I’m ruining your life.
Marion: I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that.
Marion: That trauma you went through, I can feel it. I know how hard that was for you. I’ve experienced trauma too.
Zed: You don’t understand me. Stop trying to pretend you do.
Marion: Do you want proof I’ve suffered? Do you want to see how I know?
Zed: I don’t believe you understand me.
Marion: (Describes my trauma in detail)
Zed: I’m… sorry.
Marion: Yeah, I understand what it’s like to hurt as badly as you do. It’s horrible, isn’t it?
Zed (crying): yes, yes it is.
Marion (crying): It’s so tiring, trying to act like everything is normal when your pain is hanging over you every minute. Come here.
Marion: That’s why I’m here. That’s why we’re all here. We are here to keep you safe. And we are safe. This is all that’s happened and why we’re safe.
Zed (nods): okay…
Marion: What if we find something that could help you process the hurt you’ve been through? I remember you like sewing and crafts?
Marion: Okay, we’ll go to the store, and you can pick out ANYTHING you want to work on. And I’ll give you some time to front so you can work on it.
Zed (crying): thank you.
This wasn’t the only conversation we had. We talked over months, and I got to know that part of myself. They were a trauma holder that was only a child. They were trying their best to cope with the overwhelming emotions they experienced and were trying to keep us safe. They were also dealing with mental health issues that the rest of the system didn’t experience.
They didn’t need more people labeling them as dangerous and bad. They needed genuine connections to people that loved them. We stopped calling them a persecutor after that conversation. Persecutor painted them as an enemy against the system when they were really a protector and trauma holder.
But what our persecutor has done is REALLY bad
All things considered, my system was lucky that our persecutor was a child. Zed still had access to adult coping mechanisms and did many things I won’t discuss here, but they mostly did damage internally. They very rarely took out their trauma on other people.
Other systems may have persecutors that act in much more destructive ways. If they’re an introject, they could be very triggering, reminding you constantly of abuse you’ve endured. They may have caused you to lose jobs, material support, or even be involved with the court system.
System accountability is essential. All members are accountable for what one has done. And that may require owning up to difficult actions that don’t feel like you did.
A part of you did. And you should accept that as if you had done it. Take whatever steps you have to to be accountable in whatever your situation is, especially if external people were harmed.
Beyond that, recognize that this persecutor is part of you. They are you. There is no distancing or cutting them off, and any attempt to do so will likely backfire.
Recognize why they’re acting the way they are. What trauma did they endure to react this way? How old are they? What do they think the consequences of their actions are? Do they realize how it impacts others in your system, or do they only consider themselves?
Dealing with persecutors as a system
While I don’t know your situation and what is necessary for you, there are some universal principles in dealing with persecutors.
- Reframe your way of thinking about them. They’re not persecutors, they have a role in the system. They exist for a reason. Do they hold a trauma you couldn’t function if you lived with? Have they learned harming you or others is a way to stay safe?
- Hold a meeting through whatever communication you can. Send whatever alter they are most likely to get along with. Find out what they need and who they are.
- If you can’t communicate, examine their behaviors. What coping mechanisms have they been using? What is this communicating?
- Remember, they’re part of you. Resisting them only hurts the system. Work with them and accept them as they are.
- Set boundaries. Accepting them doesn’t mean letting them do things that harm the body. If a gatekeeper or other alter needs to step in or a rule needs to be set, do it.
- Give them a safe space. That could be a hobby, a change in scenery, or personal items. Once they trust you, they will be open to other coping mechanisms.
- Swallow your pride. It’s really easy to dismiss them as the worst, out to get you, and the problem. Be open to the fact there’s likely more to them that you haven’t seen.
Dealing with the system as a persecutor
- Have patience. They often have a hard time understanding why you’re doing what you’re doing to keep yourself (and them) safe.
- Be open to their attempts to communicate. You don’t have to agree with them, just hear them out. And if they disrespect you, you can tell them to f*ck off.
- Consider your body as shared. While you do have the right to make decisions for yourself, others may be negatively impacted if you don’t consider them. Just like they shouldn’t have the right to alter the body without consulting you, don’t do the same.
- Know that most of them hold trauma too. They may be acting out of their own trauma responses.
- Let them know what you want directly. What is it that you’re trying to get? What do you need? How will you get it?
- Pick an art form. It could be painting, music, writing, knitting, theatre, designing shoes, dancing, etc.
- Connect with others. Is there a group that would understand you better than your system does? If the system has a therapist, could you be honest about how you feel about the system?
“There is a way out of the suffering. It’s a hard route that requires both the system and the persecutor(s) to face aspects of themselves they may not like and trauma that hurts beyond recognition.
But the other side is so much better. It’s worth the work. And it’s like breathing for the first time in your life. It doesn’t mean it never hurts, but it no longer becomes unbearable because you have the support of a whole system to carry that pain.
I’m sorry you went through what you did. We deserved better.” – Zed (“reformed” persecutor)