RIDING THE CYCLE OF SELF-SABOTAGE, BLAME, GUILT, AND SHAME WHEN HEALING FROM CHILDHOOD TRAUMA.
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Hi Love! I'm Morgan and I'm a childhood trauma survivor, 1:1 coach, and the creator of Rising Warrior Collective. a safe space for survivors of childhood trauma to begin healing. If you're ready to take your healing to the next level, let's connect and talk about what it looks like to work 1:1.
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So, you’ve started to connect the dots between what happened to you in childhood and how it has and continues to impact your adult life. You’ve read some books, had some huge “lightbulb” moments, set some new goals for yourself, and maybe even sought out the support of a trauma informed therapist or coach. Things are going well and you’re feeling good, even hopeful about the future and your mental health. Then all of a sudden BAM! You find yourself sucked right back into your old patterns, stories, and beliefs.
You’re not sure why or how but all of a sudden you’re in a rabbit hole of despair and the hopefulness you were feeling has disappeared. You respond by blaming yourself, and then the guilt begins to creep in and finally you’re left standing in the shadow of shame, doubting if things will ever get better and questioning if you’re just too broken. If you’re like me, at this point you might push everyone away and isolate for a period of time before it feels safe enough to try again. Does this cycle sound familiar?
I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve subconsciously subjected myself to this cycle. During the early years of my recovery I would beat up on myself so much that I’m surprised I’m still standing. It’s common today in my work as a trauma coach that somewhere between weeks five and seven of my 3-month coaching program, I will start to see a 1-1 client show signs of this cycle. When I first started coaching this could easily spin me into my own unhealthy patterns, but I now understand that this cycle is common and expected as trauma survivors. It’s part of the healing work we have to walk through in order to learn how to better navigate it when it inevitably shows up.
“You may start that new entrepreneurial venture, begin studying for a test, or start writing that script or song, and seeing some real indicators of success, and then – something sets in, you feel yourself becoming blocked and empty. A paralyzing feeling that you simply can’t go on. You cannot physically keep going. You know exactly what to do, but you can’t bring your mind, emotions, or body to do it. You become depressed, you retreat into yourself and then, after some time you find the courage to start again, and the cycle repeats.” ~ Growhealchange.org
SO WHY DO WE DO THIS?
If you grew up in a toxic, dysfunctional, addicted, or narcissistic family it means that you were raised by adults who were living in the aftermath of their own unhealed trauma – commonly unaware. Essentially, as childhood trauma survivors we grew up in the shadows of our family trauma. From an early age we learned how to tiptoe around the dysfunction, take care of our addicted family member(s), hide from our abusers, and do our absolute best to play small and keep quiet as it kept the attention off of us (survival tool).
Every adult in my family, including my older brother, was battling addiction and/or mental health challenges when I was a kid. This meant that there was very little focus on nurturing my gifts, talents, and curiosities. I was lucky if I was sent to school on a consistent basis let alone supported to harness the skills needed to grow and evolve into an independent and confident woman. I wasn’t told that I could be or do anything I set my mind to. I wasn’t loved unconditionally. My worth, value, and meaning as a girl were achieved by keeping quiet, not rocking the boat (having my own thoughts, feelings, and opinions), and taking care of the adults around me.
Many of us had no choice but to grow up quickly and take care of our caretakers because our lives literally depended on them. It’s not uncommon in narcissistic and dysfunctional households that children are actually judged harshly for wanting to better themselves, grow beyond the family limits, and evolve from the chaos. Doing so tends to shine a light on the dysfunction of others and trigger their own cycle of self-sabotage, shame, blame, and guilt. So, we learned early on that nothing good came from trying to get out, so we slowly recreated our family dynamics along with their voices within ourselves and emotionally remained where we believed we deserved to be. I want to remind you as I always do, NONE OF THIS WAS YOUR FAULT.
These are the tangled roots of self-sabotage, also accompanied by difficulty saying no. This makes the individual lack the basic tenets of self-care and nurture. This environment conditions the child to mesh with the family rather than search for her true self. It teaches her to shrink and devolve, instead of instilling the confidence and resilience needed for growth, evolution, and positive change.
HOW DO WE GET OUT OF THE CYCLE?
I deeply value honesty and transparency in the work I put out into the world. That being said, I’m 8 years into my recovery and this cycle still happens to me. Not as much these days, but it still happens. I don’t say this to scare you, I say it because it is my truth. Healing from trauma has been the hardest thing I have ever committed to. If I were to only share the shiny parts of my journey with you, it wouldn’t serve you.
While I haven’t yet completely let go of this cycle, I have learned how to navigate it in a much healthier way than I used to. I also do my best to not reach for perfection anymore, but instead to aim for progress and consistency. When I say progress, I’m talking about small baby steps that over time add up to bigger changes and shifts.
To navigate this cycle when it does show up (because it inevitably will), we want to get really good at surfing. While I’m talking figuratively, learning how to surf in real life is also a great tool for trauma and cPTSD recovery.
Imagine life as the ocean. Sometimes the seas will be calm and easy to navigate, other times choppy and needing a bit more focus, and then the inevitable turbulence of a storm comes up that requires all of our attention in order to make it through. If we can learn how to navigate each of these scenarios while staying on or at least close to our surfboard then we learn to weather the storm and come out stronger because of it. While we might still be thrown into this trauma cycle, we don’t stay there as long and we begin to see it as an opportunity for growth instead of a personal failure.
IN ORDER TO DO THIS WE HAVE TO EQUIP OURSELVES WITH THE RIGHT TOOLS.
Awareness is the very first step towards healing and without it, getting out of this cycle can feel damn near impossible! If we don’t understand that our trauma is still with us, most likely guiding the ship, then we go forward assuming we are to blame (as we have our whole lives). We assume there is no other reason that we find ourselves in these cycles other than the belief that we are damaged, broken, and unable to handle adulthood. Lack of awareness feeds our shame and guilt.
How do we build our awareness?
While each of these tools is extremely important, it’s hard to truly express how important it is to work on your ability to offer yourself compassion throughout this process. Many of us have taken away some pretty toxic traits from childhood that are nearly impossible to live up to, one of them being perfectionism. I want you to know that you will never reach a point in this work where you are “perfect.” I’m sorry that the experiences of your childhood caused you to feel unsafe as an imperfect human because it’s just not possible to be anything but. When we let go of perfection and replace it with slow and steady progress, we then create an environment that allows us to be messy – and THAT’S MORE THAN OK! You WILL fall off the surfboard at times, the goal is not to never fall, it’s to get back up quicker and without shaming, blaming, or beating ourselves up because we fell. Perfectionism is a survival tool we gained during childhood. It kept us safe but it’s time to identify that it’s no longer serving us and it serves us more now to let it go.
Tip: Most of us have an inner critical parent who makes it hard to let go of our perfectionism. It’s helpful to identify this part, begin building a relationship with it, and help it to feel safe enough to let go of this survival tool.
As I said above, you will inevitably fall and you will likely continue for some time to experience this cycle. When you do, forgive yourself and keep going. Our initial response is to want to beat on and bully ourselves. This makes sense since these are the patterns we were mirrored in childhood. This is your pattern and your responsibility to disrupt – this is the time to do it. Self-love will always win over self-hate.
4. Inner-Child Work
Every single one of us has an inner-child. Some are lucky enough to have an inner-child who feels safe, cared for, and nurtured. For those of us who experienced long-term developmental trauma, it’s likely that our inner children did not get the opportunity to feel these things. It is now your responsibility to be the loving, caring parent to that child that you needed. When you find yourself going into the cycle, this is your sign from your inner-child that they need something, they need you. They may be scared, lonely, sad, or even angry. They are asking to be seen, supported, and loved. Hold space for them to have those feelings and in turn you will be doing the same for yourself.
Inner-child work is also the tool that helps us to finally feel worthy and deserving of progress in our healing. When at the core of our being, we don’t feel like we deserve joy, happiness, and inner peace then we will subconsciously continue to self-sabotage. Healing those inner wounds through inner-child work helps us to connect back to our innate worthiness and value simply for being ourselves, not for what we do or offer.
Check-in question: Would I talk to a small child or my best friend the way I’m talking to myself right now?
Yes, it’s possible to do a lot of this work on your own but in my experience we often choose this route because it feels “safer,” and there is less room for disappointment – something we have a lot of experience with and we try at all costs to avoid. Seeking support or asking for help may very likely be a challenge for you, which means that this is a growth edge (an area we are being asked to step into in order to heal and grow). As trauma survivors, we often walk through this world with the mindset of “I’m fine, I can do it myself.” This is because we’ve always had to. You don’t have to anymore, nor should you. I personally spent the first 4 years of my healing doing it alone. It was lonely, isolating, and exhausting. My healing exponentially evolved when I finally asked for help and sought out support. Being alone is part of our wound, we have to work toward opening that door slowly and when it feels safe. You will inevitably need to lean in for support and having those pieces in place is like setting future “YOU” up for success. Here are a few suggestions:
YOU CAN MANAGE THE CYCLE WITHOUT IT MANAGING YOU.
It’s possible to get a handle on the cycle of self-sabotage, blame, shame, and guilt that constantly sneaks in and interferes with your healing. I can’t promise that it will be easy but it is possible. This process requires vigilance, it asks that you take some time from the thinking mind and step into the feeling body. Pay attention to the signs, get to know your triggers, check in with how you’re feeling and what your inner parts might need in stressful or high anxiety situations. And I can’t stress this enough.. slow down. It becomes much easier to see all of these things when you’re moving at a slower pace and allowing YOU to connect with YOU.
If you are ready to connect the dots between what happened to you and how it’s impacting your adult life so that you can finally begin to heal those wounds, I would love to support you. My 1:1 coaching container creates a compassionate, non-judgmental, and safe space that meets you right where you are today. From there we move at a pace that supports your life, goals, and visions for your unique and beautiful future, a future that can look anyway you CHOOSE.
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You never know how one conversation could shift the direction of your life.
Lots of love ~ Morgan
September 15, 2022