What Did I Do To Deserve This?
Today I want to discuss what happens when we feel that someone hurt us or did us wrong. How we can feel disempowered, and what we can do to claim our power back. To help explain, I’m going to talk about something I went through as a teenager and my experience of losing and gaining my sense of power in that situation.
When I was a kid, I thought my parents were happy and that they would never split up. They never fought, and I didn’t have any sense that there was anything wrong. I thought we were a happy family.
The summer I turned 16 I was away at camp and my family arrived to pick me up.
My parents took me and my brother to a park and told us they were getting a divorce. That my mom was not coming home. That she was moving to another country.
I remember feeling like someone had ripped the earth out from under me. I had this ringing sensation in my ears like I had been hit over the head with a wooden plank.
My brother was on his way to college that year, and so all of a sudden it was just me and my dad. From that day on, I only saw my mom about once a year. It was really really hard. You’re mom’s supposed to be the one person that will never leave you….the one you can count on to be there no matter what. And losing that sense of stability and security was a really crushing blow.
Now because of past trauma in my childhood which involved my house getting repeatedly bombed, I had formed a brain pattern of pretending I was "tough" and that everything was fine. Here I was a new crisis, a new trauma, and it happened all of a sudden just like the bombs going off when I was a kid, so my brain responded in the same way. Immediately my mind started pretending everything was fine and trying to shut down my feelings because it was the only way I knew how to cope.
I pretended to my friends that I was fine, to my teachers, to my parents.
Of course those who knew me could tell what was going on underneath, but I was so stuck in that survival brain pattern that I didn’t realise what was happening or what I was really feeling. I was literally just stuck. Stuck with all these emotions and no idea what to do with them. Buried underneath a mask.
When actually those feelings were simply a very normal response to loss and trauma. But because I was in survival mode, my mind didn’t have perspective. And one thing our minds love to do when we don’t have perspective, is blame.
When we are caught in a survival reaction and feel helpless and out of control, we end up feeling feel like a victim. We feel like someone or something else is the persecutor, the bad guy, and we want something to rescue us from our misery. This is a feeling of total powerlessness. It’s what Stephen Karpman, MD calls being stuck in the drama triangle.
This is exactly what happened to me. I definitely felt like a victim. My mom was the persecutor, the bad guy, and I desperately wanted a rescuer. So I looked to my dad to be the perfect saviour. But he was dealing with his own grief and was just as confused as my mom, and so neither of my parents were really able to support me in the way that I needed.
As long as I saw myself as a helpless victim, nothing could change.
Blaming someone else is like handing over all our power saying “here you go…you have the ability to control my feelings, dictate how I am, own my experiences”.
When we do that, when we see ourselves as that helpless, our mind has to conclude that there must be something seriously wrong with us. Our mind sees no way out, and so it interprets the situation as being related to some deep and irreparable flaw in us. We end up thinking “what did I do to deserve this?”
This is the trap of the drama triangle. This is the trap of blame. When we are blaming someone else for how we feel, what we are actually saying is “I’m helpless in this situation and therefore I am fundamentally flawed.”
We don’t need to do that. We don’t need to give anyone or anything else our power. What we want to do instead is acknowledge the pain we are feeling, see that someone may have done something awful or hurtful or careless, or that we are in a really hard situation, but then remember that no-one can take away our power or make us less of a person.
We are not victims. We are simply people experiencing something painful and hard.
Once I was able to realise the belief system that was keeping me stuck and reach out for help, I was able to process that original trauma experience and see my power in this situation.
My power is the strength I found in myself going through this, the incredible experience of setting boundaries with my mom and telling her that what she did was not ok, and eventually healing our relationship because that is what I wanted.
My power is in the insight and experience that I gained which I now use in my work with teenagers who also feel abandoned and rejected. I love that I can truly help people because I GET what they’re going through. This experience of losing my mom at the age of 16 was such an important part of my journey, and now I am so grateful I experienced that, because I wouldn’t be the person I am today without having gone through that and learned everything I learned from it.
My power is the way I was eventually able to see this experience as an incredible opportunity for growth. When I was focused on blaming my mom, I was stuck in a helpless pattern which prevented me from moving past this experience.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t hold people accountable. That we don’t set boundaries and have clear and firm expectations of what’s ok and what’s not ok. Sometimes we need to cut people out of our lives if they are really hurting us. Sometimes we need to get them into trouble for what they have done. But we can do all this without blame.
Ironically, blame actually PREVENTS us from protecting ourselves, because it keeps us helpless…and there’s not much we can do for ourselves when we’re helpless!
When hard things happen, we often want to blame. We feel powerless and stuck and we don’t know what to do. At that moment we can reach out to someone who is safe, caring, someone we can trust, who can help us process it. And that allows us to keep this experience where it belongs - as simply an awful event, an experience in our past, something that helped us see our own strength as we overcame it - not allowing it to become something that keeps us down forever.
No one has that power over us. Hard things are hard enough without imagining that they mean we’re worthless or that someone is now controlling who we are and what the rest of our life will look like.
Claiming our power is about seeing that no matter what has happened to us, it doesn’t say anything about who we are, and we are always capable of rising above it.
Want to hear more? Check out a video account of this experience here