“A child that is being abused by its parents doesn’t stop loving its parents; it stops loving itself.”-Shahida Arabi
As small children, we are powerless and completely dependent on our parents. They are our caretakers, the source of all connection and protection, and the only way to get our needs met. Naturally, we love them unconditionally in the beginning. They are the first good we ever experience in this world, and that leaves a lasting impression.
However, when parents fall short or completely shit the bed, a child will always assume the blame for whatever abuse or neglect has befallen them.
Why is that?
An abused or neglected child often has two possibilities to consider: 1) My parents are incompetent, and I’ll have to face this big, scary world all alone with no resources or ability to take care of myself, or 2) There’s something wrong with me, but my parents know what they’re doing, so everything will be fine.
Children need to feel safe, seen, soothed, and secure. Option one throws all that out the window, but option two meets those needs. Faced with such a dilemma, the choice is clear. Deciding that everything is my fault is actually a comforting belief to adopt, counterintuitive as that sounds.
Truly Believing That You Suck
“Shame started as a two-person experience, but as I got older, I learned how to do shame all by myself.”-Robert Hilliker
Babies are not born with shame. No, we learn shame from others — usually our family. And, for better or for worse, children tend to believe everything you tell them.
For example, an elderly and morbidly obese stranger in a red suit slides through a twelve-inch chimney flue to give you toys once a year in the dead of night. Sure, that sounds legit.
When kids find out that they are bad, they are a burden, or that they are not good enough, you better believe they take it to heart. That becomes their truth and their identity. They will construct an entire life to support this belief, and they’ll search high and low for evidence to confirm it (see Stop Calling Your Trauma Response “Me”).
Whenever I find that someone is “stuck” in their problems, despite having done a million hours of therapy and self-help work, it is inevitably because of deep shame.
Shame tells us, “You are trash, and you will always be trash. There is nothing you can ever do to change that.” And while people may truly desire or need change, shame has long since decided that this is an open-and-shut case of you being a worthless piece of shit.
Hence, the self-fulfilling prophecy of not being able to heal.
Fear of Powerlessness
Powerlessness is perhaps the worst feeling in the world. It’s probably the reason people shoot up schools, join street gangs, and do all kinds of awful things. Anything is better than feeling powerless.
This may be why so many victims of abuse and violence blame themselves for being taken advantage of. It’s a defense mechanism.
If it was my fault, I can just do it differently next time, and I’ll be safe. But if I am, in fact, powerless and helpless to prevent this from happening again, then the world is simply a terrifying and dangerous place that I cannot safely inhabit.
No one can tolerate living with that level of fear and uncertainty. So we respond with maladaptive coping mechanisms and various forms of self-medicating and self-loathing. Because anything is better than feeling powerless.
Getting Off The Scary-Go-Round
If you can identify with negative self-talk, self-doubt, self-blame, self-pity, or self-hatred, there is no doubt some gnarly shit in your past that needs some professional attention. You are welcome to try healing yourself while the biggest problem in your life occupies the very seat of your consciousness. Most people give that the old college try.
But once you realize that you cannot use your broken self to heal your broken self, I earnestly advise you to find a solid therapist, coach, healer, or support group to walk you through this challenging process of transforming your life.
Blame and shame are bars to self-love, which is prerequisite to living an empowered and fulfilling life.
So, in the end, we see again how our most self-destructive tendencies began as an attempt to protect ourselves. Please don’t shame yourself for this. You did the best you could, and it got you this far. Now, I want you to consider the possibility that there is a better way.
And perhaps you will need help learning it.