There's a boy in you about three
years old who hasn't learning a thing for thirty thousand years.
Sometime's it's a girl.
This child had to make up its mind how to save you from death.
He said things like:
"Stay home. Avoid elevators. Eat only elk."
You live with this child, but you don't know it.
You're in the office, yes, but live with this boy at night.
He's uninformed, but he does want to save your life.
And he has.
Because of this boy you survived a lot.
He's got six big ideas.
Five don't work.
He's repeating them to you.
Robert Bly, "One Source of Bad Information"
You may never have heard this term before, but believe me, you are intimately acquainted with the voice. The most familiar title for this part of you might be your Inner Critic. Sound familiar now?
I first heard the term Loyal Soldier from Bill Plotkin's work (you can read more about it in his books Wild Mind and Soulcraft), and he borrows the symbol from actual events during World War Two.
He says. "During the war in the Pacific, many Japanese marines and soldiers found themselves stranded on deserted or sparsely settled islands after surviving shipwrecks or plane crashes. Some of them managed to endure, alone or in small bands, under primitive conditions and in total cultural isolation. Several were discovered alive many years after the war- some more than thirty years later. The astonishing thing is that each of these men retained an extraordinary loyalty to his military mission. Unaware that the war had ended, each one, upon being found, was keen to return to combat. They were told, of course, that the war was over, and that Japan had lost. But defeat was unthinkable. To them, the war could not be over because their loyalty to that cause was the psychological anchor that had kept them alive - being a soldier was their only place of belonging in the world." (Wild Mind, page 129-130)
Incredible story, right? What does that have to do with us, you ask? Well, each one of us has sub-personalities, fragments, that we call Loyal Soldiers. These sub-personalities, these Loyal Soldiers, are formed in us around the age of 3, and under our awareness.
Imagine, if you will, that as a child, you were reaching up to touch the stove and got a burn so bad, so painful, so debilitating that you truly could not handle it, in fact, you almost died, or would have if not for this part of you.
Enter your Loyal Soldier.
He takes stock of the situation, most likely before you have even registered the pain, and develops a survival strategy that will ensure that that pain never, ever happens again and will ensure your survival. So, perhaps your Loyal Soldier, as a survival strategy to keep you from pain, starts to criticize and berate you whenever you get near a stove, then, it criticizes and berates you so you don't even enter a room where this is a stove. Then, if need be, he criticizes, berates, causes fear and anxiety, so you don't even enter a house that has a stove.
It has kept you safe...no more pain. The problem is, eventually, you, as an adult, actually have the resources to handle the stove, you have just lost sight of them. And, what if, you need to learn to feed yourself, or others but you cannot get near a stove in order to do so. And now, you are actually starving, malnourished and wasting away. Maybe, eventually, you even stay away from people who appear to have no problem using their stoves because it reminds you of your own painful experience and your lack of ability to get near a stove.
Now, substitute some other painful experience for stove. The pain is different, the result the same.
Your Loyal Soldier really believes the war is still on and that you need saving. It once used drastic measures in order to save you and believes they are still necessary to your survival. His goal is to keep you small and safe, maybe even invisible. He acts as protector to your wounded child (subject of another blog post). The problem is that now, as adults, we are still using the strategies of our Loyal Soldier and they are, usually, no longer necessary and are actually keeping us from living the full expression of ourselves. We are still playing it small and safe, trying to never touch a stove. The truth is that at one point the pain WAS too much to handle, but not any more. Now, we can make meaning from our pain, feel things we didn't want to our couldn't feel, learn, grow, get help, acquire new skills, step out in new ways, live a much bigger version of ourselves.
Some of the Loyal Soldiers strategies? Harsh criticism - makes you less likely to make enthusiastic choices that could provoke criticism, punishment, or abandonment or so you don't displease anyone, arouse anger or envy. Perhaps yours uses co-dependent behaviors like care-taking, rescuing or enabling, so that you won't experience abandonment. Maybe yours helps you create a pleasing but immature, inauthentic persona or one-dimensional role such as "heroic rescuer" or "brilliant confidant". Self-imposed "rules" designed to keep us from getting in trouble is also a brilliant strategy....if you can limit yourself, no one else need do it for you. Or what about complete or partial social withdrawal, to minimize hurtful experiences with others? Here's a great idea too, why not suppress your intelligence, talent, emotions (that's a big one), wildness or enthusiasm? Whatever the strategy, it's adamant, vigilant and accurate understanding goes like this: (from Bill P. again)
"If you're forced to choose, it's better to be suppressed or inauthentic than ostracized or emotionally crushed - or dead."
So, what to do? Can we get rid of our Loyal Soldier, tell it to get lost?
In fact, trying to banish or reject it, keeps the war going.
The first thing we have to ask ourselves is this, is the war for childhood survival really over? Do you still need these strategies to survive? Are you safe? Do you have adequate resources both inside and outside, to at least start to befriend this part of yourself?
If the answer is yes, step one is welcoming home your Loyal Soldier, just like the Japanese people did with theirs. You give it a hero's welcome. You honor it. Then, you start to get to know it. What does it sound like and feel like in your body? What trigger's his strategies? What are some of the things he loves to say to you to keep you small and safe, to keep you in line? Write them down, get curious about them. Start to question the things you automatically believe are true about you. Learn to ask the question, "Who's speaking right now?"
Most important, you start to realize that this is a part of you, but it's not ALL of you. You are actually much more than this voice, it's just that the voice can be really, really loud, and often we have mistaken it for our actual personality. It's also been with us so very long that it feels familiar and right and also often mimics the voices of our caregivers that we heard in childhood.
Learning to love your Loyal Soldier is key. Only love changes anything, including ourselves. Once your Loyal Soldier can see that the war for childhood survival really is over and that you really do have abilities to handle the things that come your way, it will be easier to give him an honorable discharge and give him a different job to do. He doesn't want to be this extreme either, he just doesn't know another way to be.....yet. So, offer him sincere gratitude for keeping you small and safe. Be as specific as you can as the strategies become more obvious. A sense of humor can really help, then you can address him by saying, "Oh, I see you Loyal Soldier, good one, I get what you are trying to do here. Thank you so much, however, I think what we will do this time is...,or I think it's ok if we feel this pain...." You can learn to laugh at yourself and also develop a sincere appreciation for the creative strategies you used to survive some, otherwise un-survivable, situations. You can say, "Oh my gosh, look how brilliantly creative my strategy is. I am amazing. What a way to survive!" You can also tell your Loyal Soldier, as many times as it takes, that the war for childhood survival is over. And believe me, you will have to do this many, many times.... he's not giving up without a fight, not until he knows that you really can handle the things that you couldn't handle as a child.
The good news is we all have a Loyal Soldier. You are not alone.
We all needed to develop strategies to help us survive.
We are all capable of working with this part of ourselves, of changing our relationship with it. We can work with it, not FROM it...big difference.
We all have a responsibility and the privilege to live our biggest possible lives, not to stay small and safe. The world needs the full expression of you. You need the full expression of you.
You can live beyond survival strategies.
You can live a life of purpose,
and service to the world.
How amazing is that?
Thank you, Loyal Soldier.