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Posts Tagged ‘what is normal?’

Green and red leaves (c) Lynda BernhardtOne frustration that I used to have in healing from child abuse was all of the “shoulds” that people threw my way. I “should” not still be having flashbacks. After all, nobody could have experienced that much abuse. I “should” be feeling anger toward my abusers. I “should” stop feeling shame and, instead, love myself.

You know what? What I “should” have been feeling was irrelevant because, whether I “should” have been feeling those things or not, I was feeling them. That was my reality. To tell me that I “should” or “shouldn’t” feel a certain way only made me feel even more badly about myself than I already did.

So, I decided to remove the word “should” from my vocabulary as it applied to healing from child abuse. What mattered was my reality, not what another person thought my reality “should” be.

I think that people “should” child abuse survivors to death because they want to put us into a box that they can understand. Does it make sense for a person to feel guilty and responsible for an adult raping her as a child? Of course not. And so, because it does not make sense to the other person, the other person wants to “should” us into a place that makes sense to him or her. However, if you read over the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you will see that guilt and shame are hallmarks of the disorder. If we didn’t have the symptoms, then we wouldn’t have the diagnosis, would we?

If you are feeling overwhelmed by other people’s “shoulds,” choose not to listen to them. What matters is what you are facing in this moment, not where you “should” be according to another person. Whatever you are feeling about your child abuse history is normal.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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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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