We need to find that balance between understanding why we do what we do— and setting limits with patterns of thinking and behaving that are negatively impacting our lives.
This is very often easier said than done.
One of the most important realizations we have in recovery is that we don’t do what we do for the hell of it.
The patterns that other people might consider evidence of us making destructive choices— perhaps due to a “character” issue— we know to be adaptations to past or present pain in our lives…adaptations that sometimes kept us alive.
It’s very common for people who grew up with pain to blame themselves for the destructive patterns in their life.
We’re told that we could make “better” choices…if, presumably, we were “better” people.
This tends to get us depressed and discouraged— became many of those patterns don’t FEEL like “choices” to us.
We do what we have to do to get through the day.
Many of us have lived for YEARS doing what we have to do just to get though the day.
People who think that destructive coping patterns in our lives represent well-considered, voluntary “choices” don’t understand— or don’t care— what it’s like to have to manage overwhelming emotional or physical pain every day.
All of which is to say: the patterns we’ve developed over the years to cope with what we need to cope with, aren’t our fault.
Nobody asked for the physical or emotional pain you were handed from Day One.
Shaming and blaming ourselves for our painful patterns isn’t going to get us anywhere. Shame and blame don’t tend to change behavior, except in the very short term, and under extreme duress.
That said: even if we’ve gained perspective on the fact that there are reasons that make sense behind our destructive patterns of thinking and behaving— it IS on us to do everything we can to change those patterns so they don’t rob us of a future.
Once upon a time I had to come to terms with the fact that I am extremely vulnerable to addiction to certain behaviors and substances.
For a long time I hated and blamed myself for that fact. It took me years to develop any kind of perspective about the fact that my vulnerability to addiction was influenced by many, many factors OUTSIDE of myself that I couldn’t POSSIBLY control— regardless of how upstanding my “character” was or wasn’t.
Learning more about what addiction is and why people are vulnerable to it helped me to get past the self-blame and self-shame trap, and helped me begin repairing my relationship with myself.
However: even if my vulnerability to addiction is “understandable,” even if I can have compassion for myself and my struggle…it’s STILL on me to set limits on that behavior.
Being vulnerable to addiction may not be my fault. But my recovery IS my responsibility.
No one else is going to do it for me.
That’s true for any pattern of thinning and behavior that is harming us in the here and now.
Those patterns MAY be understandable. They MAY even have been unavoidable, given the genetic and environmental hand we were dealt growing up.
But no matter how much insight or compassion we develop for our patterns…it’s STILL on us to change them.
We have to love and respect ourselves enough to do what we need to do to live a life that is safe and stable here and now.
We CAN’T stop at “well, it’s understandable I’d do this thing, given what I went through.”
We CAN”T stop at, “but this thing helped me get by in the past, there’s a REASON I still do it.”
We have to be real about thought patterns and behaviors that WILL damage our lives and relationships.
We have to have as much compassion and concern for our future as we have for our past.