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Posts Tagged ‘taking responsibility’

A challenging area of healing from child abuse is achieving a balance in taking responsibility. As is common with many aftereffects of child abuse, taking responsibility is an area in which many child abuse survivors tend to go to one extreme or the other before beginning the healing process. Some child abuse survivors feel responsible for everything under the sun while others blame everyone else for what happens to them. Neither extreme is healthy.

I fell under the category of being ultra-responsible. If anything went “wrong,” I believed it was somehow “my fault” and my responsibility to fix. If I had a disagreement with someone, I would assume I must be wrong and repeatedly “give in.” This attitude attracted many people who would take advantage of me until I finally stood up for myself.

Being ultra-responsible is draining because it makes me feel like it is my job to take care of everyone around me. Someone else’s needs always come before my own, and I have a hard time saying no because I believe it is my responsibility to “fix” other people’s issues. I don’t mean this in a meddling way, although there are probably many ultra-responsible people who also meddle. In my case, I have many people in my life who will ask for my help with X, knowing that I will always do whatever is in my power to help with what is asked. It’s not a “bad” quality, but I need to know how to set boundaries so I don’t neglect my own needs while focusing on everyone else’s needs.

Many child abuse survivors go to the opposite extreme and believe it is other people’s responsibility to meet their needs. I can understand how this mindset could get started because it absolutely WAS their abusers’ fault for traumatizing them as children. The problem is that, as adults, child abuse survivors cannot expect others to meet their needs for them, and not being able to be OK unless someone else is looking out for them keeps them dependent upon others. This cheats child abuse survivors of the ability to make the choices needed to find peace and joy in their own lives. If your happiness is always dependent upon the choices of someone else, you have given up the power to improve your own life.

Whether you struggle with being ultra-responsible or dependent upon others to take responsibility for you, lacking balance in your life in the area of responsibility can be very challenging. Being aware of your tendency toward one extreme or the other is the first step toward finding freedom in this area of your life.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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One area of healing that has been a balancing act for me is allowing myself to be protected versus taking responsibility for finding ways to heal and/or adapt in areas of my life that the abuse has affected. As an example, I developed a phobia of Russian nesting dolls because of their use during my abuse. In the early stages of healing, a friend and I took our children to the library for story time. The story was about Russia, so the librarian brought in a Russian nesting doll set for the children to see. I was triggered by seeing the doll while she read the book, but I was able to hold it together. However, when she started to open the doll (which was a trigger of a specific threat to my sister’s life as a child), I had to leave the room and had a full-fledged panic attack in the bathroom. Thankfully, my friend knew about my phobia and watched my son until I composed myself.

Clearly, I needed to be protected from my trigger in the early stages of healing. I had little experience with working through triggers and managing my anxiety when faced with such a severe trigger for me. However, I cannot spend the rest of my life having to go have a panic attack in the bathroom every time I see a Russian nesting doll. While (thankfully) Russian nesting dolls aren’t on every street corner, I do bump into them in unexpected places, such as on display at a friend’s house (who received them as a gift when adopting from Russia) or for sale at a consignment shop that sells antiques. Part of healing for me has been learning how to manage my triggers. Another way of wording this is taking responsibility for managing my own triggers so that my friends and family don’t have to spend the rest of my life ridding the world of Russian nesting dolls so that I can function.

Of course, my life would be much easier if I could just wave a magic wand and make all Russian nesting dolls disappear, but that isn’t going to happen. I don’t want to spend my life being protected from my triggers, so I have worked hard to dismantle as many triggers as I can. It is a work in progress, but making the choice to take responsibility for managing my triggers has been empowering. Having to rely on other people to protect me from my triggers makes me feel helpless and weak even though I know I am a strong person. Conversely, each baby step that moves me toward being able to manage my own triggers makes me feel empowered.

In fact, just recently I bumped into an open set of Russian nesting dolls at a consignment store, and I was OK. I noticed them and felt a twinge of triggering, but I knew what tools I needed to employ to bring myself back down. My friend wouldn’t have even noticed I was triggered if I hadn’t pointed out the dolls to her. That’s a huge change from the friend who had to watch my son while I had a panic attack in the bathroom several years ago. It felt really good to see my growth in this area of healing.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Sunlight through leaves (c) Lynda Bernhardt

As I have moved from a child abuse “survivor” to “thriver” to “conqueror,” I am finding that I have lost my excuses for the things I do not like about my life. For most of my life, I felt trapped by things outside of my control. I was afraid to stand up for myself. I was a walking doormat, rarely asking for, much less demanding, what I wanted and needed out of life.

As I have healed from my past, I have learned how to set boundaries in my life. I have learned how to say no without feeling guilty about it. I have learned to ask for and demand what I want and need in my life. And yet my life is still not perfect.

Don’t get me wrong: I really do have a good life, and I am content with it for the most part. However, as I continue to become more emotionally healthy, I am becoming more aware of the less-than-healthy relationships in my life. In some cases, I have been aware of the unhealthy aspects for a long time, but I chose not to deal with them. As I now interact with the world from a standpoint of health, the unhealthy stuff is really starting to bug me.

A year ago, I would have pointed to my history being responsible for my circumstances. I would have felt trapped in my circumstances with the need to accept where I am in my life. However, as I have healed, I have had to take responsibility for where I am in my life.

Every single unhealthy relationship that I continue to nurture is in my life because I choose to have it in my life. Every area of my life in which I wish things were different is my responsibility because I am not demanding change.

I have reached a place of accepting that things will continue the way they are in all areas of my life unless I make the choice to change them. So now, I face having to make difficult decisions – to continue to accept less healthy things in my life or to demand change. At this point, it is not an issue of fear of losing any relationship but, instead, weighing out which aspects are worth the investment of energy to change. Sometimes relationships, or certain aspects of relationships, are not worth the investment of energy necessary to change them. Not every relationship is worth saving.

Don’t worry – I am not planning any big changes in my life anytime soon. This is all part of processing my own responsibility for my own happiness in my life.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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