“Acceptance” is such a lonely word.

Accepting we are where we are right now is hard. 

We don’t want to accept it. 

The word “acceptance” it feels like we’re saying something is okay, that it “should” exist, that it’s “right.” 

That’s not how I think of “acceptance.” 

If we’re going to do anything about a situation we hate, a situation that causes us pain, we first need to accept that the situation is as it is. 

That it is as painful as it is. 

That it is exactly as bad, exactly as f*cked up, as it is. 

There’s a reason why Step One in the Twelve Step model of addiction recovery is all about acceptance— because without accepting a situation is as bad as it is, we are powerless to meaningfully do anything about it. 

You can’t actually change something if you deny it’s even real. 

Meaningful trauma recovery begins with accepting that we have been traumatized. 

Sometimes it means accepting we were abused— sometimes by someone who should have taken care of us, kept us safe, done the OPPOSITE of abuse us. 

Sometimes it means accepting we were neglected— sometimes by the very people who SHOULD have paid attention to our needs, reinforced our personhood, helped us develop into people who could handle life. 

Sometimes it means accepting we were abused in a way OTHER than physically— which, believe it or not, can be a much tougher task than it sounds like. 

After all, many of us can wrap our heads around physical abuse as “abuse.” Physical abuse often leaves marks or scars. Physical abuse can be qualified by how often and how hard we were hit or otherwise physically attacked. 

Non-physical abuse, such as emotional or verbal abuse, can be much harder to accept. 

We often don’t want to call it abuse. 

We often don’t want to concede that it hurt us at all— because, after all, we weren’t hit, right? 

The truth is that emotional or verbal abuse can f*ck us up in even more complex ways than physical abuse— and if we’re going to meaningfully recover from years of such abuse, we have to first accept that it happened, and it exacted the toll that it did. 

Part of us might think that if we refuse to accept our pain is what it is, that it resulted from what it resulted from, then we might not have to deal with its reality now. 

We might be able to just keep brushing it off. 

We might be able to get away with pretending it didn’t hurt as much as it did, and it didn’t wound us like it did. 

The thing is: non-acceptance of something’s impact doesn’t negate that impact. 

It just hamstrings our ability to do anything about it. 

Non-acceptance— that is, denial— that a situation is EXACTLY as bad as it is, in EXACTLY the ways it is, doesn’t make the situation NOT bad. 

It just means we can’t take action to make it better. 

Nobody LIKES embracing the “powerlessness” that is encapsulated by Step One of the Twelve Steps. 

In fact, there are PLENTY of people who walk out of Twelve Step meetings when they hear Step one recited. We HATE thinking of ourselves as powerless. 

But we are. Powerless, that is. In a way, anyway. 

We are powerless to change the fact that the past has led us here. 

We are powerless to deny or disown the exact impact everything in our life has had on us, up to this point. 

We are powerless to ever have a better past. 

We never WILL have a better past. 

But in accepting our powerlessness to change reality in this moment, we paradoxically gain the power to change reality from this point forward. 

If we’re going to proactively write the rest of our story, we need to accept that the story has been EXACTLY what it’s been so far. 

We’re not starting from scratch— even if, in a way, we are. 

Change starts with acceptance. 

Not liking. Not approving of. Not giving up on changing. 

Accepting what is— right now. 

Trauma, “victim mindset,” and “personal responsibility.”

Let’s talk a little about trauma and “personal responsibility.” 

Sometimes I’ll see someone on social media post a hot take about how trauma survivors— or anyone who suffers, really— needs to “take responsibility” for their lives. 

I very often see a specific, moderately well-known therapist post about how indulging trauma survivors’ narratives can be problematic, in that it reinforces the idea that others are responsible for our suffering. 

Another moderately well-known therapist is pretty famous on social media for her posts about how “coddling” is destructive to adults, and more often than not peoples’ REAL problem is they need to take “responsibility” for their lives. 

(If anybody reading recognizes the social media therapists I’m referring to and feels I’m oversimplifying or mischaracterizing their respective worldviews, please let me know— I’m presenting the most straightforward recap of their pet themes as I can.)

It’s a well-worn cultural trope, “personal responsibility.” 

We’re strongly encouraged not to have a “victim mindset.” 

We’re encouraged to “take responsibility” for our happiness and stability— and this often seems to include denying and ignoring ways we were hurt or victimized. 

I’m always struck by how many vocal advocates of “personal responsibility,” in their enthusiasm to reject the “victim mindset,” seem to view all of this as a black and white choice. 

They seem to think that you can acknowledge your trauma— the ways you were, by definition, a victim— OR you can “take responsibility” for how you fee and function…but you can’t do both. 

In my experience as a trauma therapist, that’s just now how trauma recovery unfolds in the real world. 

In the real world, we ONLY recover WHEN we take responsibility for our happiness and stability— and part of taking REALISTIC responsibility means acknowledging our pain. 

It is not reality to pretend we are responsible for our post traumatic pain. 

It is not reality to “accept responsibility” for injuries that resulted from other peoples’ decisions and behavior. 

It is not reality to deny the fact that we are in pain, and there are layers to our pain that we do not control and can not reliably affect. 

It IS reality to see what we see and know what we know about our past and our present functioning— that there were aspects of our past that were painful and terrifying, and there are aspects of our current functioning that aren’t great as a result. 

None of that is “victim mindset.” It is reality mindset. 

When we acknowledge how hurt we are, and we get clear about what caused that hurt— including the truth that we didn’t and don’t control every aspect of every situation that resulted in pain or injury to us— that’s us taking REAL “personal responsibility.” 

Nobody gets into trauma recovery to blame someone else for their pain. 

Very often, the reason we find ourselves NEEDING to be in recovery is because we’ve blamed ourselves for so much for so long…and that strategy hasn’t worked out for us. 

It doesn’t work because it’s not reality. 

Many addicts struggle with Step One of the Twelve Steps because it is the step that speaks to the powerlessness of addiction— it asks us to get real about the fact that addiction is kicking our ass, and we can’t conquer it on our own. 

Trauma survivors experience that same struggle as we try to come to terms with the fact that our conditioning has lied to us— we are NOT responsible for everything that happened to us or every aspect of how we feel and function. 

It’s hard. Nobody reading this loves powerlessness. 

Nobody reading this loves denial, either— but we can get kind of “addicted” to it in that the alternative seems so overwhelming we don’t want to consider it. 

Survivors in trauma recovery know more about real world “personal responsibility” than anyone throwing that word around in a black and white way to score social media points. 

We know the REAL cost of TRUE “personal responsibility.” 

We know that if we’re GOING to take true responsibility for how we feel and function, sometimes we have to admit how powerless we were— or are.

It’s not easy. It very often sucks. 

But don’t let anyone get in your head about “taking responsibility” when their only conception of that is “taking unrealistic responsibility for things you didn’t control and could’t have changed.” 

Recovering who we really are.

When we’re busy living life in survival mode, we don’t have the time or the bandwidth to discover or create who we really are. 

This is one of the reasons why, when we commit to recovery from trauma, addiction, or depression, we often have no idea what the hell to do next. 

We don’t know who WE are. 

Ideally, growing up should be a time of experimenting and exploring. 

We figure out who we really are. 

What we like. What we need. Who we want in our lives. 

But a lot of us didn’t have the luxury of exploring and experimenting, did we? 

A lot of us had to throw a LOT of energy toward just surviving growing up. 

Either surviving dangerous physical environment, such as an abusive or neglectful one, or a psychologically dangerous environment, such as one shot through which verbal or emotional abuse. 

How on earth are we supposed to figure out who the hell WE are, when we’re just trying to keep our head above water? 

Fast forward to now— you’ve decided that you no longer want trauma, addiction, or depressions to define your moods or your choices. 

That’s an extraordinary step and decision to make— but it begs the question of what do we do instead? 

If our entire lives have been more or less a battle to just breathe and exist, either physically or psychologically, what on earth do we even do with our time, focus, and energy when we’ve definitively decided that our lives AREN’T going to be defined by those battles? 

Weirdly, when we get into recovery from trauma, addiction, or depression, we often feel…young. 

Lost. Inexperienced. 

It might be that this moment— the moment we committed to recovery, to continuing to live and living in a different way— is the first moment we’ve ever really had to ask ourselves what we really want. 

Who we really are. 

What really DOES deserve our attention, if NOT the battle against our emotional and behavioral struggles. 

It can be overwhelming. 

indeed, the fact that the the “brand newness” of recovery IS kind of overwhelming is why many people go back to old patterns. 

At least we knew where we stood with those old patterns. 

At least we didn’t have to make so many decisions about what to do with our day and our focus— those decisions were made for us by the fact that trauma, addiction, and depression were so often trying to make us miserable or kill us. 

To really succeed at recovery, we need to be prepared for it to feel unfamiliar. Awkward. Intimidating. 

We need to be prepared to look at the world with fresh eyes. 

We need to forgive ourselves for NOT having explored and experimented when we didn’t have the emotional bandwidth or oxygen to do so growing up. 

And we need to embrace the opportunity to discover, rediscover, or maybe even create for the first time our true selves. 

Our authentic self. 

The “you” you were always meant to be. 

I’ve said it before: part of what we “recover” in recovery is our authentic selves. 

Your authentic self has been waiting for you to remember them.  

No day but today.

Recovery means focusing on today. 

Yeah, yeah— that sounds obvious. But the truth is, it can be REALLY hard. 

Personally, one of my biggest struggles is trying to NOT relive the past. 

It’s tempting to pore over old messages and mementos, trying to figure out what went wrong with certain situations and relationships. 

We WANT to undestand. 

Sometimes we even tell ourselves that we NEED to understand, in order to not repeat the same mistakes or to avoid certain people and situations in the future. I tell myself that a lot. 

But the truth is, we will never, ever have a better or different past. 

It’s done. Twenty years ago, ten years ago, earlier today…it’s all done. Gone. Set in stone. 

That’s so hard to believe when the past feel so alive in our heads. 

It’s hard to believe when body memories are crowding in on us, seeming to squeeze the very cells of our body. 

But it’s true. We can’t go back and un-make decisions. We can’t go back and change what we did and didn’t see, what we did and didn’t have. 

I have a terrible time leaving the past alone. 

I also have a terrible time leaving the future alone. 

The future is tricky. Supposedly, we CAN impact the future, by what we do today. 

It’s true we can influence the future— make certain events more or less likely with the decisions we make and the actions we take today. 

But it’s also true that the future isn’t going to look like we think it will. 

Whether it’s a little or a lot, the future will look different from what we’re imagining. 

Most of us have no idea how long the future is even going to last. 

This minute might be my last minute alive. I might not survive to the end of this sentence. I don’t THINK my life is going to end here and now, it would kind of SURPRISE me if it did…but I don’t know. 

The future will have surprises, good and bad, for all of us. 

We just don’t know. 

We cannot directly affect what future-us will think, feel, and do. And we can’t affect, at all, what past-us thought, felt, and did. 

All we have is right-now us. 

Minute-by-minute us. 

I can’t change the past, I can’t shape the future with 100% predictability— what can I do? 

I can do what I can do right here. Right now. 

I can choose to keep typing— or not. 

I can choose to post this blog— or not. 

I can choose to wear my glasses as I watch the words on this screen— or not. 

I can choose to fantasize about relapsing— or to turn my attention elsewhere. 

I can choose to keep writing this blog, or to dive back into old messages. 

But THIS is where my power to decide REALLY is. 

And THIS is where our power EVER is. Our focus, our behavior, right here, right now. 

No matter how real and in our face the past feels, no matter how anxiety or despair-provoking the future seems, we don’t hold either in the palm of our hand. 

Not like we hold this minute. 

All we can do is what we can do: manage our behavior, today. Right here. Right now. 

So let’s do that. 

Let’s not let what we can’t control or change, keep us from managing what we can. 

Reel it in. 

Always bring it back to this moment. 

This is the way. 

ARE your feelings valid? Well…

We gotta resist the urge to judge our feelings. 

I know, I know. The world teaches us to do a LOT of judging, about EVERYTHING— especially everything about ourselves. 

The world teaches us to judge our, and others’, appearance. 

The world teaches us to judge our, and others’, motivations and values. 

The world teaches us to judge our, and others’, financial and career success— or lack thereof. 

Turns out, we don’t live in a world that particularly values good faith or extending the benefit of the doubt. The world loves to judge, even in entertainment contexts. 

I guess it shouldn’t be any real surprise that the world teaches us to judge our feelings. 

We get into the habit of judging the “rightness” of our feelings— “am I having the ‘correct’ emotion in response to this thing?’” 

We get into the habit of judging the proportionality of our feelings— “am I feeling too much? Am I not feeling enough?” 

And we very much get into the habit of judging ourselves as people, based on how appropriate our feelings supposedly are. 

The whole conversation that sometimes erupts over the “validity” of certain feelings and reactions stems from his impulse to judge our feelings. 

The truth of the matter is, feelings aren’t “right” or “wrong.” They arise spontaneously. We don’t ask for them, and the don’t need our consent or approval. 

They just show up. 

It can be awkward when our feelings don’t seem to represent our values or the values of the culture or subculture around us— but that doesn’t mean our feelings are “wrong.” 

Sometimes our feelings arise in response to a misunderstanding or a distorted thought or believe— but THAT doesn’t make our feelings “wrong” or “invalid.” 

The reason why it’s important to validate our feelings is because if we accept the premise that certain feelings are “invalid,” we are inviting a conflict with ourselves that isn’t necessary or productive. 

Even if we’re having a feeling that we don’t like, that doesn’t serve us, or that seems disproportionate to what’s going on right now, we’re not going to banish that feeling by labeling it “invalid.” 

Dismissing something we’re feeling as “invalid” will only handicap our ability to get curious about it, examine it, listen to it, deal with it. 

Many of us know what it’s like to grow up being CONSTANTLY told our feelings are “wrong.” 

Many of us have had people try to control and shame us by telling us our emotional reactions were “wrong.” 

That we were “overreacting.” 

That we’re being “dramatic.” 

If we don’t like something we’re feeling, the solution is not to deny and disown that we’re feeling it. 

If we deny and disown an emotional reaction, it’s not like that emotional reaction goes away. 

Sometimes we “stuff” it or even dissociate it— but it’s still there. And it WILL come back. 

In recovery, we learn to accept our feelings as they come. 

Even if they confuse us, even if they’re painful— we have to accept the fact that our feelings exist. 

They are what they are, and we have to deal with them on their terms. 

The good news is, when we accept and listen to our feelings, rather than denying and disowning them— WHATEVER they happen to be— we open ourselves up to actually being able to regulate and process them. 

We can’t manage something we deny. We can’t regulate something we disown. 

Our feelings don’t need to be wholly based in reality to be “valid” and worth exploring and examining. 

Resist getting into the debate about whether certain feelings are valid or proportional. 

Our feelings are what they are. We need to meet them where they are. 

We’re interested in real world emotional regulation so we can get on with our lives— not some hypothetical conversation about which feelings are or aren’t okay to feel. 

Starting over– with ourselves.

We get to start over— as many times as we need to. 

That doesn’t mean we don’t have to clean up our messes. 

That doesn’t mean we abandon our responsibilities. 

That doesn’t mean we’re not still carrying much of what we’ve been carrying. 

It means that we get to reinvent ourselves. Redefine who we are. 

We don’t have to stick with an identity, goals, or habits that no longer work for us. 

One of the things that held me back for YEARS was believing that I had to keep being who I was. 

Who I was, in this case, was defined by other people— and my past mistakes. 

I thought I had to keep seeing myself through my parents’ eyes. 

I thought I had to see myself through the eyes of the people who I’d disappointed— people who liked me once upon a time, but who had soured on me. 

Every time I thought of myself through those peoples’ eyes, I got sad. My level of motivation plunged. 

Why bother continuing with this “recovery” thing, which is complex and difficult, if I’m only ever going to be “that” guy?

(There’s that “why bother” question we were talking about the other day once again.) 

I thought I had to keep being that scared little boy who I was for much of my life. 

I thought I had to keep being that kid who, often, purposefully said and did weird things in order to create distance from himself and anybody who dared to get close. 

I thought I had to keep being that guy who would make up any and every excuse to slip away and indulge in a substance or behavior that felt good— no matter what it did to his relationships or projects. 

I’ll be the first to tell you: recovery ISN’T worth it if we are condemned to being who we used to be, indefinitely. 

But we’re not. 

We get to change. 

We get to choose who we are now, and who we’re going to be in the future. 

We do not have to keep being who “they” remember us as or who “they” expect us to be. 

For a long time I was skeptical about the idea of “reinventing” myself. What would that even mean, to have a blank slate? To start over? 

Surely there’s no such thing as starting COMPLETELY over, is there? 

Well— yes and no. 

We can’t “reinvent ourselves” out of our responsibilities. 

Our “blank slate” will still have to acknowledge our debts and our commitments, especially to certain other people. 

But we can meaningfully start over in our own head and heart. 

We can forgive ourselves for what came before. 

We can commit or recommit to treating ourselves with respect and fairness. 

We can decide that, from now on, we are going to make ourselves a priority in a realistic, sustainable way. 

We can decide that, from here on out, we have our own back. 

From here on out, we are on our own side. 

From here on out, making the inside of our own head and heart is going to be job one. 

Don’t get me wrong: starting over like this WILL have its false starts. 

Let it. 

There is no limit to how many times we get to push the “reset” button in our relationship with ourselves. 

Push it as many times as you need to. 

“Why bother?”

One of the hardest thoughts to deal with in recovery is “why bother.” 

Of all the distorted thoughts that kick our ass in recovery, “why bother” is one of the toughest ones for me to shake. 

It seems such a simple thought. Surely a smart, committed person “should” be able to put it in its place pretty easily, no? 

Not so much, as it turns out. 

“Why bother” particularly decimates me when I’ve been struggling to follow through on my recovery commitments. 

This will sound familiar to many people also in recovery: I will come through a bad patch, having made series of decisions or commitments about what I will or won’t do going forward. 

Then— life will happen. Stress will happen. Bad days will happen. Interpersonal difficulties will happen. 

Triggers will happen. 

Consequently my resolve to follow through on those decisions and commitments will weaken or dissipate— and I’ll cave. 

It won’t be a relapse, exactly— but I’ll find my streak of bad days extended, when I thought I was at a turning point. 

It’s an enormously discouraging experience. 

That’s when the “why bother” monster shows up and does the most damage. 

When I’m picking myself up and trying to dust myself off, having NOT bounced back from a streak of bad days…that deceptively simple thought will occur to me. 

“Why bother?” 

It’ll invariably be followed by other thoughts that make me progressively more discouraged. 

Why bother? You’re already on a bad streak, what’s another day? 

Why bother? You know you’re going to hit another bad streak eventually. 

Why bother? The day is almost over anyway, doesn’t it make more sense to start fresh tomorrow? 

My depression, addiction, or trauma will USE that simple, intrusive “why bother” question to insert more of their BS (Belief Systems) into my head. 

And the worst part is, when the conversation in my head had led off with “why bother,” my ability to argue back is ENORMOUSLY weakened. 

The only way I’ve found to effectively push back against why bother is the single word: “because.” 

“Why bother?” “Because.” 

Yes. I know the word “because” doesn’t ACTUALLY answer the question “why bother?” 

But here’s the thing: “why bother” doesn’t actually HAVE a great answer. 

It’s not an honest, good faith question. 

“Why bother” is never anything more than your— my— depression, anxiety, or trauma trying to get its foot in the door. 

Consequently, engaging the “why bother” monster with good faith dialogue is pointless. 

It’s not asking in good faith. It will not argue in good faith. 

“Because” is absolutely a dismissive answer— and “why bother” DESERVES a dismissive answer. 

It may not be a particularly motivating answer— but in recovery, we cannot let our decisions be made solely by how motivated we do or don’t feel in any given moment. 

We all have our individual reasons for even making the effort to be in recovery— but the “why bother” monster doesn’t care. ANY substantive answer we give to “why bother” will be met with a shrug and yet another disingenuous question. 

Do not engage the “why bother” monster.

Just get in the habit of responding with, “because.” 

“Why bother?” “Because.” 

“Why bother?” “Because.” 

“Why bother?” “You know why. Because.” 

“Why bother” will derail our recovery if we seriously engage it. “Because” isn’t supposed to answer its question— it’s supposed to set aside the entire conversation while you take the teeny, tiny, realistic baby step you need to take RIGHT NOW to get back on track. 

So no one told you life was gonna be this way.

I’m not a big fan of certain developments in my life. 

I could have lived without the painful, complicated relationships, especially growing up. 

I could have lived without the bullying at school that went on year after year. 

I could have lived without the ADHD that made succeeding at school and following through in friendships and relationships near impossible— and/or, I really would have preferred an adult in my sphere maybe catch the fact that I HAD ADHD, instead of conceptualizing my difficulties as “you’re lazy.” 

I could have lived without being molested— and I wish I’d not had a reputation as a weird, dramatic, attention-seeking kid, because I imagine things might have gone a little differently when I finally told that I’d been molested. 

I certainly could have lived without the addictive tendencies and behaviors. I wasn’t a big fan of laying on the floor, shivering in withdrawal, crying because I had once again “done it to myself.” 

No. To quote the “Friends” theme song, no one told me life was gonna be this way. Clap clap clap clap. 

Chances are, if you’re reading this, your life didn’t go to plan, either. 

I remember, when I was a kid, I had this whole idea that not only was I NOT meant for this sh*t show of a life— but I was meant for something special. 

For while, I actually had this idea that I was going to grow up to be elected president. True story, ask anyone who knew me in junior high. I truly thought that not only was I going to hoist my way out of how I’d been feeling and functioning— but I was going to overachieve from that point on, literally go on to be elected leader of the free world. 

I was serious, too. 

Sometimes I look back on the way my life was “supposed” to have gone…and I don’t know what to think. 

Part of me very much blames myself. 

Part of me wonders what I did wrong. 

Part of me is convinced all this isn’t part of a bad dream. That someday I’ll wake up, roll over, and jot down in my dream journal this crazy dream where I was an addict and trauma survivor and MAN am I glad that wasn’t real. 

But it is real. 

Don’t get me wrong— I am not past the challenges. 

I don’t think I’m ever going to be shivering on the floor again…but you never know. 

I’ve learned things about containing and processing traumatic stress that have nudged me past certain pain points. I don’t think I’m going back…but you never know. 

As I write this, there is absolutely a part of me that is whispering in my ear that even the successes I’ve had have been unearned. 

That I’m a month removed from having no place to live, no way to take care of my cat. 

Part of me knows that the part that believes those things is probably still coping with the woundedness of yesteryear, the deficit of self-trust and self-belief that comes with the kind of history that I have. 

But it feels very real. 

And because it feels real, I have to deal with it. Because I don’t have the option of just turning that insidious whispering voice off. 

I think I’ve done the mourning I need to do about the life I “should” have had. 

I’m not aware of feeling anger or grief about it anymore. 

I’m probably not going to be elected president. (Which, let’s face it, is probably a blessing, given what American politics has become in our lifetimes.) 

I don’t think I’m about to wake up from a dream. 

I have the exact same choice you, reading this, has: to live life on life’s terms, no matter how afraid I am. 

No matter how overwhelmed I am. 

No matter how sad I am. 

No matter how unfair it is that I didn’t get the chance to become who I thought I would. 

Whatever my feelings about any of that, I have a life to life. 

Patients who count on me. A cat who has become accustomed to a certain lifestyle and who has never given up on me. 

(Yeah, that might sound funny, but a LOT of survivors stay in the game because of their pets. If you know you know.) 

All I— all we— can do is take this one day at a time. 

So let’s do that. 

No, you’re not “doing it to yourself.”

“Gaslighting” refers to a tactic abusers use against their victims. 

In order to prevent their victims from escaping an abusive situation or seeking help, abusers say things to their victim and manipulate the situation and people around them in order to get the victim to question their grasp of reality. 

It’s hard to set a limit, escape a situation, or seek help if you think you’re the one who is going crazy. 

Gaslighting is very often used by abusers who have more situational or social power than their victim. 

A power differential, especially in social influence, makes it easier for them to enlist other people or draw on their reputation to help them make their victim feel crazy. 

Gaslighting is a form of deception— but it’s not just lying. 

We do not gaslight ourselves. Gaslighting is done to us. 

Some of us have been so gaslit for so long, they can’t imagine truly trusting themselves or their perception of a situation. 

Victims of gaslighting often believe that they are at fault for pain that has been inflicted upon them. 

Gaslighting hits at the core of our self-esteem and self-trust. 

When it comes to trauma recovery, there is always a subset of people who think they’re being helpful in emphasizing the symptomatology they say we inflict upon ourselves. 

There is often someone telling us to “stop gaslighting ourselves.” 

These people may mean well— when they say “stop gaslighting yourself,” I assume what they mean is, “be honest with yourself” (about what you need, about what your challenges are, about what’s happened to you.). 

But to say “stop gaslighting yourself” is to deemphasize what was done TO you— and to overstate the role we supposedly play in our own self-deception. 

If your self-trust or self-esteem has taken a hit because of what you’ve been told and how you’ve been treated in a relationship, it is not because you’ve been “gaslighting yourself.” 

It’s because someone has related to you in such a way as to stoke your anxiety and self-doubt. 

Gaslighting is an abuse tactic. 

It is something that was purposefully used against us— not accidentally. 

“Stop gaslighting yourself” always struck me as functionally similar to “stop hitting yourself.” 

Nobody wakes up in the morning and decides to inflict abuse tactics upon themselves. 

Healing the damage gaslighting has done to our self-confidence and self-trust does not begin and end by telling ourselves that we are “gaslighting ourselves.” 

It begins with acknowledging that we’ve been manipulated. 

How we were related to— what we were told about ourselves— absolutely impacts our perception of how at fault we are for our pain. 

But that’s not us “doing it to ourselves.” 

That’s us dealing with the fallout from what was done TO us. 

Sometimes people seeking to “empower” us in trauma recovery unwittingly slip into victim blaming. 

They may not mean to— but it’s super important we be VERY deliberate about how we think and talk about our symptoms and their causes in trauma recovery. 

We need to be crystal clear about the fact that we didn’t ask for this. 

We didn’t deserve it. 

We didn’t do it to ourselves. 

Even if the fallout from our painful past includes habits of thinking and self-talk that perpetuate our pain, that’s not us “doing it to ourselves.” 

There’s a fine line between empowerment and self-blame. 

Especially when we HAVE been gaslit into thinking that we’re probably “doing it to ourselves.” 

There are no do-overs. Just do-nexts.

Taking responsibility for our choices doesn’t mean torturing ourselves about them. 

There’s a difference between realistically acknowledging our responsibility and beating ourselves up for winding up in a situation. 

It’s easy to confuse the two. 

Sometimes people are going to WANT you to feel blame or shame for a situation— and they’ll tell you if you DON’T feel blame or shame, then you’re “not accepting responsibility.” 

There are certain situations about which it’s very difficult NOT to feel blame and shame. 

If we’ve ended up in a situation the world says we “shouldn’t” have, it’s easy to get down on ourselves. 

If we’ve had a relationship, or multiple relationships, that have been painful or traumatic, it’s very common to blame ourselves for “choosing” those relationship partners. 

If we’ve ended up in challenging economic circumstances— if we’re broke— the culture really loves to make us feel bad about ourselves. Smart, “responsible” people know how to manage their money, after all. 

On a more basic level, if we’re suffering, the culture very often encourages us to examine our own role in that suffering, and “take responsibility” for it. 

I am all for taking personal responsibility. 

But a lot of what people think is “taking responsibility” is actually just shame and blame in different gift wrapping. 

If we’re actually going to take responsibility for a situation, we can’t allow ourselves to get tangled up in shame and self-blame. 

Shame and self-blame go nowhere. They do nothing but make us feel bad about ourselves and a situation we already feel bad or stressed about. 

Moreover, when we beat ourselves up over ending up in a situation, we’re almost always distorting and oversimplifying the real story of how we wound up there. 

I have ended up in plenty of painful situations that were of my own making. 

I have wasted plenty of time calling myself stupid and irresponsible. 

Do you want to guess how helpful calling myself stupid and irresponsible has ever been to actually extricating myself from a painful situation?

Actually assuming responsibility means containing those impulses to shame and blame ourselves. 

It means noticing when we’re getting stuck in shame and self-blame, and consistently wrenching our focus in a more productive direction. 

I knew I was ACTUALLY starting to “take responsibility” when I realized that I didn’t have the luxury of wallowing in shame and self-blame. 

It may be the case that you’ve contributed to the circumstances you’re in now— though it’s very unlikely that the story is as simple as “it’s your fault.” 

Nobody wants to be the type of person who “makes excuses.” I understand why we over assume “responsibility” for our circumstances. 

Trauma survivors in particular are absolutely vicious with the self-blame. 

We VERY MUCH don’t want to be like the people in our lives who REFUSE to take responsibility for their role in our pain. 

But beating yourself up isn’t “taking responsibility.” 

Calling yourself names isn’t “taking responsibility.” 

Oversimplifying the narrative of how you got to where you are isn’t “taking responsibility.” 

However we relate to what’s come before, REAL “taking responsibility” is taking responsibility for what comes next. 

That’s literally all we can do. 

We can’t go back and un-make old decisions. 

All we can do is make the NEXT decision— the one right in front of us, right now— as consciously and purposefully as we can. 

There are no do-overs. 

Just do-nexts.