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The story of the Joker, the cripple, and the boy: reclaiming and integrating all parts of myself

The Joker

As a child, I reported to my mama that I had seen a ghost. I later found the story of them in one of my primary school notebooks (pictured - written in 1995 at age 9 or 10). They were called the Joker, and had died twice: once for making the Queen faint and die, and the second time for disobeying the ruler in heaven. They had fallen out of my bunk bed ladder into me and were now controlling my brain.

As their name suggests, from the moment it was necessary, they could perform, create laughter, divert attention to the stage. For my peers, my family, the world, it was a performance of joviality. Behind closed doors, they were filled with the difficulties of understanding, burdened with the knowledge of what had happened to me. Sometimes we couldn’t get out of bed, nor would we want to be seen. Other times, we craved visibility and the spotlight – performing a ritual of acceptability.

As I grew older and started to cave in to real-world integration, however, I would bury them under a layer of alcohol so deep they weren’t allowed to do their job. Their job was to rage and, without that, it meant my aggressors weren’t validated, they weren’t real, they weren’t anyone's problem. I grew sad, no longer able to be seen or perform for anyone. I couldn’t take those risks. Joviality had no place for me.

The cripple

My behaviour wasn’t only silencing the Joker, and my anger. There was also an immense and immeasurable sense of grief. With each passing disavowal of my experiences, from myself and from my family, I was forcing my memory into denial. And the denial was growing. It had in fact become an entire lifeform of forgetting. In protecting the boy so he wouldn’t be touched by everything I remembered, I had inexplicably transferred these memories onto a new body. And this body was growing separately from me, inside of me.


The cripple was forced to inhabit the space within my chest cavity from the moment the abuse began, when I was a child. Their name caused discomfort, I knew the offensive nature of it, but I couldn’t shake it – their body had become malformed with no space to grow inside my chest. Their arms long and gangly, bony hands holding onto my inflamed organs, and their hairless head crushed up against the ribcage suffocated by my breathing lungs. They never asked for anything from me, nor did they want anything really: they were just waiting, peacefully, kindly, patiently, for when I was ready to see them. One day, as an adult, I was made aware of their presence and I felt it as it was, as an entire body held within my core. I felt the discomfort and overwhelm and knew they needed to come out. 

The boy


And then there was the boy. He wasn’t allowed to speak either. There would be a clear divide between childhood and adult life, and it required more than he had to offer. He would appear to me as various ages. Sometimes at the age the Joker first arrived, other times as a teenager finding new ways of expressing problems, sometimes much younger and more innocent, before things changed. Without the cripple and the Joker, the boy wouldn’t have survived. Without them, the boy would have been on his own.

My crew

Living with trauma is debilitating, and truly crippling. It is fully able to undo a life – mentally  but also physically.  Trauma has been shown to induce auto-immune diseases, and can manifest in a variety of physical conditions.

My motley crew would appear to me as I began some more serious trauma-informed therapy, starting with some creative person-centred counselling. They would then be transformed into the main cast of my EMDR experience, helping to make my inner world safe. And they would constantly be battled against whilst I worked with CBT to secure myself. They are as much a part of my healing process as they are of my reassociation with my physical body, and without their help I don’t think I would have had the strength to do it all along. My awareness of their presence made my experience less lonely, and gave me the strength to face the difficulties of being in the world, knowing I had support with me throughout.

I can see their presence as a potentially interesting psychological enquiry. Perhaps they are a good example of Freud’s theories – embodiment of the ego (the boy), the id (the cripple), and the super ego (the Joker), or potentially within Jungian archetypes – the innocent, the jester, the shadow, the self... But it doesn’t matter how they are explained. Just as trauma is so often disregarded or ignored, these parts of ourselves that need reclamation are also vital. In the loss of our experience, we are not trying to return to where we were, but to collect the pieces to get to where we need to be.

Once I had released the cripple from myself (through a creative a process), they allowed the boy to rest for as long as he needed – the boy had been working hard to adult but he really just wanted to go and play. The joker took a sabbatical too, he realised there wasn’t anybody left to fight, so decided to go learn some new skills – I imagine he has learnt fencing and Euclidean geometry. When I was able to, I gave my boy a new home, where we could look after him forever and the cripple and I sort of just melded into one, holding and being held.

Julian Triandafyllou


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