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Archive for February 9th, 2011

A reader emailed me and asked me to write about how to deal with judgmental people and the stigma of having a history of child abuse and/or the stigma of the reaction to the child abuse, such as checking into a mental institution, attempting suicide, etc. The reader points out that the stigma can persist even after the child abuse survivor has become much more emotionally stable and even after many years have passed.

I my own words, it is like you will always be “Crazy Aunt Sally” because you checked yourself into a mental institution for treatment 15 years ago. No matter how much progress Sally has made or how functional she has become, nobody seems to acknowledge the changes. All that matters is that Sally once tried to kill herself, so she will always be “Crazy Aunt Sally,” no matter how stable she is for the rest of her life.

I, personally, think these judgments say much more about the person making them than they do about the person being stigmatized. Anyone who will continually throw your history in your face, even after decades have passed, is a person who has not grown much himself. Anyone who has experienced personal growth is going to recognize that we are alway evolving, hopefully into a healthier version of ourselves. Those who are most resistant to my healing in my offline life are those who have experienced very little personal growth themselves.

I ran into this problem with my mother-in-law before she passed away. The healthier I got, the more I felt judged by her. I think this is because I was easy to manipulate before healing, and I was my own person after working in therapy for a while. Her judgment was a way to try to regain her power over me, which is clearly an unhealthy dynamic.

My therapist gave me some great advice. He said that an in-law is always going to be viewed as the “out-law,” and there is a lot of freedom in embracing the role of the “out-law.” In other words, stop trying to fit in somewhere that will never be a good fit. He said that if she is going to judge me no matter what I do, then I might as well do whatever works for me. This doesn’t mean letting go of basic courtesy, but it means not giving a flying flip what she thinks when I make my own choices. If I don’t want to put up with something, then don’t. It was scary to try this out at first, but it wound up working very well for me. Once I stopped caring about her judgments, I found them to be pathetic rather than biting.

The same thing applies to all of the other relationships in your life, whether we are talking about family, friends, or co-workers. People’s judgments about you only matter if you give them power. What matters is that you love and accept who you are. Once you truly love and accept yourself, then the opinions of others will no longer matter to you.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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