Behold, one of my favorite lyrical quotes of all time:
You drag it around like a ball and chainEagles – Get Over It
You wallow in the guilt; you wallow in the pain
You wave it like a flag, you wear it like a crown
Got your mind in the gutter, bringin’ everybody down
Complain about the present and blame it on the past
I’d like to find your inner child and kick its little ass
Get over it
If you’ve experienced trauma and/or adversity, especially as a child, you know that it’s a difficult thing to recover from. Often, it’s a lifetime endeavor. Everything that happens to us, around us, or because of us will shape who we are, how we develop, and who we become. That’s true of everyone, but when you’ve lived through really difficult, unfair and damaging things as a child, the way that it shapes you can be crippling. Coping mechanisms get you through, but then become a hindrance for the adult version of yourself. Those things can be really tricky to identify, let alone to try to move on from.
I have a lot of sympathy for children who are dealing with some of the things I dealt with as a child. Poverty, and with it all the material insecurity that comes along with that. Parental mental illness. Neglect. Abuse. Bullying.
There are people out there, well-meaning but wholly ignorant bleeding hearts, who have never experienced these things and will tell these victims that nothing is their fault, they are never to blame, who could expect more from them? Of course you’re broken. Of course you don’t make good choices. Of course you hurt people. You’re a victim, after all.
In reality, whatever hurt you isn’t your fault – especially during childhood. Whatever your feelings on the matter can’t be wrong either. But the goal is to be a survivor, not a perpetual victim. It is your responsibility to do your best to fix yourself. It’s your responsibility to yourself and those around you. Because hurt people hurt people, and there is no excuse for ending up the villain in someone else’s story. I guarantee they will not care you were hurt first. I know I didn’t care when I was hurt, I didn’t care about rough upbringings, about childhood abuse, about brutal “discipline” or withheld parental love. It excused nothing.
In the ’90s, talk therapy often centered around reliving experiences and the concept was that if you faced your demons, if you understood why you became the way you are, you could then figure out how to undo the damage. The truth is, having been led down this path as a teenager, I found it re-victimizing. It was not only unhelpful, but actually damaging. But since it was what I knew to do, and because I am an introverted thinker, I carried on this notion well into my adult years that if I could just un-suppress this memory or that, if I could understand what caused the damage, I could fix it. It didn’t feel good to me but I didn’t know what else to do.
My real epiphany with this was when my current therapist said “It doesn’t matter why you do this, or what your brain is reacting to – what matters is that you find a way to cope with the issue now.” This was a discussion about my insomnia, my “parasomnias” like nightmares, night terrors, sleep walking, sleep talking, sleep eating, sleep paralysis… all the things that disrupt my sleep on a regular basis. And suddenly I’m hearing that it doesn’t matter why my brain is doing this, it doesn’t matter what happened, what matters is that I deal with the problem itself. Create a routine, find soothing sounds or smells, try to identify what helps me relax. And suddenly it made sense to me, why nothing I’d tried before had worked, why I was always uncomfortable with the mental gymnastics required to delve much too far into the past, why it never helped.
A person can identify reasons without using those reasons as excuses.
So long as you’re pointing the finger at someone or something in your past to explain and excuse your present behaviour, you are not taking responsibility at all. It isn’t your fault that you’re broken, it’s your parents fault, it’s your abusers fault, it’s your bully’s fault or the system’s fault. And they may be what caused you to feel broken in the first place, but they are not the reason you are still broken – unless you are actively working to better yourself, that blame lies squarely on your own shoulders. And I guarantee that no amount of blaming anyone else is going to help you get better, it’s only going to allow you to avoid the issue and continue to ignore your obligation to yourself and those around you.
I touched on this topic before, in my post Healing Broken Minds. That was encouragement for mental/emotional healing, but here I’m pointing out that it’s not really optional if you’re going to be a decent person.
There are a number of wrenches in the gears when it comes to this sort of healing, but one of the biggest ones as far as I’m concerned is “I can’t help it.” That statement gets used so, so often and the person speaking it is simply absolving themselves of all responsibility for their own actions, or lack thereof. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering, given that my upbringing was so difficult, why didn’t I turn out worse? I could have easily become an addict, an abuser, a teen mom, or all of these. I was none of these. I resist the notion that I’m just stronger, but I tell myself perhaps I had better supports. The truth is I don’t really know for sure what mixed bag of circumstances led to me turning out far better than I easily could have, but I do know this: What I hated the most about being a kid was my absolute helplessness to change my situation. And when I grew up, I told myself I wasn’t going to be helpless anymore, I wasn’t going to be a victim anymore, now I’m at the wheel and nobody is taking that from me. I swung from one extreme to the other, going from helpless to freakishly controlling and that’s a thing I’ve spent years working toward a middle ground on. But there are very few things I will ever say I can’t help, or don’t control. I do control things, that’s my power, and that’s why I’m no longer a victim. Because while I might acknowledge what caused my flaws, I also acknowledge that they need to be dealt with.
My parents caused a lot of damage to me, directly and indirectly. People sometimes wonder why I can have a relationship with both of them, considering how difficult things were for me as a kid. One, they have both wholeheartedly apologized to me (too many times) and I accepted those apologies, and two, I acknowlege that blaming them isn’t going to change my life now. That there is no magic time machine, that no matter how much anyone might want it – they can’t go back and change the past. We can only move forward. I could accuse them, I could confront them over and over about the things they did, the things they didn’t do, how it made life hard for me… but what’s the point? To heap on guilt? Is that satisfying? Not really. My parents also had difficult upbringings, also suffered mental illness, also passed on a lot of their hurt to me. I don’t need them to feel bad, I need to build relationships now. I don’t want to waste the time I have with parents who genuinely love me by refusing to budge from the past, and no matter how bad I might succeed at making them feel, it is meaningless. It just makes me the hurtful one. It makes me something I don’t want to be.
Am I perfect? Oh hell naw. No. I am difficult sometimes for my family, I have a ton of garbage baggage to work on probably for the rest of my life. I get overwhelmed sometimes, don’t always make the best decisions, don’t always treat people the way I should. Sometimes I need to take my own advice.
All I know is that every person I’ve ever known who is hung up on the past has been a person who is stunted in their emotional growth, a person who isn’t happy, a person who can’t entirely enjoy their present or a person who hurts those that they should care about the most.
I have a lot of sympathy for those who have been deeply hurt and struggle to get well. I have a wellspring of sympathy for those who are in the middle of the hurt right now. I have no sympathy for people who refuse to be better and who use things from many, many years ago to excuse their present behaviour.
Be a grown up.
Don’t let yesterdays monsters ruin your present and future.