Category Archives: Self-hatred And Shame

Overcoming Guilt Caused by Childhood Trauma

childhood trauma and guilt

If we have been mistreated as children, we may well grow up with a pervasive feeling that we are irredeemably ‘bad’ people (click here to read my article on why this happens). This can lead to what has been termed ‘neurotic guilt’ ; this occurs when we feel a sense of shame about ourselves and we have a generalized feeling of guilt which is not attached to specific acts (or is attached to acts for which we should not, objectively speaking, feel guilt),

guilt and childhood trauma

guilt and childhood trauma

Another type of guilt can be termed ‘real guilt’ ; this is guilt attached to a specific act which IT IS objectively reasonable to feel guilt about. The main type of guilt that those who have been mistreated as children tend to feel is of the first type – neurotic guilt (although this can cover some real guilt that has not yet been acknowledged).

A certain level of psychological development needs to have been attained to experience guilt (although some people never develop the capacity to experience it – these are called psychopaths and sociopaths).

overcoming guilt

overcoming guilt

Of course, feeling a certain amount of guilt is a good thing as it stops us doing things (usually) that are in conflict with our values, or encourages us not to repeat our behaviour if we have transgressed our particular moral boundaries. Paradoxically, guilt can, on one level, make us feel better about ourselves. Our reasoning might be that. because our conscience is bothering us about something we feel we have done wrong, we must be a good person to have such high standards which cause us psychological pain if we fall short of them. We conclude we have a strong conscience which is a moral virtue.

However, excessive guilt is unhelpful to both us and others – at its worst, it can lead to a state of deep depression and almost paralyzed inactivity, suicidal feelings, or, even, actual suicide. It is, therefore, important to be able to process guilt and then move on with our lives.

A MORE DETAILED LOOK AT ‘NEUROTIC’ AND ‘REAL’ GUILT :

1) Neurotic Guilt – because this is a generalized sense of guilt that is unattached to a particular action/actions, it follows that it cannot be resolved by any particular action (or abatement of action/s).

It is a deep sense of guilt which seems to penetrate to the very core of our being – it is a reflection of how we feel about ourselves as a person : we feel we are thoroughly bad, intrinsically evil, even.

It is a feeling closely linked to a sense of profound shame. However, it is an irrational guilt and one that is not based on objective reality. Psychoanalysis frequently reveals that this irrational, or neurotic guilt, is actually a defense mechanism against feelings of anxiety, fear and anger. The example below illustrates how this might work :

Say a child grows up in a household in which his/her parents have frequent, violent arguments (involving physical blows, smashing objects, making threats etc). This will clearly disturb the child and cause him/her to feel acute anxiety and fear. The child then develops a psychological coping strategy as follows :

a) the violence of my parents towards one another fills me with fear

b) I need to control the situation so that I am no longer frightened

c) But I have no control over my parents, only over myself

d) I must be the cause of their violent arguing (this thinking occurs because it is psychologically less painful for the child to think of him/herself as the cause of the arguing – and therefore to have some control over it – than to acknowledge s/he has no control over it, which would be psychologically overwhelming)

e) Because I am the cause, I must be a very bad person

f) Because I am a very bad person, I feel extremely guilty.

This all occurs on an unconscious level, according to psychoanalytic theory

So it is this coping mechanism, developed in childhood, that can lead to neurotic guilt.

People who suffer from neurotic guilt also tend to have extremely low self-esteem and are prone to blame themselves for all manner of things that go wrong even if they had nothing to do with them. They are also likely to be prone to severe depression.

2) ‘Real Guilt’ – As we have seen, this type of guilt has a definite and valid cause. It is not irrational and it relates to our moral code. If we do something that contravenes our moral code, we will feel guilty about it (unless we happen to be a psychopath). Therefore, the only way of avoiding a recurrence of this painful feeling in the future is to either adjust our moral code, or ensure we do not repeat our original error.

One way of helping ourselves to resolve feelings of ‘real guilt’ is to openly and frankly admit to somebody what we have done (eg a counsellor or close friend) and acknowledge what we did was wrong. We also need to articulate the fact that we take the moral responsibility for our transgression. Ideally, this will then lead to forgiveness – from both the person we wronged and, importantly, from ourselves (self-forgiveness).

DETERMINING WHETHER GUILT IS ‘REAL’ OR ‘NEUROTIC :

In order to make this determination, it is necessary for us to pose certain questions to ourselves; these are :

– is what happened really my responsibility?

– if so, what factors actually make me responsible?

– which of my moral rules have I broken?

– are such moral rules appropriate/reasonable?

– can I ensure what I did does not recur?

– can I make amends ; if so, how?

RIDDING OURSELVES OF GUILT :

To rid ourselves of ‘neurotic guilt’ we need to concentrate on resolving our ‘real  guilt’. We can only do this, of course, once we have identified which of our guilty feelings have a basis in neurosis and which are genuine.

Once we identify our’ real guilt’ (which we may not have so far acknowledged) we can address and resolve it in the ways mentioned above (eg taking responsibility, making amends, verbally acknowledging we were wrong).

In relation to our ‘neurotic guilt’, we need to accept it is not rational and has materialized due to psychological processes we underwent as a child. Often, too, when we see ourselves as’ bad’, it is  because we have internalized the view of someone who treated us as ‘bad’ when we were also a child (eg a parent, primary carer, or someone else who was important to us). Becoming aware of this will also help us to rid ourselves of our neurotic guilt.

Once ‘real guilt’ has been uncovered and resolved, and we have formed a clearer understanding of what has caused our ‘neurotic guilt’, both should start to fade away.

 

New edition published September 2016

Above eBook available now for immediate download at Amazon.  CLICK HERE.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Copyright 2013 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

The Dysfunctional Family’s Scapegoat.

childhood-trauma-fact-sheet

In this article I will examine the phenomenon of becoming the dysfunctional family’s scapegoat.

Personal Experience

I went to live with my father and obsessively religious step-mother when I was thirteen, having been thrown out of the house by my disturbed and highly unstable mother.

She and my father already had her own biological son living with them. She treated her own son, essentially, as a demi-god, whist viewing me as the devil incarnate – even at that age, (given I had the capacity to carry out elementary mental reasoning and was not intellectually retarded) I did not believe in god, and, consistent with this, refused to attend church with the other members of the household who regarded twice weekly attendance as their pious duty.

Indeed, and I write these words in all seriousness, it is even possible that my step-mother believed I was possessed by some kind of diabolical spirit – after all, soon after I went to live with her and my father, during a trivial argument in the kitchen, she began to shout at me in what she believed to be ‘tongues’. And, when I was a bit older, if one particular friend had been round to see me and she returned to the house later, she would say she knew he’d been round as she could ‘sense evil’ (actually, he was a very nice person). You couldn’t make it up.

In dysfunctional families, viewing one child as being able to do no wrong, and the other as being able to do nothing OTHER THAN wrong, is not an uncommon scenario. The latter, of course, becomes the family ‘scapegoat.’

family scapegoat

Whilst I have grown up with a profound inferiority complex, my step-brother has grown up, I think it is fair to say, puffed up with an impregnable sense of self-love, self-belief and self-pride; expecting others to admire him is his default position. Expecting others to despise me is mine. (And, in this regard, I’m seldom disappointed). This outcome, of course, would not be entirely unpredictable to anybody with an IQ above about 70.

Sadly, it invariably tends to be the most vulnerable and sensitive child who becomes the dysfunctional family’s scapegoat. It is also not uncommon that the child fulfilling the role of scapegoat has a characteristic, or characteristics, which a parent shares but represses, projecting his/her self-disapproval onto the scapegoat.

Denigration And Demonization

The family’s scapegoat will be blamed for the family’s deep rooted problems. Anger, disapproval and criticism will be directed at him/her, leading him/her to develop feelings of great shame, to lose all confidence and self-belief, and, in all probability, to experience self-loathing, depression and anxiety. And to expect everyone else to hate him/her too.

The motivation of the rest of the dysfunctional family, both consciously and unconsciously, for denigrating and demonizing the scapegoat is that it enables them to convince themselves that they are good and right. By telling relatives and friends that all the family’s woes derive from him/her they are also able to maintain a public image of blamelessness.

In this way, the family’s scapegoat finds him/herself not only rejected by his/her own immediate family, but, possibly, by those outside it too. S/he becomes utterly isolated and unsupported.

Also, by blaming the family’s scapegoat for the family’s difficulties, they not only evade their own responsibility but are also relieved, in their own minds, of any responsibility to support or help the scapegoat, who, because of the position in the family s/he has been allocated, and its myriad ramifications, will inevitably be suffering severe psychological distress.

Family Denial

Because the scapegoat is blamed for the family’s problems, the rest of its members are able to stay in DENIAL in relation to their own contributions to this sorry state of affairs; they will tend to reinforce one another’s false beliefs that whenever something goes wrong it is the fault of the family’s scapegoat – in this way, a symbiotic relationship develops between them : they all protect each other from feeling guilty and from shouldering their rightful portion of responsibility, drawing the strength of their fallacious convictions from being in a mutually reinforcing majority.

If the scapegoat is brazen enough to protest that not everything is his/her fault, these views are dismissed with scorn and derision – in this way, s/he is denied the opportunity to express them, allowing the other family members to conveniently side-step any searching questions being put to them which might otherwise produce deep discomfort.

If the scapegoat becomes too insistent about expressing his/her point of view, the rest of the family may cut him/her off from it entirely, thus totally isolating him/her.

Projection

Often, the rest of the family’s own guilt may be so profound that facing up to it would be psychologically overwhelming; in such a case there will be a powerful unconscious drive to maintain the illusion that everything is really the fault of the scapegoat – maintaining the illusion allows them to deflect blame which, more accurately, should be directed towards themselves.

It is likely, then, that they will not be fully aware that their projection of their own feelings of guilt onto the scapegoat is, in essence, a psychological defense mechanism necessary to allow them to maintain a positive image of themselves. Their views that they are in the right and the scapegoat is in the wrong become a necessary delusion.

Internalization

Eventually, the scapegoat will come to INTERNALIZE (i.e. believe to be true) his/her family’s scathing view of him/her, and, therefore, his/her view of him/herself as a bad and unworthy person is in distinct danger of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. S/he is likely to develop feelings of intense psychological distress, perform well below his/her best academically and, later, vocationally, encounter serious problems with social interaction, and become hostile, aggressive and resentful towards both his/her family and those outside of it. This plays into the hands of the other family members, of course, as it facilitates their desire to continue projecting their own guilt onto the scapegoat.

As the scapegoat goes through life, s/he is likely, due to the powerful conditioning s/he has been subjected to as a child, to see him/herself as not merely unlovable, but, even, as unlikeable – unfit to be part of ‘decent’ society. Believing him/herself to be a terrible person, s/he may not even make any attempt to develop close, let alone intimate, relationships. After all, in his/her own mind, rejection would be ‘inevitable’, serving only to confirm and reinforce his/her wretched self-view.


DEALING WITH REJECTION SELF HYPNOSIS AUDIO – CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION.


David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Copyright 2013 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

Childhood Trauma Leading to Excessive Need for Approval.

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If we did not receive approval from those close to us in childhood we may grow up to have an excessive need for it from others later in life as a kind of compensation and in order to raise our shattered self-esteem. This can make us vulnerable and excessively anxious to make everybody like us and admire us. Of course, this is impossible to achieve.

It is just not possible to interact fully in society without sometimes experiencing disapproval and rejection. Very often, such rejection and disapproval does not mean that there is anything particularly wrong with us.

Indeed, it could be much more to do with failings in the other person, obvious examples are prejudice, discrimination, biased and irrational thinking or misdirection of emotions which were not originally generated by us (eg ‘displacenment’ – the psychological term for when somebody takes something out on us which was not our fault; or ‘projection’ -the psychological term for constantly ‘seeing’ in other people the things we don’t like about ourselves and may have repressed).

Frequently, too, a person’s behaviour towards us might be due to distorted beliefs stemming from psychological wounds that have been inflicted upon them in the past (eg a woman who distrusts men because her husband used to beat her).

When we are (inevitably) sometimes rejected, a useful exercise is to calmly think about why we have been responded to in a negative manner and analyze if it really was something to do with us or to do with something else not really connected to us.

For example, perhaps the person who behaved in a negative way towards us was over-tired or under a great amount of stress. In such a case, the disapproval is likely to be ephemeral, in any event, and something we do not need to dwell upon or take personally.

Obviously, when someone rejects us it does not mean that we are of no value. Even if we have done something wrong, one action or set of actions does not define us as a person (either in the present or in the future). To become defined in such a way would be absurdly limiting and simplistic. Human beings are, after all, complex creatures (hence expressions like : ‘he’s the sum of his contradictions’).

Individuals who have an excessive need for approval often feel that it is imperative that EVERYBODY approves of them. I repeat, this is impossible, and, in my view, undesirable (often, history has shown us, the most enlightened and edifying views can meet with vicious opposition). We do not need the approval of everyone we meet in order to live a happy and meaningful life. Also, other people’s views of us should not be given equal weight (eg most of us would value the view someone we respected had of us more than the view a stranger had).

It is also important to point out that we can sometimes feel hurt and upset if someone criticizes us in a mannner which we do not feel is warranted – to avoid falling into such a trap we need to remind ourselves that we need not let our mood be affected adversely by something negative someone says about us if we know it not to be true.

Finally, it is worth saying how it might be helpful to react when someone disapproves of us when we HAVE done something we regret. A constructive response might be as follows:

a) we can learn from the criticism

b) just because we know we have done something wrong, it is illogical to overgeneralize from this and view ourselves as a wholly bad person

c) accept that we feel temporarily uncomfortable but to keep in mind, too, that this feeling will pass and that we are not necessarily being totally written off as a person by the individual we have upset, let alone by everybody else for evermore!

RESOURCES :

OVERCOME THE NEED FOR APPROVAL MP3 – CLICK HERE

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Copyright 2013 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

Childhood Trauma: How The Child’s View Of Their Own ‘Badness’ Is Perpetuated.

childhood-trauma-fact-sheet

Do You Ever Ask Yourself The Question : Am I A Bad Person?

When a child is continually mistreated, s/he will inevitably conclude that s/he must be innately bad. This is because s/he has a need (at an unconscious level) to preserve the illusion that her/his parents are good; this can only be achieved by taking the view that the mistreatment is deserved.

The child develops a fixed pattern of self-blame, and a belief that their mistreatment is due to their ‘own faults’. As the parent/s continue to mistreat the child, perhaps taking out their own stresses and frustrations on her/him, the child’s negative self-view becomes continually reinforced. Indeed, the child may become the FAMILY SCAPEGOAT, blamed for all the family’s problems.

 

The child will often become full of anger, rage and aggression towards the parent/s and may not have developed sufficient articulacy to resolve the conflict verbally. A vicious circle then develops: each time the child rages against the parent/s, the child blames her/himself for the rage and the self-view of being ‘innately bad’ is further deepened.

This negative self-view may be made worse if one of the child’s unconscious coping mechanisms is to take out (technically known as DISPLACEMENT) her/his anger with the parent/s on others who may be less feared but do not deserve it (particularly disturbed children will sometimes take out their rage against their parent/s by tormenting animals; if the parent finds out that the child is doing this, it will be taken as further ‘evidence’ of the child’s ‘badness’ ,rather than as a major symptom of extreme psychological distress, as, in fact,it should be).

The more the child is badly treated, the more s/he will believe s/he is bringing the treatment on her/himself (at least at an unconscious level), confirming the child’s FALSE self-view of being innately ‘bad’, even ‘evil’ (especially if the parent/s are religious).

What is happening is that the child is identifying with the abusive parent/s, believing, wrongly, that the ‘badness’ in the parent/s actually resides within themselves. This has the effect of actually preserving the relationship and attachment with the parent (the internal thought process might be something like: ‘it is not my parent who is bad, it is me. I am being treated in this way because I deserve it.’ This thought process may well be, as I have said, unconscious).

Eventually the child will come to completely INTERNALIZE the belief that s/he is ‘bad’ and the false belief will come to fundamentally underpin the child’s self-view, creating a sense of worthlessness and self-loathing.

Often, even when mental health experts intervene and explain to the child it is not her/his fault that they have been ill-treated and that they are, in fact, in no way to blame, the child’s negative self-view can be so profoundly entrenched that it is extremely difficult to erase.

In such cases, a lot of therapeutic work is required in order to reprogram the child’s self-view so that it more accurately reflects reality. Without proper treatment, a deep sense of guilt and shame (which is, in reality, completely unwarranted) may persist over a lifetime with catostrophic results.

Any individual affected in such a way would be extremely well advised to seek psychotherapy and other professional advice as even very deep rooted negative self-views as a result of childhood trauma can be very effectively treated.

RESOURCES :

Overcoming A Troubled Childhood (MP3) – CLICK HERE

Stop Self Hatred Today (MP3) – CLICK HERE

 

E-books :

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Above eBooks now available on Amazon for instant download. $4.99 each. (Other titles available).CLICK HERE.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Copyright 2013 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

How Childhood Trauma can Affect View of Self. Part 2.

childhood-trauma-fact-sheet

DEVELOPMENT OF BELIEF SYSTEMS IN CHILDHOOD:

We develop our most fundamental belief systems in childhood. If a child is brought up with love, affection and security s/he tends to build up positive beliefs. For example:

– people should not treat me badly

– I am a decent and likeable person

– I have rights

– I deserve respect

However, negative belief systems often develop in children who have been abused. For example:

– people cannot be trusted

– I am vulnerable

– I am worthless

– everyone is out to get me

– I am intrinsically unlovable

negative view of self

These negative beliefs often feel very true, but most of the time they are very inaccurate. JUST BECAUSE WE FEEL OUR BELIEFS ARE TRUE, IT IN NO WAY LOGICALLY FOLLOWS THAT THEY ARE.

In effect, then, childhood abuse can cause us to become PREJUDICED AGAINST OURSELVES – we see ourselves through a kind of distorting, black filter.

SELF-FULFILLING PROPHECY:

Negative, prejudiced self-beliefs are dangerous as they may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example:

– someone who thinks s/he will always fail may, as a result, not try to achieve anything and therefore not succeed in the way s/he in fact had the potential to do (if only s/he had believed in her/himself).

– someone who believes s/he is unloveable (when in reality this is untrue) may never attempt to form close relationships thus remaining unnecessarily lonely and isolated.

In summary, childhood EXPERIENCES form OUR FUNDAMENTAL BELIEF SYSTEMS. This in turn affects:

– our mood

– our behaviour

– our relationships

This negative belief system can become deeply entrenched. It is therefore necessary to ‘re-program’ our belief systems and I shall be examining how this might be achieved in later articles.

Resource:

Traumatic childhoodTEN STEPS TO SOLID SELF-ESTEEM. Click here.

David Hosier. BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Copyright 2013 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

Self-Image : How Childhood Trauma Can Adversely Affect It. Part 1.

childhood-trauma-fact-sheet

If we have experienced childhood trauma to a significant degree, we may irrationally blame ourselves for it which, in turn, may well seriously, negatively, distort our self-perception; in other words, adversely affect our view of ourselves.

Our ENVIRONMENT has a large influence on how our personalities develop. For example, children brought up in a loving and secure environment are much more likely to become relatively content and self-confident adults.

On the other hand, a child who has suffered abuse and neglect may develop into an adult lacking self-confidence and prone to anxiety, depression and other serious difficulties.

Also, if a child has had an unstable parent or carer who has been unpredictable and has given mixed messages, they may develop into an adult who is fearful of abandoment. As a result, he/she may:

1. cling to close relationships
2. avoid close relationships

and, quite often:

a painful combination of the two.

This can make maintaining close relationships very problematic.

Children are ‘programmed’ to learn from adults (for evolutionary reasons) so if the adult carer has been abusive and critical the child may well grow up FALSELY BELIEVING that he/she is bad, stupid, unloveable and worthless. Also, trusting others may become very difficult as the individual’s experience during childhood was to be badly let down BY THE VERY PERSON/S WHO WERE SUPPOSED TO CARE FOR THEM AND PROTECT THEM.

negative self-image

The more stresses and traumas a child has, the more likely it is that he/she will develop into a pessimistic, anxious, depressed adult who believes things are hopeless and cannot improve.

It should be pointed out, though, that if a child suffers abuse but also has significant positive support in other areas of his/her life during childhood, this can make the individual more RESILIENT to the negative effects of the trauma.

It is also important to note that if a person has suffered trauma and as a result has a negative view of themselves, the future and the world in general (sometimes referred to as the ‘depressive cognitive triad’), IT IS POSSIBLE TO CHANGE THIS PESSIMISTIC OUTLOOK.

Resources:

Hypnosis_download_to_boost_self-esteem  Ten Steps To Improve Self Esteem – instantly hypnosis Audio pack. Click here.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Copyright 2013 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery