“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” ~Kahlil Gibran
You’re stupid. You’re a loser. You’re worthless. You will never amount to anything. You’re not worthy of love. These are things I’ve told myself throughout my life.
The experiences I had throughout my childhood led me to believe I was deeply unlovable. I thought that because I had been abused and ignored, there was something seriously wrong with me.
That’s what abuse and neglect does. It seeps inside you down to the deepest level. It changes you in every way.
You begin to feel as if you don’t matter. You blame yourself, thinking maybe you did something bad enough to deserve it.
You push people away. You build walls because it’s easier than letting people in and letting them get to know you.
You sabotage anything that could turn out to be good because you believe you don’t deserve to have good things.
You may look for any little thing in a relationship that would make you feel justified in running for the hills because when someone shows you love, it terrifies you.
Even after the abuse ends your brain finds a way to continue abusing you.
I grew up with emotionally stunted parents. The only emotion my father knew was anger, and when he expressed it, it terrified me. My mother was a very distant woman who kept to herself and ignored what was happening around her. This left me feeling trapped, with no one to talk to.
I shut down emotionally just like my mother. The only way to escape my environment was to close in on myself and keep everything inside.
For a long time I believed my childhood trauma was my fault. I told myself no one could ever love me because my parents didn’t, so how could anyone else? I told myself I was worth less than dirt and proceeded to treat myself as such.
It’s easy to think that once you leave those people behind life will be better and bright. No more pain. No more heartbreak.
I thought that leaving the place I was born, the place that had brought me so much pain and sadness and anger and self-hate, would solve all my problems. I thought the words (stupid worthless piece of garbage!) that repeated over and over in my mind daily would dissolve. I thought if I could just get enough distance between myself and my parents, it would all magically fix itself and I’d become a completely different person.
I was wrong.
Leaving didn’t solve anything other than putting over 2,000 miles between me and them. I didn’t magically change.
Those thoughts were still there. They became stronger over time, but at first they weren’t as bad. A few years later I was blindsided with feelings of self-loathing. Every time I made a mistake it was because I was stupid, and you better believe I never missed an opportunity to berate myself for those mistakes.
I believed the dirt on the ground was worth more than me. There was always this voice in my head whispering “worthless, worthless, worthless,” and I believed it.
I really struggled. I felt lost and alone. I hated my parents. I held on to so much anger over what had happened that I was blinded by it. If I could keep that anger and pain alive, I could use it to punish my parents. Or so I thought. I was only hurting myself.
A few months ago I started counseling. I’ve learned a few things about myself and life in general. I hope that if you are struggling or have experienced trauma, these things will help you too.
1. Abuse is never, ever okay.
There is nothing a child could ever do to deserve abuse. If you are an abuse survivor of any kind, it was not your fault. You didn’t deserve to be hurt in that way.
2. You don’t have to believe every negative thing you think about yourself.
When we’re born, we don’t have all those self-loathing thoughts floating around in our heads. They are ingrained in us by others, and if we live with them long enough, we start to believe they’re true.
When you start to tell yourself that you are worthless or ugly or stupid, think about that thought and where it really comes from. You’ll most likely find that it stems from an external source. If we examine these thoughts we’ll see that perhaps they aren’t how we truly feel about ourselves. We can change them.
3. Abuse doesn’t make you any less worthy of love.
I know that’s hard to believe, but it’s true. Just because someone else can’t see your worth that doesn’t mean it’s not there.
4. It’s okay to ask for help.
There are many trauma-informed mental health providers out there. They can be helpful in giving us tools to live better lives. They also set us on the path of being able to see that we do matter and we do deserve good things.
5. It’s okay to let go of people who’ve hurt you, whether that is a parent, sibling, aunt, or uncle.
We live in a world that acts as if familial relationships are forever, no matter how poorly we may be treated. Sometimes they are. Sometimes they aren’t. It’s okay to put yourself first. It’s okay to either set strict boundaries or let go completely. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
6. It’s never too late to take care of your inner child.
Many survivors feel as though they missed out on a “normal” childhood. Your inner child is the part of you that feels wounded and unworthy. That little child reaches out for you, begging you to listen and be there.
Ask that part of you what it needs, and do that. It could be something creative like coloring or finger-painting. It could be dancing or playing a favorite game. Or they might want validation for their feelings. Don’t criticize your inner child’s thoughts. Let them know they are loved. Let them know you will be there from now on.
Healing isn’t easy. If you’ve lived your life believing you don’t matter, it can be very difficult to even want to set out on the path to healing. Give yourself a chance. Don’t give up on yourself, on who you could become. It will take some deep digging, but it’s worth it. You are worth it.