I have never suffered because of past trauma. I have suffered a lot because of the ways I adapted to past trauma. Many of the habits I formed and the strategies I used caused me to suffer.
My adaptations to the past are just that–adaptations. I can always form new habits.
Here is an example. In many abusive situations, the only sane response is some form of narcissism. In other abusive environments, the best strategy is codependence. As a result, people often credit a narcissistic or codependent adaptation for helping them survive. But are those adaptations still helping now?
Personal responsibility is great. But blaming myself is not great. And the primary reason I suffered in the past is not individual at all, had nothing to do with my past, and didn’t even have anything to do with my adaptations, habits or strategies. The primary reason I suffered is that my families were sick. (By family I mean any strongly emotionally connected group of people.)
What makes a family sick?
Sickness is trying to control other people. Sickness is trying to control anyone’s relationship to anyone else. Sickness is also trying to control anyone’s relationship to their own values, problems or goals.
Of course there are more malicious forms of manipulation, like sexual harassment. And there are less malicious forms, like trying to force an addict to stop using. Just like there are minor illnesses and fatal ones. But any attempt to control someone else is sickness.
How do you start to heal a sick family?
The first step is to stop spreading the illness. Stop making any attempt to control anyone’s relationship with anyone else.
No more excuses. No more excuses for anyone, including your past self, your beloved significant other, or your favorite relative. No more rationalizations, no more justifications, no more projecting. No more trying to get inside someone else’s head and do their thinking for them. And no more blame. No more complaining, no more gossip, and no more cultivating allies to help you out in conflicts.
No more trying to figure out other people. No more trying to understand their character. Talk directly to them and listen. Connect. Or…don’t connect. Leave, if that’s what’s necessary. Either way, whether you stay or go, no more trying to control anyone or anything.
If I try to control someone, I give them power over me. Because now they are taking up space in my brain. If I try to control something, I give it power over me. Because now it occupies my brain.
And when other people have power over me, I get resentful. I blame them. But I am the one who has become harmful. The resentment has made me so. It was my attempt to control them that gave them power in the first place.
Never-the-less, I can believe I am the victim, because it feels that way.
Your gut feelings might not always be a great guide to showing you how harmful your own behavior is. You know how it often feels uncomfortable when you are learning a new skill? The same is true of behavioral patterns and emotional adaptations. They feel uncomfortable at first.
Meanwhile, the self-destructive tendencies often feel both comfortable and empowering (in the moment). Self-righteous anger comes with a hit of invigorating adrenaline that boosts confidence. Believing that I am a victim makes self-righteous anger easier. But what happens if I notice that I seem to need a stronger and stronger adrenaline dose?
The adaptations that used to keep you sane might be the same adaptations that are destroying you now.