We Learn to Treat Ourselves The Way We Are Treated: Deconstructing the Trauma-Based Self
Dr. Richard Schultz Says...
Hello and thank you so much for reaching out to me.
We are all capable of feeling and/or believing that we are "broken," "incapable of love," "lost," "banished," and/or "abandoned."
I am sorry that you have been suffering from these feelings and beliefs. Please know that you were not born thinking and feeling like this, and that you never chose to think or feel this way. Please also know that you LEARNED to believe these things about yourself because of the traumatic experiences you describe experiencing as you were growing up. We learn to treat ourselves the way we are treated.
It takes a lot of courage and enlightenment in others, especially family members, in order for them to be able to truly see, hear or accept your painful truth. Your painful truth may scare, threaten, or sadden your family, or trigger unwanted guilt or rage in them. Their easiest solution may therefore be to simply label you as the "broken" and bad one, in order not to have to deal with your painful truth, or consider to their own.
YOU CAN HEAL from the painful, traumatic lessons you learned and the experiences you have undergone. You can learn to accept yourself, despite the rejection of others, and feel stronger and more lovingly toward yourself. If you work on healing yourself, your children will benefit greatly from seeing you model courage and growth and change, and this will be a gift to them, today and ever after. You will demonstrate for them how we as humans can best conquer the challenges presented to us in life. To be sure, there is no life without pain or challenge or disappointment, however ongoing suffering is optional!
If you have not already done so, please seek out a qualified mental health professional to work with you in your healing process. Yes, it is true that time heals all wounds, but it depends on what you do with the time. You will progress in your healing with the help of external resources MUCH faster than you will without them. Don't ever try to climb Mt. Everest in flip-flops! Use every good tool available to assist you.
Talk with a few therapists on the phone, tell them about your struggles, and ask them how they think they might be able to help you. They should all have specific answers to this question that make sense to you, but many of them will not. Eliminate these people from your list of potential therapists, and then choose the one whose answer made the most sense, and who you got the best vibe from. Go and meet with this person and see if the fit between you is a good one. Go with your instincts, but don't expect to be unafraid. Directly addressing what has been troubling us, but which we have had to suppress, can be painful and scary. And it will get less so over time.
Ideally, the therapist you choose will have a strong grounding in empirically validated treatments (this just means treatments that WORK, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy).
Read as many of the best books you can on trauma, anxiety, family dysfunction and psychological treatment for depression, anxiety and anger. Begin with "The Feeling Good Handbook" by David Burns. This will help you begin to see yourself more fairly and objectively, and will help you cope with and reduce painful depression, anxiety and anger. You may also wish to read "Trauma and Recovery" by Judith Herman. For more suggestions, visit my website (http://drschultz.org/page6.html), my Twitter feed (@mindsetdoc) and my blog (mindsetdoc.com).
If your levels of depression, anxiety or anger are severe or acute, or if you are not functioning adequately in your life as a result of these symptoms, you may also wish to consider consulting your physician about the benefit of using psychotropic medication to help with your recovery. Most often, these medications are prescribed by non-psychiatrists, and you can start with your PCP or OB/GYN. It is possible that you may very much wish to NOT go this route, for a variety of reasons. Please just make sure they are the right reasons (such as "I have already tried them extensively and they don't seem to help at all") versus reasons that have come from your family and culture (such as "only weak and crazy people need medicine," "those things will turn you into an addict," or "I can't go talking to my doctor about this stuff, it's a sick secret"). These statements all reflect great inaccuracy, harsh judgment, and toxic shame.
Remember that hiding and suppressing your truth will always make you sicker than will telling and owning the truth. Don't practice shame-driven behavior.
After you begin to make some progress in your recovery, carefully examine your relationships with friends, family and romantic partners. Disengage from those with whom you must suppress your truth, those who mistreat you, those who tear you down more than they build you up. Don't participate in bad relationship deals. If you wouldn't want one of your children to have such a relationship, don't subject yourself to it for any reason. Identify the healthiest, highest functioning people in your life and get closer to them. If you don't have any, go find some! You may find them in a recovery or 12 step group. In the initial phase of your recovery, it will be far better for you to have NO romantic relationships than to have any more bad ones! So don't sweat that part just yet. It is time for you to work on and make friends with YOU.
With regard to your children, it is of course advisable to wait until they are old enough to make some sense of what they have seen you struggle with over the years before you share the truth with them. Your therapist can certainly provide guidance about this, but do not make the mistake of trying to shield your children from the truth out of your own fear about the possible impact on them this might cause. They know what has been going on, even know they don't know the specifics, and even though they may have been told lies. They will ultimately need to know the truth so that they can understand what they have observed, so that they can learn about the challenges life puts in our path and how to deal with them, so that they can learn how not to own responsibility for YOUR difficulties, and so they can be freed from the toxic secrecy that pervades dysfunctional families and other systems. If you don't tell them the truth, you will force them to make up distorted reasons for "why mommy gets upset" and these will always have a worse impact on them than will their knowing the truth.
Finally, this plan will work if you work it and It won't if you don't. We get better at whatever we practice and we are always practicing something.
Thank you again for writing to me, I hope some of what I have written is of help to you, and please keep me posted on your progress. That will help you, me, and other readers who are facing related challenges.
I wish you great peace and courage in traveling the healing path.
Richard E. Schultz, Ph.D.
Page last updated Jun 14, 2014