For First Time Visitors

If you are a first time visitor to this blog, I invite you to start from the beginning, especially if you are unfamiliar with the potential emotional impact of long-term child abuse.

Trigger caution to unhealed survivors!

Understanding the Incomprehensible

Children of incest or long-term sexual abuse grow up to be wounded adults with complicated emotional issues. Unfortunately, some symptoms are misinterpreted or often dismissed as "crazy", only serving to maintain a tormented victim status. We, as a society, have the power to change this dynamic. Each of us can make a difference.

Dec 4, 2008

Time out from the guilt


Most people without a history of trauma have a fairly large pile of guilt they haul around with them. Children of abuse that lasts for years and possibly decades have guilt instilled in them. I'm not going to tackle that topic now. I'd like to offer a way to start easing out of guilt-bound decisions in every day life. By learning to free yourself of the little guilts (that still feel rather enormous), it can help prepare for the day when you will be ready in therapy to work on that very deep-seated guilt that was drilled into you.

It's a simple concept that I know is not simple to implement. After reading it, consider pondering what it would mean, and try it out on someone who knows you well and knows you are trying to make changes. It's a change in mindset and behavior to conquer the "small" task of saying "No" to a request.

I don't recall where/when I first heard the phrase, but I often used it with my own clients. "Don't SHOULD on yourself." A "should" is, "I feel like I have to but don't really want to." A "should" can be broken down into two definitive statements: "Yes, I want to do 'x'." or "No, I don't want to do 'x'."

The first easy change is realizing when you use the word "should" and notice it is something you want to do. Change the language to match the feeling. "I want to do 'x'." Why is this difficult? Of course survivors want to please everyone and don't dare do anything for themselves because that would be selfish, yes? Your job is to keep everyone happy so nothing gets out of hand and scary. Well, no it's not, but that's the message you got growing up. You had to obey the abusers, please them, behave in ways you believed would keep them happy. But that really didn't work because they would hurt you anyway. Pleasing someone is not within your control. You can only control you--your thoughts, your behaviors, your actions, choices.

An example:
You are out to lunch with friends on a Saturday. All are having a good time and lunch lasts past the time you allotted. You really want to get home by a certain time or get to another place by a certain time. You might say "I really should get going now." The response is all your friends cajoling you into staying. They would miss you. They wouldn't have as much fun without you. You feel torn. You WANT to leave but feel guilty about hurting your friends' feelings.

The reality is that as soon as you leave, your friends will go on having a good time. Think in reverse. How do you feel if you are in a group and someone says, "Excuse me, but I have to leave now. I've had a great time." And off they go. Are you angry? Do you judge them? Do you think less of them for having left? Usually the answer is "no" to all questions. Slight change in your language, "I've had a great time, but I'm off to catch the 2 o'clock show of James Bond. Talk to you soon!" or..."I WANT to catch a movie I've been looking forward to seeing."

Start practicing in situations where you have the least risk because it will feel awful initially even when you are justified. What your friends feel or think or say is out of your control under any circumstances. Make choices that provide you with balance in your life. Let the guilt go. Stop shoulding on yourself. Make a "want" or "don't want" decision. It's toughest in the beginning to know your heart WANTS but you feel that tug of guilt.

Try it. Practice saying "I'd rather not, but thank you for asking" if "No" seems like a cruel world. It helps at work too. Getting rid of the shoulds in your life frees up your time to focus on more important issues, like life enriching choices. It doesn't all have to be about pleasing and healing.

1 comment:

Tamara (TC) said...

Wonderful post and such a great thing to learn that we can say no and not only will others still like us but they will respect us. Respect is something that I never felt like I deserved and could not imagine that anyone could possibly respect me for taking care of myself and my needs. But they truly do. It is still easy to fall into guilt over anything and everything but it is more a habit now that I am learning to break. I have actually formed deeper friendships since I began saying no. I think because now others see me as a whole person and not a shell.