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Posts Tagged ‘not fitting in’

A reader emailed me with a topic suggestion. The reader is having a difficult time dealing with the shame of child abuse, and the shame is interfering with the reader feeling like a part of the family. The isolation the reader feels is reinforcing the shame, and the reader wants to know what to do about it.

I have been in that terrible place, and it is truly miserable. The shame is one thing that drove me to enter into therapy. The shame was so heavy and dark that I could not look anyone in the eye. I didn’t know how to interact with anyone else because I felt like I was so dark and dirty while they were pure and good. How could I interact with them in my “filth”?

Fortunately, I got into therapy soon after this, which really helped me to work through the shame. I found it powerful to have a licensed professional tell me that I was not responsible and did not deserve to feel the shame. I also read several books written for survivors of sexual abuse that dealt squarely with shame and also talked with fellow child abuse survivors at Isurvive about how I was feeling. Isurvive was particularly helpful because I did not see why any of them should feel shame, and they were able to say the same thing to me.

To a certain extent, I had to do things that were good for me despite how I felt about myself. For example, I would tell myself, “I love you. You are safe. I’m sorry,” multiple times a day even though I did not believe of word of it. My therapist gave me “homework” to do kind things for myself even though I didn’t believe I deserved them.

If you haven’t heard of the “Good/Evil Wolf” story, read it here. I think there is an enormous amount of truth in that story. Each time you choose to think bad things about yourself, you are feeding your “evil” wolf, and each time you choose to treat yourself with kindness, even when you don’t believe you deserve it, you are feeding your “good” wolf. As you strengthen your “good wolf” through self-kindness, positive thoughts, and choosing to tell that negative voice inside to shut the h@#$ up, you will begin to lose the shame.

Being mired in shame feels so “normal” to child abuse survivors, and self-kindness feels foreign. To a certain extent, you are taking a leap of faith to try something different that you believe you do not deserve. I am glad that I took this leap because the shame, for the most part, is now gone.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I read something recently that got me thinking about something I used to struggle with. Soon after I started having flashbacks, I found Isurvive, which is a message board for child abuse survivors. I couldn’t believe that I had found a community where my symptoms actually made sense and where I was fully accepted just for being me. Up until this point in my life, I never really felt like I fit in anywhere. Suddenly, I was part of a very supportive community surrounded by people who were dealing with similar issues. I felt Iike I had just discovered my Mother Ship!

Fast-forward a few years … I continued to be very active at Isurvive, but I found that I was spending a lot more time posting support for others than needing support myself. Of course, I had my moments and still received wonderful support, but the dynamic has shifted from me mostly receiving to mostly giving. I was completely okay with doing lots of giving, but I had a deep-seated fear that I did not want to share with anyone – What happens if/when I heal enough that I no longer belong here?

The thought of losing the one place on earth where I felt like I belonged was frightening. It was enough to get me second-guessing whether I really wanted to continue healing at the pace that I was. Of course, I wanted the pain to end, but I did not want to lose my connection with the child abuse survivor community. It took me a while to work through this struggle, especially since these fears were my own little secret. I did not want to sound arrogant about my healing process, nor did I want to risk no longer fitting in.

I eventually wound up starting this blog, and Lori (the Isurvive board owner) included my blog as a resource for people from Isurvive. I became an Amazon affiliate and set up the commissions to be direct deposited over to Isurvive. This enabled me to stay a part of that wonderful community while also spreading my wings.

For the first few months, I continued being active over there as well as writing this blog. Life circumstances (including starting a new job as well as a new online website business) limited the time that I had to be active on message boards, and I wound up putting my focus here and dropping out of being active over at Isurvive. I still pop in from time to time, and it is great to see some familiar folks, but I am an old dinosaur there now. Most of the active people probably don’t even know who I am unless they have checked out my blog. And you know what? I am okay!

I am grateful that I continued to follow my intuition and allow myself to heal. I realize that I have not “lost” anything. I am still active in the child abuse survivor community, just in a different way. I also have a lot of learning and growing to do myself – I am far from having all of the answers. You don’t have to choose between healing and being a member of a supportive community. If you will allow yourself to follow the flow of healing, it will lead you to new places that satisfy you. You don’t have to “stay sick” to keep your support community.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Frog statue (c) Lynda BernhardtLast week, I focused on my perceived lack of social graces and how it was making me feel like a fish out of water. I had a near panic attack going to a birthday party last week, even though two of my good friends were throwing it for their sons, whose birthdays are only a few days apart. I had a bunch of close friends there, but that didn’t matter. I had to take over-the-counter medication to calm myself down so I could even attend.

One of my friends noticed that I wasn’t quite right and asked if I was okay. Of course, I started crying. I couldn’t talk about it there, or I knew I would fall apart. I made a joke about inheriting my sister’s social anxiety disorder, to which she replied that at least I was comfortable in social settings. That made me laugh.

I still cannot quite pinpoint what got me so worked up. I was triggered – obviously – but I cannot exactly say what needed (or still needs) healing. All I know is that I felt a lot of shame, even though I know I have no reason to feel shameful.

I didn’t feel “normal,” and that dredged up all of my childhood insecurities of not fitting in anywhere. A wise friend reminded me recently that there is no “normal” and that we fit in as well as we believe that we fit in. I think there is a lot of truth to that.

I am “normal” in that I am a “normal” trauma survivor. A part of myself longs to be “normal,” defined as “fitting in” with those around me. And yet, I question if that should be my goal. Do I really want to spend an hour discussing the pros and cons of choosing off-white versus eggshell for the trim in my kitchen? No, honestly, from the bottom of my heart, I don’t give a #$%&. It’s all white to me.

For some reason, I was deeply triggered, and it shook my confidence in myself. I questioned whether being me was enough. The bottom line is that I am who I am, and that is not going to change. I can pretend to be another person, just as I did for most of my life, but that won’t make me “normal.” That’s just a mask. I don’t want to wear a mask any longer.

It seems like the people who are “normal” just want to be “superheroes,” and those who are “superheroes” just want to be “normal.” Most people do not seem to be happy with who they are. But the bottom line is that it does not matter if I am viewed as “normal,” “abnormal,” or a “superhero.” I can only be me.

And when it comes down to it, it is only my opinion of myself that matters. If I told my friends that I was feeling insecure about myself, they would rally around me and tell me how much they care. But I know from experience that I will not feel their love unless I first love myself. This isn’t about anyone else – it is about me.

I am probably overanalyzing myself and my reaction, in part because I don’t like feeling so badly. The bottom line is that only I can choose to accept or reject myself. No matter which path I choose, the opinions of everyone else are not going to change how I feel about myself. It’s up to me to decide what “normal” is for me and embrace myself, regardless of how I measure up to anyone else.

Related topic:

Warped Reality of the Abused Adopted Child

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Child in field (c) Lynda BernhardtThis week, I have been talking about the struggles of not having the same social graces that other people have, thanks to being raised in an abusive environment. Today, I’d like to go more into the feeling of isolation and “not fitting in” that many child abuse survivors experience.

I am very active on a message board for adult child abuse survivors. I never felt like I fit in anywhere until I found that place. Of course, just about everyone on there pretty much felt the same way – that they had never fit in anywhere. Many “newbies” to that site question whether they will fit in there because they have never experienced a feeling of belonging before. It feels so wonderful when you finally find a group of people that understand you.

I often find myself feeling like an outsider in a group. I will volunteer to facilitate a group, in part to keep myself separate by choice. That way, when I feel left out or different, I can pretend that is the reason why. It is unlikely for me to come across someone in my day-to-day life who has healed from dissociative identity disorder (DID) or who has suffered from child abuse as severe as mine.

I do meet many people who have suffered form some form of abuse, and we definitely wind up having a lot in common. But that only comes out when we move to the one-on-one setting. It’s not like a group of women are going to sit around swapping childhood rape stories.

I wrestle with the need to connect with others and the need to protect myself from rejection. The more I feel comfortable with myself – with loving and accepting myself the way I am – the less vulnerable I feel to the opinions of others. It is only my own opinion of myself that should matter.

While I am generally successful in feeling comfortable in my own skin, I will get triggered from time to time, as happened over the weekend, and then all of those old insecurities arise again. I question if I will always feel like the odd man out. I wonder if there is a place for me anywhere.

I know this is completely crazy because I have so many people who care about me in my life. But one trigger can make all of that seem so fleeting and fragile. I guess this is just another layer of pain that I need to grieve and heal. I need to have a good cry and plug back into my life. I need to get back to how I feel about myself rather than being so sensitive to the opinions of others. I don’t want to give my power away like that.

Related Topic:

Warped Reality of the Abused Adopted Child

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Looking out over ocean (c) Lynda BernhardtIn my last post, Lack of Social Graces After Child Abuse, I shared my frustration with not knowing many basic social graces thanks to my history of being raised in an abusive environment. In this post, I would like to go into more depth about the ways that social graces are hard for me. I hope that by sharing this about myself, it will help you to feel better about your own frustrations in this area.

In many ways, I just want to be a normal person. My therapist says that I will never be “normal” (in a good way) because I have many gifts and talents that preclude me from being “normal.” That is all well and good, but it would be nice not to feel like a buffoon in social situations.

For example, I have a phobia of Russian nesting dolls thanks to a particularly savage gang rape that involved them. When my son was a toddler, I took him to the local library for story time. The librarian pulled out a Russian nesting doll, and I started to feel intense anxiety. She started to open the doll, and I had to leave the room. Fortunately, I was there with a neighbor who knew about my phobia (but not the intensity or cause), so she watched my son while I had a panic attack in the bathroom. It’s kind of hard to blend in when you hyperventilate around an inanimate object like that.

I know several people who love gardening. Also, my son’s school has “gardening days” where parents come in and plant flowers around the campus. I cannot do it. I just say, “I don’t do gardening,” and let people think that I am a little princess. However, the truth is that getting dirt under my fingernails is extremely triggering to me because it reminds me of being buried alive and having to claw my way out of the dirt. There is no smooth way to work that into a conversation.

Nobody likes to feel like she doesn’t fit in. I often feel this way in groups, especially when I am around people who do not know about my history. I hate sidestepping the fact that I have not been in contact with my mother/abuser in 4-1/2 years without getting into why. Most people look down upon a person who is not in contact with her mother, assuming that she is an ungrateful jerk.

It’s hard. Yes, I have done an enormous amount of healing work. However, there are some things that I will never have that most people do, and that’s hard. It is yet one more thing that I need to grieve.

Related Topic:

Warped Reality of the Abused Adopted Child

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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