Four Good Reasons to Beat Myself Up:
1. If I grew up in a family where rage and not healthy anger expression was only ever modeled, I will likely become afraid of my own anger. So I will direct it towards myself and see myself at fault.
2. It is easier to direct my anger towards myself than to speak my anger towards others.
3. I am deathly afraid my anger will go out of control and turn into rage, in the same way as I witnessed all around me in my family. Better that I direct it towards me rather than towards others and risk hurting those I love.
4. If I am angry at the person who abuses me but despite this I am more afraid of losing this person, I may make the choice to hold onto my anger and re-direct it towards myself than take the risk of expressing it.
In his wonderful book, The Kite Runner, author, Khaled Hosseini tells of the time a young boy, Amir, witnessed the terrible sexual assault of his friend, a boy of the same age. He hid as he watched his friend being brutally raped by a gang of youths much older than either of them, scared that if he did go to save his friend, the same atrocity would be inflicted upon him also.
Their friendship effectively ended then, because Amir held such remorse and resentment towards himself for not intervening and helping out his friend. Every time he was in his friend’s presence he was reminded of the guilt, shame, and anger he held towards himself for being unable to help his friend. He couldn’t bear to be reminded of it.
Amir coped by backing off from his friendship. Prior to this incident they were friends joined at the hip. There was barely a minute in their waking day when the two were not communing in some way.
In being unable to face the pain of his self-resentment and remorse, Amir began to look for and find excuses not to be friends. He sought ways to avoid his friend, even on occasions humiliating him to drive him away.
A common way of coping with self-anger and remorse is through avoidance.
Avoidance helps us to forget about the hurts we inflicted onto others and ably assists us in keeping our attention away from the anger we have towards ourselves.
Avoidance is therefore a cover up.
If I was abusive to my brother when we were children and I feel angry at myself inside about the way I treated him, an effective way of not dealing with the anger I have towards myself is by avoiding him.
I can concoct numerous reasons to avoid him. I may simply never phone him. Or, if I know he is going to be visiting my mother on a certain day and time I will make sure I have an appointment to attend to on that day. Or, I create friction between us, so that there is now an excuse for me to avoid him. We don’t get along, so what’s the point in stressing us both out by being in the same room together?
Or my avoidance of my brother may be one of the formative decisions for moving to the other end of the country, though if you were to ask me why I was giving up my profitable business and moving my wife and children from the friends and neighbourhood they love, I would give you lots of other reasons except that particular one, because I refuse to concede that I blame myself for my brother’s hurt.
Avoidance, if it is allowed to, will create a lot of distance between you and the trigger of your self-remorse and blame.
If anger is self-directed and it builds up it turns into rage – self-rage. And accumulated rage, whether self-directed or directed towards another, becomes a combustible force.
When rage builds up it can explode in any direction, creating scenarios to give it an excuse to vent.
This is the nature of transference.
If I have a significant quantity of rage towards myself, in its attempt to unload and release the pressure rage will transfer itself onto people and situations to relieve that pressure.
The relationship I have towards myself will be mirrored in the relationships I have towards others.
If I have rage towards myself and I am not aware of it, or I am unable or unprepared to take responsibility for it, my rage will extend outwards to others.
If I direct anger towards myself causing me to feel bad towards myself, I might resort to becoming the bad kid and doing “bad” things.
I might become the classroom or the office bully, I may become verbally abusive to certain members of my family, I could say things to people about you so that people gain a wrongful impression of you. I may go into your house and steal items from your living room.
In all of these examples, my accumulated rage is being outwardly transferred onto you.
At the same time, these wrongful acts justify the “bad” feelings I have towards myself. I move further and further towards knowing, within myself, that I am bad, that this is who I essentially am. And as I move further and further towards this “bad” image of myself, my self-directed anger more and more becomes a solidified, justified force.
Alternatively, I may choose to walk the path of redemption.
In seeking redemption, I will become the good, caring, all-helpful person. I will be charitable and do anything for you or anyone else to help you or them out. I will be law-abiding, and will at all times follow whatever rules are presented. I will assist you in your needs and do what I can to support you and alleviate your pain and suffering. I will be attentive to you and present to you.
It is vitally important that you notice this about me. I need you to see me as a “good” person, because inside I have been angry and unforgiving to myself for so long I am convinced I am a bad person.
Caregivers, health practitioners and people in the service industries can often fall into the trap of being attracted towards a career of service for the sake of self-redemption.
In my book, A Return to Consciousness, I describe making my parents breakfast in the morning at the age of four in an attempt to offset arguments between the two. I clearly recall the praise I received from them as I pushed open their bedroom door with a tray laden with toast, tea, and cereal.
Feeling bad about myself inside, I quickly learned that providing for people resulted in praise which alleviated the self-conviction that I was a bad person, or that there was something wrong with me – at least for a while. Realistically those feelings and beliefs were covered over.
There were at least two significant motivating forces behind my choosing to become a professional health practitioner.
In the years of studying health-care, I was so passionate I drank in every learning and teaching presented to me. I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm, and I yearned for the day when I would be presented with my certification and given the official nod to begin setting up private practice.
My passion and desire to become a professional health-care practitioner was one motivating force. The other was the extension of something I learned growing up, that providing for others brought attention, which elevated me away from my self-perception that there was something wrong with me.
I took this into my private practice in my early years twenty-five years ago, when I was less aware of this underlying yet highly influential layer, and I became dependent upon my clients’ approval of my good work. Their approval distracted me from the feelings inside that I was bad, not good enough, and intrinsically wrong.
This creates a split in the caregiver. The split is a gulf representing the difference between the personality the caregiver presents in his professional world and the one he lives with in his private world.
In his professional life, he presents a face that is genuinely caring, compassionate, concerned, and present to the needs of the person in front of him or her.
In some professions, the caregiver is seen, even lauded, as someone with spiritual prowess and goodness with healing gifts. What the clients don’t know about is the personality that can be very real in that practitioner’s private life. The one who secretly feels unconfident, a fake, who is unforgiving towards him or herself and tends to admonish and beat himself up for any and every mistake he makes.
Thank you to the 1.074,033 people who read my blog posts these past three months, Pietro
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