I listen to podcasts during my daily commutes. I like self-help, growth-mindset empowering topics that help me to live my best life – or at least attempt to. I hear a variety of guests on these podcasts – people who have done amazing things. Inspiring stories of struggle and triumph and growth. But I rarely hear from people who are proud of surviving their own stupidity. And yet this is a discussion that matters and that is NEEDED…because I refuse to believe that I am alone. Alone in having kept quiet due to my shame. Alone in having made stupid decisions that impacted my life on a traumatic level. Stupid decisions unleashed consequences I never saw coming and many that I was ill-equipped to handle. Someone else out there has to feel the same. But where are they?
What would it sound like to interview a person who survived the consequences of their own stupid mistakes? If no one else is picking up the mic, then for today let’s pretend to have a podcast. Since I can’t find these proud survivors, I will tell my own story. It may not be inspiring or uplifting, but dang it if it doesn’t feel important to me. So Welcome, listeners, as we dig into our juicy topic on being a survivor of ourselves.
“Hi Kelly, we are so excited to have you on the show today! As we mentioned in the intro you are a survivor of your own stupidity. Can you tell us how long it has been since you survived yourself?
-Thank you so much for having me! Yes, I grew up, unfortunately, with a brain that didn’t quite comprehend everything the way it needed to, and the consequences of that were pretty devastating.
–Yes, indeed. Why don’t you share a little bit about your story and how you have gotten to this point for our listeners who maybe haven’t heard of you yet.
-Sure. Well, like most stories it started when I was very young…
…I didn’t know that I was a beautiful, worthy person. I believed I was unimportant. Just lucky to be alive, not very special, and certainly not here to take up space or ask for any attention. I didn’t think I had any special gifts or that I was very smart. These beliefs led me into very insecure and precarious positions, where I was vulnerable to manipulation and to lies – because I had no strong sense of who I was.
Have you ever been there?
And to be perfectly fair – this isn’t all about stupidity. This is mainly about ignorance. I just didn’t know any better. After the age of 8 or 9 I started being very hard on myself. I took criticism or disappointment from adults as proof that there was something wrong with me. I started avoiding failure like a plague and focused on trying to be perfect – or better – since I believed I wasn’t good enough as I was. I had kind, loving parents in my life but they were very busy and I was rarely the focus unless I was in trouble. I took all of this in and developed a very skewed sense of worth.
As I grew through my teen years, I was drawn to people who treated me like I was used to being treated – like I didn’t matter much. I wasn’t comfortable with attention. I didn’t like special treatment. I believed that I needed to earn whatever was given to me, and I assumed that if I didn’t have something – like love or attention – it was because I hadn’t worked hard enough to deserve it.
That pretty much sums up the destructive mindset I was living with: my own ignorance, which would then lead to stupid decisions. Because our belief system about ourselves and others ends up influencing our every action. And the problem with this particular mindset is that it leaves you extremely vulnerable to manipulators.
So in my late teens, I made a critical mistake: I opened the door wide to a charming manipulator. Like I said, I didn’t know any better, but ultimately I willingly let him in. I did it: placing him in control, into a position of power. Giving him influence and authority in my own life.
You see, honestly, I think that the reason that I don’t hear any strong people on podcasts talking about how they survived abusive relationships, is because deep down I am ashamed of my part in it. I was the one who initially opened the door. And I was already good at blaming myself. Add to that the fact that the manipulator is also happy to constantly lay blame at my feet. So if it’s ALL my own fault – or I believe it is – then why would I want to draw attention to my mistake? Instead I will try to change it.
That skewed sense of responsibility and shame pushes us to start working harder to fix things, to turn them around. Otherwise we have glaring proof of our mistake: naively inviting this sick person into our life.
And once that door was opened then it became too late to get out unscathed. Even as I awaken to the situation as it is, trying to exit stage left may not go well. I have allowed a volatile person, an emotionally unstable – usually controlling and power-hungry person – to think they were in charge of me. And to change that scenario and take control of myself is risking their anger and whatever reaction usually accompanies that.
But the shame is what keeps us powerless. The shame is the means by which the abuser continues to keep us quiet. It maintains the sickening status-quo.
It is ultimately what we need to battle.
There is NO SHAME in fessing up to the fact that I opened the door to this.
There is NO SHAME in admitting that it took me awhile to see my own worth and start creating healthy boundaries. In my case it took me almost 7 years.
There is NO SHAME in the fact that the angry manipulator I had given control to reacted in an angry and manipulative manner – it is only logical.
There is NO SHAME in surviving all of this and living to gain another perspective of myself, of my role in my life, or my worth…
-Thanks for sharing that Kelly. What was the pivotal point for you in getting beyond the shame?
– I guess like most things, it boiled down to a choice. I could easily despise myself for being ignorant, weak in my sense of self-worth, confused about boundaries and unable to stand up to stronger personalities. And I did for years. For that reason I allowed the punishing relationship to continue – in a way I was punishing myself. The cycle of self-loathing continued. But nothing good ever comes from that.
Instead it’s important to forgive our past selves. We need to remember that we were working with the best of our knowledge AT THAT POINT. We can’t fault ourselves for not getting it, for not understanding, for not believing… that’s just where we were at that point. Extend grace to that past self.
We also need to forgive our role in the messy fact that we were entrapped in a relationship that – yes, in our initial state of mind – we thought might be a good thing. And once we realized it wasn’t, we tried to fix it. Once we got wise to the fact that there was NO fixing this mess, we finally got out. Yet we often feel a responsibility for allowing it to begin and then allowing it to continue while we attempt to salvage it. When someone mistreats us for no good reason we are outraged and righteously angry. We have no problem telling others what happened. But when we allow ourselves to be demeaned, humiliated, used, even abused…again and again…we lose that sense of outrage. Instead it becomes a source of shame. And shame is never something we want to naturally share with others. So we have to show grace to ourselves and then confess to ourselves and others that we exercised poor judgment. We made a mistake and a mess ensued. However, we both know that there is a lot in that mess that we did NOT ask for nor did we invite. So we can accept the part of the mess that was ours, but we need to stop owning the blame that is others.
The truth is everyone makes mistakes! It’s how we grow. It’s OK to make mistakes – as long as we don’t stay there. We want to learn from them and move on. And I think owning the mistake and not allowing shame to make it seem worse than it was is a crucial step to true healing and being able to have peace with the past and with where we came from.
To know better is to do better. So once I learned and truly began to believe that I was worth being treated with respect, I became strong enough to demand that respect. And that changed everything.
Whatever past shame you may be battling – maybe like me it is a past where you allowed abuse – but maybe it’s a past where you overate to bury your feelings of loneliness or inadequacy, or perhaps you became a slave to your job in order to prove something to yourself, maybe you opened the door to addiction with that one hit, or you might have followed in your parents destructive living habits. Whatever the beliefs are that you held, the ones that caused you to allow unhealthy living to take over – you need to forgive yourself for those beliefs. Forgive your own ignorance or stupidity. Let it go. Don’t try to punish yourself for it. Don’t try to absolve yourself for it. Just forgive it and release it. It happened. We messed up and it caused us a lot of pain. But today is a new day. We are learning and growing and we can love who we have become.
Leave the past in the past and move on with your new knowledge.
Understand that surviving ourselves – our mistakes, our wrong turns, our messed up beliefs – is something we can be proud of. There is NO SHAME in growing – and that is exactly what our stories prove we have done.