One of the ways I’ve coped with trauma in my life is to try to make everyone happy all the time. When I was a child I thought my role was to “be nice” and to “be a good friend” and to take care of others, pay attention to my friends’ feelings, be considerate, be polite and do well in school always. Essentially to be perfect all of the time.
I took this to such an extreme that I thought it was my responsibility to save, fix and adapt to my abusers. Somewhere along the way I did not learn that it’s okay to be mean to protect myself. It’s okay not to be nice to abusive people. It’s okay to say NO, even to scream it and it’s not something to feel guilty for. As an adult I STILL struggle with internalizing this.
I’ve spent the majority of my life trying to figure out what part of all my traumas is my fault. What could I have done differently? How could I have seen it coming? Maybe if I’d been a better friend, she wouldn’t have died. What if? Maybe people are mad at me? Maybe I made a horrible mistake at work and everyone blames me. A good portion of my internal dialogue is convinced that somehow I’m a terrible mistake. I’m not really a good person. If only everyone could see! Then they’d know the truth.
So as an adult, in most areas of my life I try to be the peacemaker. I try to listen to everyone’s side of the story. I try to minimize or avoid conflict at all cost. I feel incredibly uncomfortable, even panicky when people around me are angry. And if there is a conflict, you can bet it’s somehow my fault and I will feel guilty about it.
The irony, is I support survivors of violence every day. I’ve told over a hundred or more women that what happened to them isn’t their fault. I’ve told friends, I’ve told family members. Heck, I’ve even told my abusers that things that happened to them weren’t their faults. You were a child! You couldn’t have known! You did everything you could to protect yourself! You aren’t to blame, he’s an abusive person. You were in the wrong place and the wrong time. You couldn’t have prevented it. Your are doing what you can to take care of yourself. It’s not your fault. I believe you.
But at the end of the day, I treat myself with contempt and blame. I feel like literally everything is my fault. Always. I try to depersonalize. I know intellectually that most people aren’t even thinking about me, let alone blaming me for things that go wrong. But deep down, I fear that I’m just a flawed person and I feel panicky when I realize I can’t keep everyone happy all the time with sacrificing myself. And even if I do sacrifice myself, people around me have their own feelings and can be mad, hurt, angry and scared and there is not a connection to me.
A lot of women grew up with the message to “be good” and not to show anger. Angry girls get labeled bitches. Assertive girls get labeled bossy or rude. Angry girls are judged. People like calm, pretty, patient and loving girls. We are surrounded by this covert and overt messaging from birth. The labels put on us almost before we take our first breaths.
Why do so many girls and women feel such intense guilt and even shame around saying no? Why do so many girls and women feel that anger is an unacceptable emotion and that they are bad for having it? Why do I feel this way? How do I make room for myself without feeling guilty? How to say no without feeling afraid and ashamed?
These days, the world has become a scary place. I’ve had to take breaks from social media and the news because I’m so devastated by the hatred and violence I see. I feel the urge to isolate myself, connect less, spend more time alone. Because I don’t feel very safe in the world anymore. It’s rare that I feel truly safe. As a survivor of violence, living with PTSD I feel scared most of the time. But current events have triggered a different level of fear.
And sadness. Because all the caring in the world can’t fix this mess. I could be the best person in the world and I couldn’t make all my friends feel safe. I want everyone to be in a bubble where they feel safe and protected.
I am a good person. I genuinely help people because I care about them and I want to. It’s not because it’s an obligation or how I was raised. It’s not just the expectation placed on me. I think I was always this empathetic person. I always cared deeply, perhaps too deeply. And it’s always hurt me.
But right now it hurts too much. I just want to say NO MORE TRAUMA and hide from the world. My brain feels overwhelmed with conflict. I’m afraid about everything I do, that it will somehow make things worse. When I’m alone at least I can think and I only have to monitor myself and my environment, not other people and their reactions. Sometimes the guilt feels too much and I just don’t want to make a mistake or let someone down. I’m also terribly afraid of being hurt or betrayed by someone else. Sadly, this is a lonely way to live. I just want to be in a bubble and feel safe and protected too.
Being lonely feels safer right now. Because I can’t make everyone happy all of the time. Sometimes I feel like I can’t make anyone happy, ever.
I can’t even make myself happy.