You are not “bad.”

Experiencing abuse or neglect often fosters in us a sense that we’re bad. 

Undeserving. Unlovable. Toxic. 

Why would the people who were supposed to look out for me, protect me, love me, do the exact opposite— unless I somehow wasn’t deserving of care, attention, and love? 

That’s the kind of question our traumatized brain often throws at us. 

When we’re kids, we very often assume that others’ behavior is necessarily about us. 

Part of growing up is coming to realize that, while we may influence others’ behavior toward us, we don’t control it. We’re not totally responsible for either the good OR the bad things that happen to us. 

The thing is, for us to really get this, we need the appropriate amount of support from our caretakers— the people who, in an ideal world, will be real with us about the limit of our influence on the world, but also help us cope with it. 

Lots of us didn’t get that kind of support from our caretakers. 

This isn’t about “blaming” anyone for not having had the “perfect” childhood. 

This is just being real about what NOT getting the emotional support we need at particularly vulnerable times does to our self-concept. 

As babies, we are kind of wired to try to figure out what we need to do to get the important people in our lives to interact with us. 

When we’re that young, interaction with— attention from— our caretakers really might be a matter of life or death. Infants can’t survive on their own without a LOT of care. 

If we can’t seem to figure that equation out— if we’re doing everything we can to try to get attention and care from our caregivers, and it’s just not working— it’s hard for us to escape the conclusion that we must be to blame. 

We must not be that lovable. 

If we take a step back, as adults, we can understand— at least intellectually— that there are LOTS of reasons why adult caretakers may not be able or willing to extend to their kids the kind of care and attention they need…and almost NONE of those reasons have to do with the kids. 

Competent parents don’t abuse or neglect their kids— whether or not they find them “lovable.” 

Getting the attention and care we needed to survive once upon a time should’t have been a matter of us being endearing to the adults around us. It should have been a given. 

If it wasn’t, we tend to blame ourselves. 

All of which leads us to what adult victims of childhood abuse or neglect often feel every day— unworthy. Undeserving. Inadequate. 

A big part of recovery is deciding that EVEN IF we feel unworthy, undeserving, or inadequate, we are STILL going to relate to OURSELVES with respect, kindness, and fairness. 

A big part of recovery is deciding NOT to blame and shame ourselves for the behavior of the adults around us when we were kids. 

A big part of recovery is making the commitment that, no matter how “bad” we FEEL, that we will NOT pick up where toxic people from our past left off in either abusing OR neglecting ourselves. 

You are not inherently “bad.” The fact that you may have been abused or neglected growing up is not EVIDENCE that you were bad. 

It may be evidence that the adults around you were unable or unwilling to do what they needed to do for you— but that wasn’t your responsibility and it’s not your fault. 

The kid you once were, and who you still carry around in your head and heart, needs to know that it wasn’t their fault that the adults around them did or didn’t do. 

No human being is perfect, and this isn’t about demanding “perfection” from anybody. 

This is correcting the fundamental distortion that exists at the heart of many trauma survivors— the belief that “I am bad.” 

You’re not. 

No matter what your trauma is whispering in your ear as you read this. 

“But it happened so long ago…I should be over it by now.”

“It happened so long ago— I should be over it now.”

Really? 

I wish it worked like that. 

I wish it just took the passage of time to heal the damage that abuse, neglect, and other forms of trauma do to our nervous and endocrine systems. 

But it doesn’t work that way. 

Time can often help heal trauma, because it gives us more opportunities to do the things we need to do to heal. 

But the passage of time doesn’t mean we automatically heal. 

Often people say things like “it happened so long ago, you should be over it by now” because they struggle to imagine or believe that we can continue to be affected by something that seems like it happened to a different person. 

It’s true that you were a different person then. 

But the person you’ve been every day since has been impacted by what happened to that person. 

Something we know about trauma is that its effects are often delayed and cumulative. 

Sometimes we think we’re fine in the immediate aftermath of an intense or painful situation…only to have symptoms and struggles appear and intensify over the course of weeks, months, and years. 

This can be confusing. If what happened really impacted us, why are its affects taking so long to manifest? 

Trauma, as it turns out, doesn’t care what we think “makes sense.” 

We are VERY often still impacted by events and relationships that feel like they happened a lifetime ago.

We don’t get to opt out because we feel something happened too long ago to possibly affect us now. 

We can TRY to deny, disown, or dissociate from what’s happening to us right here, right now, pretend that it doesn’t have any connection to what we went through once upon a time…but the more we do that, the tougher it’s going to be to ACTUALLY assess and address our strong feelings and urgent needs. 

If you’re reading this, chances are good that your feelings and needs weren’t seen or taken seriously once upon a time. 

We’ve had enough emotional neglect to last a lifetime. 

Let’s not do it to ourselves now. 

There’s no shame in something that happened a long time ago affecting you now. 

It happens to MANY people— and it has nothing to do with strength, intelligence, toughness, or character. 

I hear you. It’s hard to really convince ourselves, as adults, that things we barely remember (or maybe that we DON’T remember) can have such a huge impact on our lives and relationships now. 

We don’t want to believe it. I would certainly prefer that wasn’t true. 

But if we’re serious about recovery, we have to see what we see and know what we know. 

Even if that takes us back to people and places that we don’t want to admit had an effect on us— that we never thought we’d have to revisit again. 

The good news is, you’re not the first person this has happened to— and you’re not alone. 

People have walked this path before you. And there ARE people who will walk it with you, if that’s what you need. 

Just take one day at a time. 

Inner safety and our old BS (Belief Systems).

Making the inside of our head a safe place for ourselves isn’t the ONLY thing involved in recovery— but it might be the most important. 

It won’t really matter how safe or stable it is outside of us, if inside our own head we’re still attacking and sabotaging ourselves. 

Many people who have painful, complicated histories are really cruel to themselves inside their own head. 

How we talk to ourselves can be brutal. 

A lot of the time we can really struggle with giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt. 

Often we’ll struggle to believe we are worthy of pleasure or other positive emotions— after all, what have we done to “deserve” or “earn” positive experiences, huh? 

Much of the time how harsh we are with ourselves has been learned over time. 

We learned how to be cruel to us by watching and experiencing other people be cruel to us. 

For many people reading this, it never even occurred to them that there was a way to talk to themselves OTHER than sarcastically or harshly. 

For some people reading this, being kind to themselves feels fake or indulgent. 

We’re thoroughly convinced in our own minds that we don’t “deserve” kindness or fairness. 

We often feel guilty when OTHER people are kind and fair to us, because we haven’t don’t anything to “earn” it and often feel unworthy of it. 

Many of these negative feelings and believes about ourselves are rooted in the past. 

They’re so familiar, they “feel” right. 

We don’t think to question them, because they’re basically what we grew up with. It’d be like a fish questioning the water in its bowl. 

We often grow up feeling undeserving and incapable, because that was the feedback we received, either directly or indirectly, from the people we were supposed to be able to trust and believe. 

When we’re kids, we don’t have the cognitive machinery to sift through the validity of the messages we receive about ourselves. 

We just kind of take it all in. 

Beliefs about who we are and what we’re all about get programmed into us— and they take root. 

Over time we lose any sense that those beliefs and feelings aren’t actually, objectively true— they’re just what we were told over and over again. 

Fast forward to now, and it’s EXTREMELY hard to convince ourselves that those old feelings and beliefs may not be the entire story. 

We are way more complex than any belief system from when we were kids could possibly encapsulate. 

Whether we are or aren’t worthy or deserving isn’t a function of whether we were or weren’t loved or cared for by the people who should have been there for us once upon a time. 

We may FEEL like we do or don’t deserve love and care based upon what we were told and how we were treated back then…but those feelings are a reflection of those early experiences. Not reality. 

Making the inside of our head a safe place for ourselves means refusing to echo and reinforce the mean things we were told once upon a time. 

Making the inside of our head a safe place for ourselves means refusing to launch attacks on ourselves that we can’t escape, because they’re coming from inside us. 

We are with ourselves 24/7. When our relationship with ourselves is hostile, that means we’re vulnerable to attack 24/7. 

How can we possibly recover, especially from trauma, when we have to be on guard every minute of every day like that? 

We can’t. 

There are LOTS of things that we can and should do in recovery to decrease our vulnerability. 

But whatever else we do, we NEED to prioritize that relationship with ourselves. 

We NEED the inside of our head to be a safe space for us. 

We NEED our heart to be a sacred space for us. 

What’s more: we DESERVE that safe and sacred space within us. 

No matter what that voice in your head is saying right now. 

Staying in recovery– even when the world is on fire.

In the world of trauma recovery, you hear many versions of “it’s safe now.” 

The assumption underpinning these kinds of statements is usually something like, yes, once upon a time your life WAS dangerous; but now you’re grown up and away from the people who hurt you, so you’re safe now. 

We’re presented with this idea that the big problem is convincing ourselves that the world really is “safe” now. That if we can only change our thoughts and beliefs about the safety of the world, we’d feel and function better. 

The problem is: the world may not be objectively “safe” now. 

Right now, dozens of people reading this are feeling unsafe because of events that are unfolding on national and international levels. 

Dozens more are in objectively dangerous situations in their home or work lives due to some of the people they have no choice but to interact with. 

“Safety” is not clear cut out there— even when we’re adults. 

No one gets to tell you which aspects of an objectively dangerous world out there you “should” be worried about. 

No one gets to tell you you’re worried about the “wrong” thing— especially if you’re in a position where the threats to your safety, stability, livelihood, or even your life, have been well-established. 

I’m certainly not going to try sell you the idea that all you need to do is convince yourself that you’re “safe” now. 

How the hell would I know? 

The things that put me, a white, overeducated, relatively professionally successful male, in danger might be VERY different from what puts you in danger. 

I don’t get a vote on what your nervous system “should” take seriously as a threat. 

Here’s what I do know, as someone who struggles daily with recovery from trauma, depression, and addiction: whether there are or aren’t “objectively” dangerous threats out there today, it is STILL my job to string together moment-by-moment safety and stability in MY life today. 

That DOESN’T mean ignoring what’s happening on a national or international level. 

But it DOES mean redirecting our attention, again and again and again, to the micro-level where our day to day, moment by moment choices really can make a difference in whether we stay safe, stable, and sober today. 

I WISH ignoring political and legal situations happening “out there” was an option— but for most of us with eyes, ears, and empathy, it isn’t. 

We need to pay exactly as much attention as we need to pay to those situations— and we have to manage the triggers and memories that those situations are going to evoke in us. 

But however we handle the pervasive cultural situations and stressors that surround us and permeate our public discourse, we need to be CLEAR that our FIRST commitment has to be to our own safety, stability, and functioning, WHATEVER happens. 

We can’t let what we see on the news derail us. 

It’s hard. Your depression, trauma, addiction, eating disorder, or other struggle is going to try to take what’s happening out there, and turn it into an excuse to relapse, backslide, or otherwise neglect or give up on your recovery. 

You need to know, though: if you have passionate feelings about what’s going on in the political and legal sphere right now, the world needs you, and we need you safe, stable, and functioning. 

If we’re going to change how this world works and protect the most vulnerable among us along the way, we can’t be overwhelmed with our emotional and behavioral struggles. 

We need to be thinking as clearly as possible, managing what we’re feeling, and making decisions that are congruent with our values and the world we want to see. 

Yes. What’s happening “out there” truly is important— and triggering, for valid reasons. 

If you care about “out there,” keep reeling it in and refocusing on you. 

You know the drill. Day by day. Hour by hour. Minute by minute. 

If we care about THEIR quality of life, we have to protect and defend OUR quality of life today. 

I refuse to let a bad night burn my recovery down.

You’re going to have days— and especially nights— when your feelings get away from you. 

You’re going to have days— and nights— when you feel like your ENTIRE personality has been short-circuited by triggers and trauma responses. 

You’re going to have days— and nights— when you don’t especially recognize yourself…and when you don’t especially like the person you DO see. 

No doubt about it: we are not ourselves when we’re triggered. 

We are not ourselves when we’re desperate. 

We are not ourselves when we’re yanked back in time in an emotional, somatic, or sensory flashback. 

When we come out of those reactions, the temptation can be to kind of get swallowed up by embarrassment or shame. 

We might look back on who we were or what we did when we were triggered with frustration or sadness. 

We don’t want to be THAT person, we might tell ourselves. Who even WAS that last night? 

Sometimes our frustration or shame can make it really hard to get back on track with our recovery. 

Why even bother, we might say to ourselves, if THIS is what happens when I get freaked out? 

I know. I’ve been there. Almost everybody reading these words has been there. 

The day after an abreaction, dissociative fugue, or relapse, can be brutal. 

It can leave us questioning who we are, or if we can even hack this “recovery” thing. 

You need to know that you are NOT the first, last or only person to feel this way. 

You also need to know that almost EVERYONE who has EVER made progress in recovery from depression, trauma, addiction, an eating disorder, or any other emotional or behavioral struggle, has felt this way. 

Think of the person whose recovery journey you most admire, someone, who you think really has it together. 

I GUARANTEE that they, the person you just thought of, have felt like this. 

They, the person you just thought of, have asked themselves if they can really succeed at recovery. 

One of the most important things I’ve learned about recovery through my own experience is that it doesn’t live or die based on a bad night or even a bad streak. 

We who are in recovery tend to do that. We take detours. We get overwhelmed. It happens. 

If recovery was a one-and-done decision, and if human beings were capable of simply turning things around with a one-and-done decision, than we probably wouldn’t be vulnerable to depression, trauma, addiction, eating disorders, or other struggles to begin with. 

Those who succeed at recovery aren’t the ones who don’t run into problems, complications, or awful days or nights. 

They’re the ones who can pick up the pieces the next day— even though they’re embarrassed, frustrated, or discouraged. 

Right here, right now, I can tell you: I am GOING to have a bad day or night. Maybe not today, maybe not tonight, and probably not as frequently as I used to— but it’s going to happen. I’m GOING to be tempted to throw my recovery in the trash and do things that are harmful or counterproductive to the life I’m trying to create. 

I can also tell you: even when that happens, it will NOT be where my story ends. 

That’s the decision I’ve made. 

I DON’T have control over whether I have a bad night (though, as we get better and better at the recovery tools and skills, we DO tend to have more and more INFLUENCE over how often those nights occur and how bad they get). 

I DO have control over whether a bad night burns my recovery— including my relationships with the people I love— to the ground. 

I’ve decided that whatever happened last night, or whatever happens tomorrow night— I will pick up the pieces. 

As many pieces, and as many times, as I have to. 

Come at me. 

Relapse and toxic shame’s bullsh*t.

Backsliding and relapse happens. 

It’s not evidence that we suck. It’s not evidence that we’re not trying. 

It’s evidence that recovery is really hard. No more; no less. 

Our depression, addiction, or trauma might try to use a backslide or a relapse to bury us with shame. 

We might hear a voice in our head telling us that we backslid or relapsed because we suck, or because we’re not tough enough, or because we don’t “want” recovery enough. 

It’s not true. 

Nobody LIKES backsliding or relapsing. It’s frustrating. It’s often painful. 

it sucks to see ground we’d gained, lost. 

Sometimes when we backslide or relapse it has very real consequences for those around us. 

It’s perfectly legit to HATE all of that. I hate it when it happens to me. 

We can take responsibility for the pain and inconvenience our struggles cause other people— without letting shame take over and convince us that we are irredeemable as people. 

The truth is, struggling in recovery is not about “toughness” or “character.” 

It’s usually about the fact that we got overwhelmed, and weren’t able to access just the right skill or tool at the moment. 

It happens. 

I’m not saying that backsliding or relapsing “doesn’t matter.” Of course it matters. The stakes are high in recovery, and often we very much do have a lot to lose. 

You bet we’re gonna feel bad when we relapse. We might feel guilty, or confused, or frustrated. 

It’s really important to NOT let a backslide or relapse crack the door for toxic shame to sneak in and make us feel fundamentally horrible about ourselves. 

You are not a bad person because you struggle. 

I don’t care if this is your first time or your hundredth time starting over after a relapse— you are not hopeless. 

Toxic shame tries to tell us that we struggle not because this stuff is hard, but because WE are somehow deficient. 

Toxic shame tries to tell us that other people don’t struggle as much as we do, because they are better or more determined or more moral than we. 

Toxic shame tries to tell us that no matter how hard we try, we’re still going to fail, because we are who we are. 

Toxic shame lies. 

Toxic shame doesn’t care about why this is hard. All it cares about is you feeling a certain kind of way. 

If you notice, toxic shame uses language that tends to be very similar to the language used by certain people in our lives once upon a time. 

Toxic shame wants YOU to pick up where your abusers and bullies left off. 

Toxic shame wants YOU to collaborate in your own abuse. 

Toxic shame wants to take the focus of this whole project off of the skills, tools, and tasks of recovery, and put that focus on you as a person. 

That’s not the route to success. 

You have exactly the same chance at recovery as anyone. I don’t care how old you are, I don’t care what your history is, I don’t care how you arrived at this point. 

Even if you’re starting over right here, right now. Even if you’re at Square One— and even if this isn’t your first time at Square One.

Your job today is the same as anybody else’s in recovery for anything else: managing your thoughts, feelings, and behavior one day, one hour, one minute at a time. 

If you’re reading this, it’s not too late. 

Just handle today. 

Just handle this sixty seconds. 

I believe in you. I really do. 

Bone weary.

I’m tired. 

Deeply. Fundamentally. In a way that daily rest or self-care doesn’t always, or even usually, touch. 

You too? 

Something I don’t think we talk about often enough in recovery is the exhaustion. 

It’s not just physical exhaustion. It’s emotional exhaustion; intellectual exhaustion; even spiritual exhaustion— which can be confusing, when we’re not always clear on who we are or what we’re all about “spiritually.” 

All we know is, we’re tired. 

Managing our personal recovery takes an awful lot of energy. A lot of bandwidth. 

Some of the tasks and skills essential to recovery from depression, trauma, addiction, or an eating disorder involve reining in impulses— NOT doing things that our symptoms and struggles are pushing you to do. 

Holding ourselves back from those things can be overwhelming and exhausting— and we don’t often get a break from them. 

We are in recovery 24/7. We have to wake up and recommit to recovery every day. 

That wears on you after awhile. 

Yes, you could make the argument that the exhaustion evoked by recovery tasks is less painful in the big picture than just letting our symptoms and struggles run the show…but that doesn’t change the fact that most of the people reading this are very tired. 

We’re tired of having to think the things recovery asks us to think about every day. 

We wish we could just take one day off. Hell, one hour off. 

Often times our depression, trauma, addiction, or eating disorder whispers in our ear that we “deserve” to take a day off. 

My addiction is VERY active in trying to convince me I “deserve” a night of relapsing every now and then, just to, you know, realign my perspective. 

When I’m tired and discouraged, that argument makes more sense than it should. 

You’ve probably heard it said again and again that recovery is a lifestyle, not an achievement— and it is. 

The thing about lifestyles, though, is that they are created by consistency doing something again, and again, and again, and again. 

Sometimes when we think about having to stick to the recovery lifestyle for years— let alone the rest of our lives— our exhaustion and disillusionment intensifies even more. 

Depression, addiction, trauma, and eating disorders are patient. 

They will happily wait for us to get so tired and jaded that we don’t have the energy to outwit or resist them. 

You’re not wrong to be tired. I’m tired. Everybody who has ever successfully recovered has experienced the sense of exhaustion that you and I are experiencing right now. 

In these moments, how we think about this project of recovery is REAL important. 

Don’t think about “the rest of your life.” 

Don’t think about having to get up, day after day after day, and recommit yourself to your recovery. 

Just think about today. This hour. This minute. 

I don’t know how long the rest of my life is even going to be. If I try to think about the rest of my life, it’d be a guess anyway. 

I know I have this minute to manage, though. 

This minute to get through without using my substance of addiction, engaging in my behaviors of addiction, diving into the self-hate or self-cruelty that my depression or trauma wants me to swim around in. 

Whatever happens for the rest of my life is gonna happen. I can’t directly control it from right here, right now, in this minute. 

I can, however, manage this minute. 

I can control, at least sort of, the pace and depth of my breathing. 

I can control, at least a little, what I say to myself and how I say it. 

I can control, to a certain extent, what I “see” in my mind’s eye— who I envision, whose voice I hear on purpose, what they are saying. 

I don’t control everything in my world, inner or outer. 

But I can control what I can control. 

i can influence this minute. 

I can manage my symptoms and struggles for this sixty seconds. 

It doesn’t have to be perfect, and it might not be. 

But I can be exactly as tired as I am— and still stay in recovery right here. Right now. 

So I think I will. 

In defense of comfort.

Nobody reading this needs to be told that they need to step outside of their comfort zone in order to grow. 

We know. And if we didn’t know, the internet is here to remind us about a dozen times a day. 

Yes, growth often involves discomfort. 

Yes, growth often involves taking risks. 

But if ALL we do is push ourselves in uncomfortable ways or take uncomfortable risks, we probably won’t “grow” all that much— because we’ll always be having to cope with the anxiety and effort that comes with pushing ourselves. 

Growth doesn’t actually happen as a result of pushing ourselves. 

Growth happens when we get a chance to slow down, rest, and recover. 

Lifting weights doesn’t make muscles grow. It actually damages our muscles in the moment. 

The growth and strengthening occurs when we recover from the damage we did lifting the weights. 

The “comfort zone” gets a bad rap. 

It’s true that if we never step out of our comfort zone, it’s hard to achieve different results in our lives. If we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always gotten. 

That said— if we want the risks we take in stepping out of our comfort zone to pay off, we often need to step back INTO our comfort zone to recover and consolidate our gains. 

I see a lot of therapists posting on social media about how the therapy relationship is supposed to “challenge” clients, make them uncomfortable, push them— and that is what some clients need, sometimes. 

But in my experience, many, if not all, clients also need the therapy relationship to be a place of safety and certainty as well as challenge.

If we want to grow, we don’t just need relationships that push us. We also need relationships that are safe. 

A lot of recovery— especially trauma and addiction recovery— is about establishing safety and comfort inside our own head and heart. 

It’s about creating a comfort zone that is actually comforting, restful, and safe— first and foremost inside of us. 

If we can’t feel safe in our own head, it won’t especially matter what’s going on outside of us. 

We can be in the “safest” external relationships possible, but we still won’t feel safe and good if we’re constantly attacking, disrespecting, and bullying ourselves. 

One of the ways psychotherapy can help us is in establishing a relationship in which we do not have to guess whether we are liked, wanted, respected, or believed. 

The idea is, if we experience that in the therapy relationship, it can show us how to recreate that on the inside of our own head. 

Yes, therapy can hold us accountable. 

Yes, therapy can challenge our assumptions, automatic thoughts, and distorted beliefs. 

Yes, sometimes a lot of the stuff we confront in therapy can be uncomfortable or even painful. 

But I do not understand the pride certain therapists take in creating a relationship that is seemingly constantly, intentionally uncomfortable. 

Many people who seek mental health support already have enough relationships in which they are made plenty uncomfortable. 

Part of what most people need to heal is a relationship in which they are given the benefit of the doubt. 

A relationship in which they don’t have to justify what they feel or who they are. 

A relationship in which they know they will be seen and valued as a person— not because they have achieved something or have been able to “be” an “acceptable” version of themselves. 

All of which is to say: the comfort zone serves a purpose, both in your head and in your relationships. 

Instead of avoiding the comfort zone altogether, consider how you might USE your comfort zone as an essential tool. 

It’s normal to miss certain undeniably toxic things and people.

It’s not weird to miss certain things about a situation that was, on the whole, painful. 

It’s not unusual to miss a person who hurt you more than anything else. 

Our memories and attachments are often complex. 

Sometimes, being abused was the most attention we got, positive or otherwise— and that was preferable to the emptiness and yearning of being ignored or neglected. 

It’s very common for victims of sexual abuse to be confused about sensations they experienced in their body while they were being abused. 

Especially if we were living lives that didn’t include a lot of physical affection or pleasure, our nervous system may not have known what to make of some of what we experienced while being abused. 

Later on, our mind may not have known what to make of the fact that many perpetrators of sexual abuse don’t use physical coercion s their weapons of choice— but often gaslight their victims into believing that the victim had in fact “seduced” perpetrator. 

Even as adults, we can have mixed feelings about people who we know, on the whole, were abusive to us. 

We may be attracted or drawn to someone we know was toxic for us— even after a painful relationship has ended. 

We may have mixed feelings when someone who abused us moves on with their life, experiences milestones like getting married or having children, or dies. 

It would be much easier if we humans were wired to think in black and white terms about people with whom we’ve been close. 

But we often don’t. 

Painful memories and knowledge may be entwined with stimulating or even comforting memories and knowledge. 

Some survivors of abusive relationships even experience regret about how a relationship ended, or guilt about their role in how the relationship played out or ended. 

If any of this sounds familiar to you, you need to know you are not crazy— and you’re not alone. 

It doesn’t mean it was your fault that you were abused or victimized. 

It doesn’t mean you “asked for it.” 

It doesn’t mean you must want it back, or that you have a fetish for abusive relationships. 

It means that trauma often scrambles our wiring when it comes to attachment— especially if our early attachments weren’t all that positive and stable to begin with. 

Many of the distorted beliefs that trauma survivors develop about themselves stem from how we interpret things we experienced and felt in certain relationships. 

When we get distance on an abusive relationship, it can be easy to feel stupid or complicit in our own pain— and others sometimes implicitly or explicitly reinforce those feelings. 

We need to be super clear about the fact that human emotions and relationships are always complex and frequently paradoxical. 

Missing a childhood abuser, at least in some ways, is pretty common among survivors. 

Wanting a parent who abused or neglected us to apologize or approve of us in adulthood is VERY common among survivors. 

You’re not weird and you’re not bad. 

And missing aspects of a person or relationship does not mean that we need or want that person or relationship back. 

We can feel what we feel and still be realistic about what we need to heal and protect ourselves. 

Always, always, always come back to accepting WHATEVER you are feeling with curiosity and compassion. 

Always, always, always come back to meeting the kid who you once were, and who you still carry around with you in your head and heart, with radical acceptance and care— no matter what they’re feeling. 

Always, always, always remember that what you FEEL is not “wrong”— it’s just what you feel— but that DOESN’T mean it must be acted upon…or that it’s the final word on “who you are.” 

I like you, and I’m on your side. Yeah, you.

If you’re reading this, you probably don’t need to be told that life is difficult. 

You probably know all too well. 

And you’ve probably been told this, over and over— by parents, teachers, coaches, peers, the culture at large. 

Yeah. We know life is hard. 

We know that painful things are going to happen. 

And we know we’re not entitled to either a perfect childhood or a perfect adult life. 

Nobody goes into therapy to be told how difficult life is, or how they’re going to have to suck it up if they want to get better. 

Yet there is a subset of people out there who seem to think that’s what we “need” to hear. 

There really is a subset of people out there who think “entitlement” and the desire for a good life without work or pain are the big problems many people bring to therapy. 

This hasn’t been my experience. 

My experience is that many people who come into therapy or embark upon recovery have plenty of experience with “sucking it up.” 

Many of them have been “sucking it up” for years— treating themselves with the “tough love” that had been shown to them their whole lives (well…the “tough” part, anyway). 

Chances are you already have plenty of relationships in your life where you have to prove how “tough” you are. 

You’ve had plenty of situations where you felt you had to “earn” your success or prove your worth. 

If you’re seeking the support of psychotherapy or a recovery community now, you’re probably not seeking yet another environment in which you’re going to be reminded that life has sharp edges and the world doesn’t owe you anything. 

Different therapists have different approaches to their work. I would’t dare tell any other therapist how to apply their skills. 

But the people I see most in therapy aren’t there because they want to find the “easy” way out of suffering. 

And they don’t need yet another relationship in their life where they feel their worth is conditional. 

I don’t want my patients leaving my office wondering if I like them, if I support them, or whose side I’m on. 

They deserve one relationship in their lives in which they can feel secure and safe. 

It’s not, at all, that I want the therapy relationship to replace the flawed attachments they may have experienced growing up. I couldn’t be their “surrogate parent” even if I wanted to. 

But I do not believe in therapy relationships that reenact the childhood dynamic in which they were left alone in times of fear or pain to “cry it out.” 

As I say: different therapists have different training, styles, and goals. I like to say every therapist out there is right for someone, and every patient out there can make HUGE strides when paired with the right therapist. 

My perspective is undoubtedly colored by the fact that I work mostly with people who have experienced trauma, often in their closest relationships. 

Complex trauma survivors have had enough relationships in which they’re not quite sure if they’re liked, wanted, or respected— and what they’ve experienced is not their fault. 

They don’t need the therapy relationship to recreate the doubts and pressures of relationships past. 

You deserve to know I like you. 

You deserve to know I’m on your side. 

You deserve to know that, while we might disagree and I may not agree with or approve of everything you say or do, my regard for your worth as a person is unconditional. 

You deserve to know that you are— for once— emotionally and physically safe in my presence. 

I don’t think that’s unreasonable to ask for or expect in a meaningful therapy relationship.