The Healthy Family Connections Podcast:
How To Transition From Surviving To Thriving
Episode 037 · Duration: 00:17:08
How To Transition From Surviving To Thriving
Today we’re hearing from Katy of Staffordshire, UK.
I feel like a terrible mother. I have had these feelings since my son was born nearly 8 years ago, with no support from my partner, little support from family, and no support from friends. I was 19 and they were living completely different lives to me. I have, on occasion, completely lost it with my son. Screamed, shouted, swore, thrown things (not at him but across the room). I told him if he doesn’t change his behavior, I’ll send him to live with his grandparents (which is something I would never do – it was said in anger). At times, he flinches when he is in trouble. I have never hurt him. I have tapped his arm or leg when he is being extremely rude but that is as far as it has/would go. I now have a nearly 2 year-old daughter and she is hard work on a daily basis. She’s a typical 2 year-old, however I feel like I made and continue to make so many mistakes with my son. I try and not make those same mistakes with her. My partner is a bit more supportive now and I have friends that will support me and my family that will help, but I still on occasion can’t cope and lose it! I have been prescribed medication for anxiety, which has helped, however I feel riddled with guilt at how I’ve reacted to my son’s behavior at times. I’m struggling to move on. Please help.
Thanks for your question, Katy. I hear that you’re in a lot of emotional pain and are feeling pretty desperate. Seems like you’re caught between the guilt of the past and the challenges of the present. The guilt of the past consumes you and undermines your ability to function in the present. It sounds to me like you’ve been in a state of emotional distress your entire adult life, and I’m sure before, too. Let’s talk about how this happens and then, most importantly, what you can do about it now. It’s just fabulous that you’re trying to figure this out.
Identifying the Root of the Problem
You say your son was born 8 years ago when you were only 19, with no support from a partner and no family or friend support either. Yikes, Katy, that sounds horrible and it was horrible. I think there is only one way things could have been that bad for you and that’s if you were seriously abused as a child. I think that will make sense when I explain a few things.
There are several ways that abuse happens: emotional abuse with yelling and name-calling, physical abuse with hitting or violence, sexual abuse, or even serious neglect and abandonment. It’s likely that you experienced one or several of these forms of abuse. With childhood abuse, several things happen. First is trauma. Trauma is emotional damage that happens when serious negative things happen to us over which we have no control. Trauma causes us to live in fear, it can cause anxiety and depression, and it interferes with our ability to feel safe, or experience happiness and joy.Trauma is emotional damage that happens when negative things happen to us and we have no control.Click To Tweet
The second serious result of childhood abuse is that we develop the belief that we’re not okay for who we are. That we aren’t important, or worthy, that our feelings aren’t important. We develop a way of coping to hide those feelings and beliefs and somehow get by in life. Of course, it’s not true that we’re not okay, but after suffering abuse, we sure feel that way.
I think of it this way: imagine you have two identical, brand-new computers with tons of capacity. On one computer, you load the latest and greatest operating system and, sure enough, the computer performs beautifully. On the other computer, we load an outdated, limited operating system. It doesn’t matter that the computer is top notch, it will simply not perform well at all. Two great computers, yet one has an operating system that won’t take advantage of it’s greatness.
Well, it sounds like that’s what happened to you, Katy. You were born a perfect, lovable little girl, entitled to grow up with the same love and support as any other little girl. Unfortunately, your parents, most likely because they had their own trauma and abuse issues, were unable to give you the safety, the love, and the support you needed and deserved, and you got filled up with trauma and a sense of unworthiness. You could say you had bad software loaded on your otherwise fabulous computer. Therapists call that chronic sense of unworthiness “shame.” So, you are coping with trauma, shame, and burnout. It’s no wonder that you are struggling to function. When you fail, and “lose it,” as you call it, that feeds your shame and adds to your burn out.
The Cycle of Shame
Your parent’s shame got passed on to you and now you are very concerned that your shame is being passed on to your son. How do we stop this business of passing trauma and shame from generation to generation? How do we stop the cycle of shame within ourselves where we use all of our mistakes as evidence against us and only make our shame worse?
Katy, that’s really the question; how do we resolve trauma and shame so that we can move forward in life in a healthy way and not pass our shame to the next generation?
Right now, Katy, you need to realize that you are a survivor. When you shared that you had a child at 19 without a supportive partner or supportive family or friends, and that you have chronic anxiety and guilt, that’s someone who is a survivor. In the very real sense of the word, you survived childhood abuse. The good news is that somehow, by sheer courage and effort, you got up every day and did your best to take care of everything that needed to be taken care of and you are surviving. The bad news is that a surviving mentality will only allow you to survive; a surviving mentality won’t allow you to thrive. A surviving mentality will limit you and never let you be the person you want to be, long to be, the person you need to be. In your case, Katy, it won’t allow you to be the parent you want and need to be.A surviving mentality will only allow you to survive. It won’t allow you to thrive. Click To Tweet
You want a new operating system. You want to upgrade from Katy 1.0 to Katy, 2.0., where 2.0 is a thriving operating system. How, pray tell, are you going to do that?
- You are going to proudly acknowledge the fact that you are a survivor of childhood abuse. Emotional, physical, violence, sexual abuse, neglect: any or all of the above, it doesn’t matter.
- You are going to get yourself on a trauma and abuse recovery path.
In your community, there are no doubt recovery groups. There are books on the subject of childhood abuse and trauma, and there are therapists who specialize in treating people from traumatic and abusive backgrounds. These are all resources that you can and need to utilize. Once we’ve identified the problem as abuse and trauma, and acknowledge that you are a survivor, you can get into recovery and start working on healing and upgrading your operating system from one that is programmed to survive, to one that is programmed to thrive.
The short answer, Katy, is that you need to get on a path to recovery. There is a lot of understanding in the therapy community right now about trauma – how it affects people and how to heal trauma. You need to plug into these resources, read literature on the subject, start seeing a therapist with a specialization in trauma recovery, and start attending survivors’ groups: all of this to upgrade your operating system.
Steps You Can Take Right Now
Let’s talk about what to do about your son. Keep in mind that you won’t be able to compassionately parent your son or your little girl if you don’t have compassion for yourself. We can’t give what we don’t have. So part of your recovery will focus on self-compassion: both on who you are now as well as compassion for who you were as a little girl. By taking a more compassionate view of yourself and your children, your stress level will go down and you’ll have more room to parent effectively.
To begin the healing process with your son, make some positive time with him and do some activities with him that he enjoys. Talk with him about your blow-ups and how they are caused by some problems that you have and that you are going to work on solving those problems. Tell him that he doesn’t deserve to be talked to that way by you or anyone, and that when you got violent and threw things, you know it was scary, and even frightening. Let him know that you are going to work really hard at solving the problems that cause you to act like that, that you don’t want to frighten him, that you want him to feel safe and supported. You can let him know that you are sorry for the hurtful words and physical violence he got from you. It wasn’t the right way to help him learn and grow. You could tell him that you know you hurt his self-esteem and that you want to apologize. You can let him know that you want to work on family healing, that you have your own work to do, but that you want to be part of his healing, too. It would be great for the two of you to see a counselor together to talk about all of that and support you and your son in a healing process.
Katy, I’m thrilled to hear that you have more support now from your partner, family, and friends. That’s fabulous. That can give you a chance to get some support for the challenges of daily life and maybe even some support for learning to forgive yourself and have compassion for yourself. With some self-compassion, and some active healing, you can create Katy 2.0. It won’t be quick, and it won’t be easy, but by understanding the problem and by choosing a path of recovery, you will start to feel better very soon.Start to feel better soon by understanding the problem and by choosing a path of recovery.Click To Tweet
Listeners, we don’t have to be struggling as painfully as Katy has been to realize that we might just be running our lives on an outdated operating system. Let’s all ask ourselves this question: “Am I limiting myself, my happiness, or my personal success by accepting outdated messages from my childhood as true?” What are the negative or limiting ideas we accept that hold us back from being fully ourselves and thriving? Now, replace those negative or limiting messages with positive affirming ones: write them down or say them out loud. Throughout your day, ask yourself, “Am I living today running OS 1.0, or am I running 2.0?” Practice seeing the difference and challenge yourself to think 2.0, and behave 2.0. Then drop me a line and let me know what you discover. It just might be something pretty eye-opening.
Thanks for tuning in today, everyone, and special thanks to Katy for reaching out and giving us the opportunity to help her start her journey, and for us all to learn and grow along with her.
Please, feel free to come to my website at neildbrown.com and sign up for my weekly newsletter where there is plenty of helpful stuff there right now, and plenty more in the pipeline. I’d love to have a chance to answer your question – you can submit questions to me below.
And please, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.
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