One of my ego states, Cowboy, has been my protector and “can-do person” ever since I was a child. She has always been there for me, always risen to the task when I’ve needed her.

I have found Ego State Therapy to be extremely useful in my healing process because this modality enables me to conceptualize the inner workings of my psyche.  If I think of my psyche as a place in which all the parts of my personality (ego states) dwell, and if I see these parts of my personality as “people” who interact with one another, then I am able to interact with these parts to bring about peace and, eventually, change.  One of the big players in my psyche’s cast of characters is the part that I call Cowboy. 

Although Cowboy is a girl, she displays some qualities normally attributed to males–toughness, assertiveness that sometimes borders on aggressiveness, and pride in her ability to protect my psyche from “varmints” and nasty critters that might want to hurt me.  Yes, Cowboy has existed for a long time, at least I have been aware of her for a long time.  When I was a little girl and witnessed another child having her skinned knee kissed by her mother, Cowboy was the part inside me who said, “Well, I don’t need any of that baby stuff.  My mother doesn’t kiss my skinned knees, and that’s because I’m tough.  I don’t need my mother to do that.”  Actually, I longed to have my mother kiss my skinned knees, but my mother didn’t seem to notice them.  I learned not to cry because when I cried, my mother got irritated with me and yelled at me.  Sometimes she even ridiculed me when I cried.  So when my Cowboy said to me, “You are tough.  You don’t need your mother to comfort you,” my Cowboy was protecting me from the pain that came with my mother’s neglect and indifference toward me. 

When I was sexually molested by the neighbor at age four or five, Cowboy let me know that I could take care of myself and that it would be better if I did not tell my mother.  She would probably spank me and yell at me and tell me it was all my fault.  I did not need her; I could take care of myself.  And, for forty-two years I did–until I had a huge flashback to the abuse incident and fell apart.  Later, when I was about nine, a friend of the family who had not seen me since I was about four years old said, “Is that Jeanie?  But she used to be so cute!” My mother said nothing to her or to me to soften the effect of her words on me, but my inner Cowboy whispered to me, “Your mother isn’t on your side, and she doesn’t care about you, but you are tough and you don’t need her, anyway.  You can take care of yourself.”  And I did.  I stayed away from my mother. 

In 1961, when I announced to my mother that I was getting married, my mother said, “Well, all my friends think you have to get married, anyway.”  My inner Cowboy let me know, once more, that I didn’t need my mother or her approval, “Don’t let her words get to you.  You are tough.  Just go ahead with it.”  In 1981, after enduring years of an abusive marriage without taking any action to change the situation, my Cowboy took the bit in her mouth when she witnessed my husband molesting our daughter and decided that it was time for action–she led me to confront my husband and tell him I was reporting him to the police, and then she and I did just that.  Then Cowboy took the bull by the horns and helped me file for divorce. 

Yep, Cowboy has been a major player in my psyche.  She has protected me from feeling the pain of being abused and neglected, and she has enabled me to survive situations that otherwise might have rendered me permanently nonfunctioning.  She has been a true friend when I desperately needed a friend.  She has picked up the pieces of my psyche and helped me put them back together again–she rounded up the dogies and brought them home.  Now, however, I’m beginning to see that maybe it’s time for Cowboy to relinquish some of her power.  I’m seeing, too, that even though Cowboy deserves a medal for helping me survive, she has some rather ugly qualities that detract from her otherwise golden image. 

You see, because Cowboy has ridden to the fore in rescuing me and protecting me and all the other parts of my psyche, she has developed an “attitude” in the process.  For one thing, she is contemptuous of the parts that have not been as forthcoming as she.  She sees herself as a hero, rough and tough, and she regards the parts of me that have been more passive as “wusses,” sissies, sniveling cowards, worthless laggards.  In other words, she sees herself as superior, better than the other parts.  Not good!  Rather than join the other parts of my psyche in working together for the good of Jean, Cowboy appears to be drifting into isolation.  She appears to be setting herself apart from the others and spending less time in the midst of the community of parts. 

Why is this happening?  My theory is that as I am healing, I no longer have as much need for Cowboy’s help as I formerly did.  Cowboy senses that, and she doesn’t know how to deal with the changes in my psyche.  I am no longer an abused and neglected child who needs a mother, and I am no longer an abused wife.  In fact, for the past thirty-some years, I have slowly taken over the work of protecting myself and have externalized my response to threats without needing her help.  Cowboy may be feeling unwanted, unneeded, and unappreciated.  The fact is–while her environment has been slowly changing, Cowboy has not adapted herself to that change.  How can I help her?

Coming soon, I hope:   How Cowboy and I come to terms with her need to change.