From the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, comes the quote “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. When thinking about this quote one might be confused as to its meaning, though put simply it is telling us that one part of something may hold no significant value unless combined with all of its other parts. This simplicity seems obvious and can be applied to many things regarding the value we attribute to the whole as opposed to individual pieces.
But can this theory be applied to us as human beings, to our lived experience? And if so what does that mean in the context of our happiest memories or the trauma we have survived? Is it possible to show up as our whole selves at all times?
For those of us who have experienced trauma, we can find it difficult to look past the most challenging moments of our lives. The trauma we have been subjected to and the moments we have survived can alter our entire existence. These moments can have us questioning if we are still the same people we were before, or have us mindfully noting that we are forever changed due to our lived experiences. They can cause us to feel a sense of disembodiment, where the trauma we experienced or were subjected to detaches us from our bodies. We can also have moments of disassociation where we disconnect from the memories of the trauma. These feelings of disembodiment and dissociation can cause us to perceive these moments in time as separate from us as a whole human being.
As a trauma survivor, I’ve found myself swinging on the pendulum between wanting to actively dissociate myself from the traumatic memories of the abuse I had been subjected to, and wanting to share my lived experience as it has played a significant role in my story. Even today as a public speaker and advocate I have moments where I want to retreat and pretend that these parts of my story do not exist. Moments when I detach from myself, breaking up the pieces of me into segments and siloing them from one another, have been the moments in my life where I have been the most unhappy. This overwhelming feeling of brokenness has caused significant ill mental health and utter exhaustion from having to be different versions of myself in different settings, whilst trying to remember who I am and how I truly feel.
On my healing journey, what I’ve found to be the most radical form of self-care has been to show up as my true self, rebelliously embracing all parts of myself. Shining a light on the dark underbelly of the trauma as well as embracing my highlight reel with pride. This is sometimes confronting for people who are watching my journey. The darker stories I share make people uncomfortable and raise topics that people want to ignore. In the same way, my accomplishments and outward embrace of success can also make people uncomfortable. Good girls don’t make a fuss, they shrink themselves to ensure they don’t take up space. But I’m not a good girl, and the people-pleasing behaviour I displayed for most of my life no longer serves me, and that is difficult for people to digest.
When we consider that as human beings, we are whole beings made up of various parts, we can acknowledge our childhoods, our lived experiences, our relationships, our choices, our ideas and our emotions. We are simultaneously connected to our ancestors, and paving the way for generations to come. Though all of these elements can feature both good and bad experiences, when we place such rigid structures around these parts of ourselves and the emotions of our lived experiences we forget that we are greater than the sum of our parts, greater than what has happened to us.
As a survivor of child sexual abuse, incest, family and domestic violence and trauma I am mindful that the odds have well and truly been stacked against me, and being broken into pieces was the path most people expected me to take. But I am living proof that there is life beyond trauma, there is liberation in embracing being more than one thing and a true power in showing up authentically as a whole human being.
So I ask you, what can you do today to energetically call yourself to yourself? How can you find the courage to be more than one or two parts of your lived experience and how can you step forward on your journey knowing that you are greater than any one part of your story? How will you show up and know that you, my friend, are whole?