We all cope in ways that we think will lead us to feeling empowered. For some, that looks like placing blame on everyone else for anything that is wrong in their own lives – outward blame. Some refer to this as playing the “victim card.” And then there are some, like myself, who try to empower themselves by blaming themselves for everything and anything that goes wrong in their lives and the lives of those around them – inward shame.
While growing up, blaming myself was the only way I could make sense of all the things in my life that didn’t make any sense at all. Choosing to blame myself meant that there was hope that I could somehow fix whatever it was that was wrong. You see, we can change ourselves – we can alter our appearances, actions, habits, thoughts, feelings, etc. Blaming myself felt like the best way to fix things – if I could change enough, be better/more, do better/more, achieve better/more, etc then the people around me wouldn’t hurt, wouldn’t feel bad, wouldn’t break, wouldn’t hate me, wouldn’t all of a sudden stop loving me. If I convinced myself that somehow, some way, this was ALL my fault then that meant that it was within my power to change and to fix it all – that meant that I could make it all better again, stitch up the bleeding wound, patch up the ripped fabric, set the broken bone straight again, and that maybe, just maybe…in time it could all be healed and forgiven.
But a young girl can’t carry those burdens alone – not for very long at least. And when the people surrounding you are so distracted with their own pain and problems that they don’t even realize what thought and behavior patterns you’re falling prey too, it’s just affirmation that what you’re doing and those lies you’re believing are okay…maybe even good. Then, the longer you believe them and act on them, the more they become your personal truth – after awhile it’s harder to shut them out than it is to give in and listen, so you listen. You listen to the lies Satan whispers that this is all your fault and you’re worthless, hopeless, a failure, and so on and so on. And so, after a certain period of time, this becomes your new normal – this becomes your day in and day out, and nothing about this seems out of the ordinary…but it never begins to hurt any less than the day you started internalizing it.
So, here I sit…10 years later, behind a computer screen typing out the raw, vulnerable truth about where it all seemed to go wrong. It’s good now, even in hindsight, to see and recognize it for what it was at the time – a coping mechanism. But it’s a habit now, and even though it no longer serves me like it once did, it still plagues my every day life. I find that blaming myself and putting myself down is my default reaction to situations where I feel powerless or out of control. I don’t want to be that way. I know now that blaming myself doesn’t solve any problems. In fact, it almost always makes things worse – it leaves me trying to fix problems that aren’t mine to fix and to carry burdens that aren’t mine to bear. And in the event that I am unable to fix others problems or bear their burdens, then I’m left feeling like a hopeless failure. An all-around bad situation, if I do say so myself!
Since I can’t turn back time and rewrite my story where do I go from here? How do I undo all the harm I did when I was trying to save my world and keep my life from crumbling? I think the first thing to do in situations like this is to acknowledge that we’re all just trying our very best with what we have in the moment – be it knowledge, power, coping mechanisms, etc. Everyone is trying to survive and we’re all doing it the only ways we know how. Acknowledging this takes all the blame and the shame out of it – and that makes the whole thing easier to approach and easier to accept.
After that? Well, I’m not really sure, to be honest. But I can tell you that setting goals is one of my strong suits so one of my recently acquired goals has been to stop myself when I find myself going down the “this is my fault” path or the “I need to fix this” path or even when I just find myself beating myself up mentally/emotionally. I can speak from personal experience when I say that it’s really hard to have the energy to come up with a solution to a problem when you’re too busy beating yourself up and being mean to yourself over the problem.
Right now, I’m just working on recognizing when I begin to go down those paths that take me into the forbidden forest (if you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’ll get that reference and if you’re not, take my word for it when I say that that is NOT a place you want to go!). If I can first recognize those fault coping mechanisms, then I can hopefully work towards rerouting them and maybe eventually…somewhere down the line, they won’t be my gut reaction or my go-to thoughts when things around me feel out of control.
A lot of times we’re our own biggest bullies. A lot of times what we think is a legitimate reaction to a situation – what we think is helping us – is actually hurting us and preventing us from problem solving in appropriate ways. And more often then not, these thought processes and go-to routes of thinking are patterns that were unknowingly established in our youth and have followed us through time. These things that we can now hopefully recognize as hurting us and hindering us, were once the only way we knew how to help ourselves cope with the life surrounding us. We’re all just trying not to fall apart. We’re all just trying to make our way through life with as few bruises and broken bones a possible. I’m slowly learning that I need to treat myself like I treat my very best friends because unlike some friendships that may come and go, I’m stuck with me forever! As scary as that sounds – maybe that’s part of the beauty of it all…maybe that’s a part of our process of learning to love!
“Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back. That’s part of what it means to be alive. But inside our heads – at least that’s where I imagine it – there’s a little room where we store those memories. A room like the stacks in this library. And to understand the workings of our own heart we have to keep on making new reference cards. We have to dust things off every once in awhile, let in fresh air, change the water in the flower vases. In other words, you’ll live forever in your own private library.”
― Haruki Murakami
“I like it when a flower or a little tuft of grass grows through a crack in the concrete. It’s so f****** heroic.”
― George Carlin