Tag Archives: Taking responsibility

The Poison We Take

I’m sure you’ve heard the adage: “Bitterness is the poison you take hoping someone else will die.” So true. But you say to yourself, “I’m not bitter.” What about the person or persons who abused you? Have you forgiven them? Bitterness is nothing more than a lack of forgiveness that grows and foments in your heart.

I can almost see you rolling your eyes and giving me a “huh!” or “Yeah, right.” And for sure you’re thinking, “What? Are you kidding? Let that #@!? off the hook? Are you crazy?” Well, let’s see. No, I’m not kidding. No, I’m not letting the #@!? off the hook, and no, I’m not crazy, well not anymore anyway.

A wise doctor once told me that as long as I refuse to forgive my abuser(s), I’m connected to them. I’m spending energy on them. That’s the poison. If I’m holding on to the awful wrongs they did to me, I’m thinking about them, I’m letting their actions control my emotions, thus spending energy and keeping my connection with them strong.

Letting them off the hook? Nope? That’s not up to me. If they are to be let off the hook, they have some action to take, which includes repentance. And only God can let them off the hook, though as long as they live they will endure the consequences of their choices. Now, I know that it may appear that they’re not experiencing any consequences, but we can’t see the torture God may be working in their souls. And they’re certainly not going to let it show if they can help it. But it’s not unusual for these people to turn to a variety of behaviors to try to numb the guilt and try to kill the compulsion to repeat the offense. Think of heavy drinking, drug abuse, sex addictions, serial “relationships,” loss of family and friends and certainly of self respect. They are living every day with the fear that someone will find out about their “dirty little secret.” So, no, forgiveness in no way lets them off the hook.

Do they deserve more? Yes, I think so, but that’s really not up to me, except in the respect of reporting them to authorities. I had a lovely fantasy of torture that I entertained for some time, but eventually I gave it up in favor of forgiveness when I realized how much time I was spending thinking about my abuser. If I wanted to move on and be free from him/them, I had to forgive. It wasn’t easy, because I just didn’t feel like forgiving. Then someone pointed out to me that forgiveness had nothing to do with how I felt and everything to do with my will. I just had to choose. Whether or not I felt like it, I could choose to forgive them and release myself from the grip they had held on me.

It took a lot of forgiving in the beginning. I’d forgive, and then an hour later, I’d find myself thinking bitter thoughts, so I’d forgive again. Sort of like washing my hair. You know: lather, rinse, repeat. Only this was: forgive, release, repeat. Finally, I could go half a day, then a whole day. It takes practice, but it is so worth it. I certainly did not want to feel connected to my abuser(s). I learned how great it felt to be free, so I became committed to forgiveness. Now I practice it as a regular part of my life to keep my friendships in good shape and to release myself from bitter thoughts.

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1 Sure Way to Derail Your Recovery

I’ve observed through my many hospital stays that people tend to compare their abuse against what others have experienced and then rate their hurt and pain on an imaginary scale. Then they decide how much hurt they should be experiencing in relation to others. Some come to think they shouldn’t be making such a “big deal” about their hurt; others look at their pain and wonder what others are complaining about, because clearly they haven’t suffered as much as they have. To illustrate the futility of this behavior, think about your last trip to the doctor or emergency room. One of the questions frequently asked is, “How would you rate your pain on a scale from one to 10?” Never do they ask, “And how do you think your pain compares to the person in the next room?” It would be ludicrous, and yet we do it with emotional pain all the time.

This continual evaluating of your pain against another’s can become a serious distraction from recovery. When you minimize your pain, you don’t give your best effort at feeling and working through it. You devalue it, thereby derailing your recovery. You begin to wonder why, if your pain was so “minor” compared to others’, you feel so devastated. You wonder why your life is in the pits and you’re feeling so out of control.

Those who compare trauma to prove their trauma is worse, do so, I believe, because their feelings are so big, so overwhelming that they think they MUST have had the worst trauma ever. Otherwise there is no justification in their world for their dramatic emotions. They feel they have to prove why their feelings are so intense.

There’s also a phenomenon among people in group therapy settings that cause some people to play the “one-up” game. You know, someone tells her story, giving some details. The following day someone else speaks up to tell his story, and it’s just a bit “worse.” And so it goes until the stories have eroded into bizarre fantasy. These people are not bad or trying to minimize the pain of others no matter how it may seem. It’s simply their way of justifying the depth of their feelings.

What’s important to understand is that in some important ways, your story doesn’t matter. If what happened to you was bad enough to cause you pain, then it was bad. And that’s all that matters. You hurt. You need healing, just like I do. It’s one of the reasons I didn’t share my story in the blog, because it really doesn’t matter. I was wounded, and I had to work through healing, just like you.

I have discovered that pain is pain. You can’t compare it. If you hurt, you hurt. It doesn’t help to hear that someone else hurts worse. Or do they? How does anyone know? And why would it matter anyway. Pain is pain. If you’re hurting, you’re hurting. And that’s what you deal with.

That’s what you have to deal with in recovery. Just focus on what’s causing you pain. Minimizing your pain, because you think someone else had it worse or inflating your trauma to justify your feelings, does nothing but delay your healing. Your focus must be on yourself, your pain and your problems. This is one time when your attention needs to be on yourself for the purpose of healing. What others do in their journey to recovery has no bearing on you or your recovery.

I understand that you may have a family that needs and deserves your time and attention, and you don’t want to neglect them in favor of focusing exclusively on yourself. It does mean, however, that you take some time for yourself when you shut everything else out and care for yourself. Just remember to deal with your own pain and let others deal with theirs. You can have compassion for them, but keep your boundaries in place as you deal with your burdens and move toward healing.


The Guilt Bucket

The Guilt Bucket   This post goes hand-in-hand with Step 3: Take Responsibility. Accepting responsibility and asking forgiveness for the things we do wrong are keys to maintaining successful relationships. However, when sexual abuse has been a part of our history, guilt tends to get in the way. Why is that?  Well, children are egocentric. That is, they think the world centers around them. That’s the way they’re supposed to be; it’s part of the normal developmental process. But when sexual abuse enters the picture, they believe that they are the cause. When we become adults, it means we are left with feelings of guilt. It doesn’t seem to make sense, but it is a reality.

So now that we’re adults, what do we do with this guilt? It’s time to learn the difference between true guilt and false guilt.   True guilt is the guilt we experience for the things we do that are wrong. We all come equipped with a God-given conscience that alerts us when we do something wrong. The problem for abuse survivors is that the conscience becomes warped, and we find ourselves continuing to feel guilty even when we’ve done nothing wrong. That’s false guilt.  So what does that have to do with taking responsibility? A really good therapist explained it to me using the example of the Guilt Bucket. He told me to think of it this way: You have a bucket that fills up with the things you feel guilty about. When you fill it up with false guilt, for things like sexual abuse, your bucket becomes full. So when true guilt comes along, you can’t accept it; your bucket is already full. So you reject the true guilt and become defensive when someone calls you on something.   The way to heal it is to dump out the false guilt to make room for the true guilt.

How do you do that? The first step is to learn how to tell the difference between true guilt and false guilt. This is where the 5 Steps of Recovery come in.  You must decide to face the issue, tell the truth and now, learn to take responsibility.  The main issue is looking into the past and giving responsibility for the abuse back to those who were responsible. That’s not easy, so try this. Take a long look at children you know. Now imagine someone approaching them to do harm. Would you then blame the children? Of course not! And yet if you’re like I was, you feel responsible for what happened to you.  It was not my fault, and it’s certainly not yours.

Practice emptying your guilt bucket of false guilt, so it won’t overflow when the real thing comes along. I just try to visualize what’s in the bucket. I “look” at each one in my mind. Was this really my responsibility? Is this something someone else did to me? Is this a choice that I made? Answer those questions honestly, and then you will be able to take responsibility for the things you do wrong while letting the other stuff go. You will be amazed at the improvement in relationships you’ll see when you can take responsibility for your own stuff. It’s just part of being adult. And the most surprising part about this is how freeing it is to be able to say, “I’m sorry. I was wrong,.”

What? you say. Yes, I know, I really do know, that to say you’re sorry is to humble yourself and be vulnerable. Those are two very difficult things to do for anyone, abused or not. And notice:  I said humble yourself, not humiliate yourself. Those are two very different things.   One of the first times I practiced taking responsibility for something I knew was mine was with my daughter. I realized how much I had hurt her with all my suicide attempts and cutting, so I told her that, and then I said, “I’m sorry. Would you please forgive me?” I knew I had done the right thing when she turned around with tears streaming down her cheeks. It’s what she needed to hear from me, and it was the beginning of a transformation in our relationship. That was the moment the gap between us began to close, and now our relationship is better than it’s ever been, all because of two words: I’m sorry. They may be the most powerful, most healing words you ever utter.