The Self-harm fulfilling prophesy

One of the interesting and damaging things about certain types of childhood trauma is the way our sense of self and boundaries are affected. If you were conditioned as a child to have no boundaries or very unhealthy ones, then as an adult you may find you struggle with giving too much information too quickly to people. Or, you may find that you attach with people very quickly and give them everything you have right away- even when they aren’t doing the same for you.

You may have found that when you gave people some of your deepest secrets- they didn’t respect the sacrifice you had made. Maybe they used your pain or your trauma against you. This could have even left you thinking that you are even more unworthy than before.

You aren’t alone in this. And you aren’t wrong for trying to find someone to share yourself with, to share your pain and secrets with.

But maybe we need to learn to be careful with ourselves.

Because I think that sometimes in our loneliness, we grasp on to the closest person, the one who shows even a fraction of care and concern. Because maybe we aren’t used to the feeling of having anyone have care about us. We often don’t read social cues very well and so we often feel awkward. Maybe we just have to believe that there is someone out there who will finally see us and hear us, and we will belong.

Here’s what happens. When we give too much of ourselves too fast, people run. Or they use the information against us, or they throw it in our face or humiliate us with it.  And we are left feeling worthless again.

I call this the self-harm fulfilling prophesy. I’m talking about emotional self-harm.

Think about the cycle. You feel unworthy, and you try to put yourself out there. You give people too much information and they use it against you. You feel betrayed, unworthy. After a while you repeat the cycle. Sometimes we play this out with new people and sometimes we play it out with the same people over and over again- like people in our family.

The thing is, before long, you start to believe it because you keep proving it to yourself. And- you may not know this, but- we can get used to feeling depressed. If you have a mood that gets reinforced over and over, well, it becomes your normal. You don’t like it, but you don’t know how to change it. Then if you do happen to have a moment when you feel good or happy, it feels awkward too and so you doubt yourself, and your feelings and you keep finding yourself in situations that keep you feeling like crap. You aren’t happy feeling this way, but you don’t know how to feel good and you don’t know how to have people around you that are supportive. Maybe you recognize the cycle, maybe you don’t. But you don’t know how to stop it and you feel like you deserve it anyhow.

I call this emotional self-harm because it’s what happens when the voices that made you feel unworthy in the first place have now become your own voice. When that message now clouds your thoughts and behaviors in ways that you can’t see anymore because it is just normal now. A lot of times people will be able to see the pattern but will lack the ability to see their own part in it. They feel victimized over and over again- and, they aren’t wrong, exactly.

This is just one thread in the complex fabric that is family trauma, and it is one of the areas that therapy can help to treat.

If any of this sounds like you, I want to encourage you to find a therapist. You would benefit from a person who is on your side and who can help you to see the big picture. Therapy can help you to recognize these patterns within yourself and help you to find ways to stop perpetuating them.

But there are a few ways that you can begin to help yourself.

Learn to recognize and name how you feel.

A good first step is being able to recognize and name how you feel. This sounds simplistic, but it may feel scary and really hard. Many times, it is easier for us to recognize the feelings of others than it is for us to recognize how we are feeling. Being able to recognize our feelings can help us begin the process of honoring ourselves and honoring those feelings.

Consider how much you give to others and recognize how it makes you feel.

Another good step is to consider how much you give to others and to think about how those people make you feel when you do. Feeling anger or resentment toward a person is a good indication that you are giving too much.

And then I also want you to know that it is OKAY to feel the way that you are feeling, and it is OKAY to say no when you need to. You don’t need permission for this, but you have it- just by virtue of being a person.

Remember that it is really hard to make changes. Patterns of behavior become fixed, and we move within those patterns without really thinking about what we are doing most of the time. Other people may also not like the changes you are making and may try to stop you from making them. Remember that people’s reactions are about them, not you.  

Also, please always remember to give yourself grace, and remember that this is about practice, not perfection.

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