It Must Be My Fault

Brain Synapses

When I was a child, I was told that everything was my fault. Eventually, I believed it. In reality, none of it was my fault. As an adult in recovery, I intellectually understand that now. But my unconscious parts are still working that out. My unconscious parts are still trying to make sense of the illogical.

I have struggled with self-worth my entire life. While I don’t see myself as capable of doing good things, I do see myself as powerful at manifesting the bad. More than likely, this comes from my understanding of the abusive adults in my childhood. I felt the same way about them. And I internalized that.

So, when bad things happen in my life, as they inevitably do, my overactive brain finds a way to make it my fault. I find a way to make it punishment for something I did or for who I am. And this happens unconsciously.

When I ended relationships with people in the past, I spent weeks or months attributing every negative experience in my life to the pain I caused that individual. Many of these relationships were abusive, and yet, I was not allowed to make the best choice for me. I was not allowed to be so selfish. On an unconscious level, I saw it necessary to experience punishment for the act of standing up for myself.

This continues today. When I make a parenting mistake, which happens more often than not, I believe I deserve to be treated poorly because I am a bad parent. When I say one wrong thing, I assume people will never want to interact with me again. When I muster the courage to write an article with a strong opinion, I expect an on-line backlash of massive proportions. I expect followers to leave in droves.

And while that is bad enough, it doesn’t stop there. My innate “badness” is also the cause of a world of problems … the world of problems. My unconscious can attribute almost anything to me. There’s a tornado in Oklahoma? It is probably because I yelled at the kids yesterday. There’s an earthquake in Asia? I am sure that would not have happened if I hadn’t messed up that presentation. And honestly, the world would just be a better place if I had never been born. And yes, that is an exact quote from my childhood.

With these bizarre attempts at “cause and effect” running through my unconscious, it is not surprising that motivation is challenging. If I am innately bad, how will I ever do good things? That would be impossible, right? What is the point of all this writing? What is the point of that interview? What is the point of all my parenting research? If I am meant to be bad, how can I ever be anything else?

Unfortunately, this underlying current of futility follows me wherever I go. If something looks like it might be an amazing opportunity or a chance for success, I have to pass that up. I can’t get my hopes up because it can’t work out. In my life, it just isn’t allowed to work out. I am not a good enough person for that to work out.

This unconscious child part of me keeps things as mediocre as possible to avoid the downfall that is inevitable. And it battles everyday with that part of me that knows I can do amazing things.

But I keep working to convince that child part otherwise. I gently point out the amazing things I am doing. I make it a point to take in the difference I am making. I do my best to be hopeful and optimistic. I do my best to understand that I am capable of creating a positive future. And I work to forgive myself for the little things, even the big things.

But sometimes, I hurt others. In those times, I need help from others to move forward.

I have written in the past about the importance of believing survivors of sexual trauma. There is nothing more healing that hearing the words, “I believe you.” But there is a phrase that finishes a close second. If you are working with a survivor to help them heal, and they do something wrong, even something you take personally, remember the words “I forgive you.”

If a survivor is able to find the strength to say they are sorry and they receive forgiveness in return, it can be life changing.

It can give them the strength to forgive themselves in return.


6 thoughts on “It Must Be My Fault

  1. This is a very poignant article. I recognize so well the struggles with self-worth and self-blame that you write about. I sometimes feel like I take on the energy of as many different issues as I can because I believe it is punishment for innate ‘badness.’ If someone were to ask me direct if I think I am bad inside I’d say no and almost believe it but I know it is there underneath and needs releasing bit by bit. It is good to talk about it and recognise it, healthy to explore so that we can start to heal the layers of flawed self-perception. Thanks.


    • Exactly Jane. Low self-esteem can be quite sneaky. I have felt very proud of myself for months and months and then I will get slammed with a feeling of worthlessness that I never knew was there.


  2. Thank you for sharing, Elisabeth. I went through some tough times with an alcoholic father who played that, “it’s your fault” game with me. I spent years too thinking I was to blame for a lot of the junk he was going through.


  3. I can relate so much to what you write! I thank you for articulating what I’ve felt my whole life. Always blaming myself for everything I realize now was also a survival strategy for me…if I could just be perfect than things would be ok. I do hope you and the rest of us can extend ourselves the grace of forgiveness even when others may not.


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