“People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” Carl Jung
Are you abusing yourself?
Have you ever wondered why so many of us spend so much of our time feeling like we aren’t enough? Maybe it isn’t even a conscious reality for many of us; it just seems this is the way it is. It feels normal. Often I challenge my clients by asking, “Would you say to your child the things you are saying to yourself?” Of course, they all say, “No,” but then justify why it is ok to speak to themselves in a way that would horrify anyone else. I often challenge my students with, “If you would never say it to your friend, then you can’t say it to yourself either.” This is generally a good barometer for understanding where the line is. Should we say hard and challenging things to our friends and children? Yes! Of course, it is appropriate from time to time, but we often know where the line is. Shaming our friends usually doesn’t get them to stick around very long. Why do we think it is ok to shame ourselves?
Like many things, I think the answer is simple yet complicated. Most of us grew up in homes where our parents did the best they could, but most of us emerged with a few scrapes and scars along the way. Anytime we have overwhelming experiences as children, we blame ourselves. The reason is twofold. First, until the age of seven or so, it is developmentally appropriate for us to think the world revolves around us. Second, grief and helplessness are emotions we typically can’t tolerate as humans. We will do anything to avoid feeling helpless, even more so as a child when we not only feel powerless in big, scary life events and have no way of creating an escape plan. We are in it with our family, and there’s no chance of getting out.
Children are incredibly resilient, and one coping strategy we use is to blame ourselves when bad things happen. This keeps us as the center of the universe (developmentally appropriate) and solves the problem of helplessness. If we are bad and deserve bad things to happen to us, then we are no longer helpless. We just have to figure out the right combination of things to do to get us out of our situation. Abused children often think they deserve the abuse. Children whose parents divorce blame themselves. Children whose mothers scream and yell all day think they are bad and deserve to be treated this way, etc., etc. You get the idea.
We carry this thought process with us as we grow up. Unless you are intentional and do the painful and vulnerable work of breaking patterns, feeling grief, and placing responsibility on the people it belongs to, we continue the pattern of self-blame and self-destruction. This pattern doesn’t serve us long-term. It starts to create all kinds of problems, but it is so subconscious many of us don’t even know why we do and think the way we do. Most of the time, I ask my newer clients why they think they are bad or wrong or undeserving, and they can’t tell me why. It is just a fact they believe to be true.
A negative self-image impacts everything about who we are and what we do. It creates unhealthy relationship dynamics with everyone in your life. We compare ourselves to friends and desperately seek approval from our partner, boss, or anyone we want respect from. We also subconsciously teach our children that there is a hierarchy in life, and they need to fight their way up. As they grow, they compare themselves with each other and fight to be the favorite child. It is such a destructive pattern that so many people aren’t willing to break, mostly because they don’t know how to.
Why is this destructive pattern so hard to break? Back to my earlier point: we will often do anything to avoid feeling grief and helplessness. NO ONE wants to connect with their inner child and relive the helplessness of grief, loneliness, and feeling trapped. However, it is some of the most powerfully freeing work anyone can do. The awesome thing about helping our inner child is that we see that we are no longer alone. As adults, we are guiding and loving the little one like no one could the first time around.
The concept is simple, but the work can be complex and very difficult, depending on your experiences. If you have been through compounding traumatic experiences, starting this work with a trained professional is important. Once you learn to love and trust yourself a little, the work starts to happen during random moments, day by day.
If you are struggling with negative self-talk, thoughts, or image, start by writing down what you hear in your head. Each time you write a negative self-thought, replace it with a positive one. I know this sounds simple and elementary, but it really is enlightening. Sometimes writing the positive thought is doable and sometimes it will make us angry. We don’t want to comply. This is a normal response and there is a reason for that response. Breaking patterns is hard work, but I have never met anyone who breaks them and regrets it. It is so powerfully rewarding. If you would like a template to start your journey of self-healing and discovery, enter your email address below and I will send you one. If the work gets too difficult, make an appointment with a therapist to continue the work, or sign up for a consultation with me to further clarify the next steps. You won’t regret loving on yourself and creating the dream life you have always wanted but didn’t know how to obtain.
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