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. 

Don’t tolerate gaslighting and guilting.

There’s gonna be a subset of people out there who try to get what they want by making you feel crazy or guilty for not going along with their wishes. 

I wish that wasn’t true, but it is. 

Some people bully, overtly or subtly, to get what they want. 

Some people gaslight to get what they want. 

Sometimes the people who do this include professional colleagues or even family members. 

And the truth is that survivors of complex trauma tend to be particularly vulnerable to these exploitative interpersonal tactics, because often they’ve been made to feel crazy or guilty for a long time. 

Trauma survivors tend to be highly sensitive people who often struggle with self-doubt and setting boundaries— so we’re kind of prime targets for people who use gaslighting and guilt to control our behavior. 

It’s really discouraging. 

Here we are, trying to recover from depression, trauma, or addiction, doing our best to untangle the knots created by complicated, painful histories…and along come these people who are perfectly willing to take advantage of our reflexive self-doubt. 

When we run into people willing to gaslight or guilt us, it can really throw a wrench into our recovery. 

After all, it’s hard to move forward through recovery with confidence and certainty when someone is trying to mind-f*ck us into not seeing what, in my cases, is right in front of us. 

On of the core tasks in recovery is relearning— or, often, learning for the first time— how to listen to and trust ourselves. 

Very often we’ve had years, sometimes decades, of people trying to tell us that our perceptions and interpretations are wrong. 

That we’re making too big a deal of something. That we’re not really seeing what is very obviously happening right in front of us. 

Often, we arrive in adulthood NOT trusting what we see and perceive, no matter how clear it is…because we were told, over and over again, that what we saw was not what we saw, or what we experienced was not what we experienced. 

Many people reading this know what it’s like to wonder if their experience was really “that bad.” 

Whether they were really “abused” or “neglected.” 

Whether their physical pain was really all that debilitating. 

Why do you think we develop those doubts— despite the fact that WE are the ones on the inside of our experience, the literal experts on what we went through? 

Often it’s because we’ve had someone over our shoulder, whispering in our ear a version of, “Are you sure you’re not just being too emotional?” 

“Are you sure you’re not just crazy?” 

“Are you sure you’re not just being selfish or entitled?” 

It is what we psychologists call a mind-f*ck. 

(That term may not be in the DSM yet, but give it time.) 

You need to know that, despite the fact that depression, trauma, and addiction DO tend to distort our thinking and beliefs in some ways, you DO have the capacity to accurately perceive, interpret, and respond to the events of your life. 

You DON’T have to play along with someone else’s guilting or gaslighting. 

NOT playing along might be a bit of a risk— if someone’s willing to guilt or gaslight you in the first place, they might also be willing to get aggressive with you if you refuse to play along— but standing up for yourself when someone is trying to manipulate you is a MASSIVE step forward in recovery. 

Don’t tolerate even a “friend,” “partner,” or “colleague” trying to f*ck with your head. 

Gaslighting and guilting are not things that happen in healthy, safe relationships. 

And a BIG part of recovery is getting real about who is and isn’t safe to have in your world. 

“Letting go” can be hard and complicated. Don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t.

Giving up things can be really complicated. 

There’s a reason why a whole industry exists abound professional “declutterers” who support and organize peoples’ efforts to give up physical things that they don’t need or use in their spaces. 

Sometimes we “know” we need to give something up…but there’s a difference between knowing something in our head, and being ready to do it in our gut. 

Sometimes we “know” something’s toxic for us…but we can’t imagine life without it. 

Sometimes we “know” something has outlived is usefulness…but we get anxious about not having it if we suddenly need it again. 

Sometimes we “know” that something is no longer consistent with who we are or what we’re all about…but we can’t quite let go, because we’re not at all sure that WE truly understand who we are and what we’re all about. 

Giving things up can stir up all kinds of memories and emotions. 

We remember times when we were forced to giving something up before we were ready. 

We remember times when we didn’t have any choice BUT to let go, because something beyond our control had taken a thing or a person away from us. 

When we give something up, we also have to give up the fantasy of our life with that thing in it. 

Letting something go is an admission that we’re never truly going to have a life with that thing or person in it. 

Acknowledging those realities can be painful. They can be sad. They can be infuriating. 

Giving certain things up can be a blunt reminder that our lives haven’t gone how they were “supposed” to go. 

Letting something go may feel like admitting defeat— especially if we’re letting go of a thing that we purposefully let into our life in the first place. 

We allow certain things and people into our lives for specific reasons. 

We think we have an idea, a vision, or what our life can look like with them in it— and we like that idea. We want to move toward that vision. 

Giving the thing or person up is an acknowledgement that we were wrong.

It can make us feel silly, stupid, or immature for having hope that things could be different. 

Letting go of certain ways of thinking about or being in the world can feel like we’re just asking for pain or victimization. Especially if we’re talking about beliefs and habits we acquired in the aftermath of trauma or abuse. 

Even if we “know” that certain beliefs or habits aren’t serving us anymore— aren’t actually keeping us safe, even if that was their original function— it’s not easy or simple to just let them go. 

If only. 

We have to give the “letting go” process the time, space, and work they deserve. 

We have to let our feelings be exactly as they are, at least for a minute— exactly as big as they are, exactly as confusing as they are, exactly as painful as they are. 

We have to come to terms with exactly how important this thing or person has been to our life. 

We have to acknowledge that, even if we’re letting go for a good reason, letting go is always going to entail loss— and loss is always going to entail some form of mourning. 

We need to not insist that this process be quick or easy. 

You’re going to run into plenty of people who will advise you to let plenty of things go. 

The way they say it will sound effortless and obvious. 

Some people will suggest that the only reason you’re NOT letting something go is “you must not really want to let it go.” 

You’re allowed to have mixed feelings. This whole thing is complicated. 

To effectively let go, we need to know that our decision is coming from a place of committed, consistent self-care. 

Letting go is a risk. Don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t. 

But some risks are absolutely worth taking for our own health, safety, and realistic growth. 

Peeling the recovery onion.

Very often, recovery is like peeling an onion. 

And not just because there’s a lot of crying involved. 

We peel a layer— only to find a layer underneath that one. 

Then another. And another. 

We keep peeling and peeling, thinking that after we get through THIS layer, we MIGHT have arrived at the issue at the core of our recovery…only to find that, nope, it’s another layer. 

We peel and peel, and eventually we can’t help but wonder: is this whole thing— my depression, my trauma, my addiction— just layer after layer? Is there not something at the core of all of this? 

Peeling the recovery onion, layer by layer, is frustrating. 

It’s time consuming. It takes a maddening amount of patience. 

The truth is, we’re never quite sure when when we’re gonna come to the core of our depression, our trauma, our addiction. 

The more complicated truth is, there may not be one “core.” 

There may be multiple cores. Multiple hearts. Multiple vortexes. 

As a therapist, I’m a trauma specialist. I’ve heard it opined that trauma is often at the “core” of depression, or especially addiction. 

I think trauma can often be one of the “core” issues of depression and addiction— but I also think that trauma can also be just one of the layers. 

Yeah. Core issues can also be layer issues. 

You may peel back a layer of your depression or addiction, find a layer of trauma, deal with it, process it…and then find that, while that layer of trauma was central to what you were feeling and dealing with, it too was another layer on top of yet another core issue. 

Often when we’re peeling the recovery “onion,” we find depression, addiction, and trauma, in layer after layer, all the way down. 

That’s why I think it’s a mistake to think that we’re peeling away layer after layer, looking for that one “core” issue. 

I think looking for that one issue over time can get exhausting and demoralizing— and, for all we know, it might be impossible to really know if we really HAVE gotten to the “core” issue when we get there…or if it’s just another layer. 

As we peel the recovery “onion,” it’s really important to remember that recovery work is all about restoring our safety and functionality. Improving our daily quality of life. 

Peeling layer after layer, frantically trying to get at the core issue, might feel instinctively “right”— but it might also create unsustainable pressure and chaos in our everyday life. 

If doing recovery work is more destabilizing than stabilizing, it’s not working. We need to push pause and reevaluate. 

Yeah, we often need to keep peeling the recovery “onion.” The alternative to recovery is very often not sustainable or survivable. 

But we also need to substantively deal with each layer as we peel it. 

We can’t just go ripping emotional and behavioral layers off of our recovery “onion”, hoping that we hit that “core” issue before the layers we’re stripping off catch up with us. 

As you peel the recovery “onion,” and as you discover layer after layer of thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and memories, I want you to deal with each layer as you peel it— with patience, with compassion, with skill. 

Don’t discard those layers you’re peeling— until it’s time to discard them. 

Until you’ve honored and processed them. 

Yes, we want to keep peeling. We often need to keep peeling. As I say, the alternative doesn’t work— that’s why we’re in recovery in the first place. 

That’s why you’re reading this. 

But don’t get obsessed with hitting that “core” issue. 

Give each layer its due. 

Each layer of the recovery “onion” has a story to tell. And we need to listen to it, process it, internalize it. 

I know. It’s complicated. It’s complicated for me, too. 

But all we can do is what we can do: honor what we’re scraping up, peeling off, learning, realizing, remembering…today. 

Multiple worlds and rescue missions.

People who have survived abuse, experienced neglect, or been through other trauma, tend to live in multiple worlds. 

One world is a past that consumes us— even though we “know,” for what it’s worth, that we’re not there now. 

Sometimes our past consumes us in that we see it, hear it, feel it— even smell it, taste it— as if it WAS right here, right now. 

We experience visual flashes and body memories. We hear voices, sometimes quite literally, that thoroughly convince our nervous system that the past really is present— and we are really quite trapped in it. 

Sometimes our past consumes us in how it informs what we think, feel, and believe in the present. 

We may have things we “know” aren’t exactly “true” lodged in our heads— but we feel and act as if we do believe those things are true, because of memories and past experiences that we just can’t shake. 

Sometimes our past consumes us in the choices we make. 

We may “know” that we need different things now than we did then— but we still make choices as if we were who we were decades ago. 

Then there are the times our past consumes us in what we don’t remember. 

We “know” that we’re being impacted by something just outside of our consciousness. 

It’s like getting scared of something we can’t see— but we don’t need to see it to be afraid of it. 

We can see its shadow. 

We can feel the temperature drop as that shadow draws near. 

Whether our past consumes us in what we remember or what we can’t remember, we still know that at least part of our life now is being lived through the eyes and needs of a part of us who is stuck back there, back then. 

Many people tend to get frustrated with the emphasis that trauma recovery places on grounding in the present moment. 

We don’t see the value in being “present” in a “now” that may very well suck. 

The present moment may contain emotional and physical pain. The present moment may contain loneliness. Who wants to be grounded in the present moment? 

I know. I don’t think the present moment is all it’s cracked up to be, either. 

The reason we need to be grounded in the here and now, though, is to break the hold of the past on us. 

As long as part of us is stranded in the past, we cannot create something new. 

As long as part of us is stranded in the past, our nervous system is going to be confused about whether what we went through back there, back then, is really over. 

As long as part of us is stranded in the past, we’re going to feel fractured and incomplete in the present. 

We NEED that part of ourself that is stuck “back there.” 

Why do you think “back there, back then” is constantly intruding upon our present awareness? 

Because the part of us that is stuck back there is crying for help. 

It doesn’t want to be stuck in the past any more than we want the past intruding upon our present. 

So part of trauma recovery involves going on a rescue mission. 

In order to meaningfully recover from trauma, we need to integrate and unify our Self in the here and now. 

Again: it’s NOT that the here-and-now is so great. 

It’s that we can’t move forward as long as we keep living in these multiple worlds. 

We can’t create a life consistently worth living if we keep getting yanked around between those worlds. 

Your past self needs you. And your present self needs your past self. 

And your future needs all of you. 

Do we need other people to recover?

I hate when mental health professionals or advocates say that trauma can “only” be healed in relationships, or that addiction can “only” be overcome in a fellowship. 

It’s true that attachments and connections can often be very helpful to people in recovery from trauma or addiction. 

But it’s also true that many people really struggle with forming and maintaining relationships— especially if they’ve been harmed or traumatized in them. 

Telling people that their emotional or behavioral struggles can “only” be healed in relationships— including professional relationships, like therapy— can have the effect of encouraging some people to not even take the first step in their recovery journey. 

Some people would prefer to continue suffering rather than take the risk of getting into new relationships, including relationships that are supposedly healing or supportive. 

Not to mention the fact that I just don’t believe it’s true that we can “only” heal in the context of relationships. 

The history of understanding human behavior is largely the history of trying to understand how humans relate to other humans. 

Some version of the sentence, “we are wired to connect” or “we are social creatures” is in virtually any introductory psychology textbook out there. 

Psychotherapy is largely framed in relational and attachment terms, because therapy is, fundamentally, an intense, intimate relationship. 

The Twelve Step addiction recovery traditionally holds that involvement with the fellowship, specifically “getting active” within one’s group and forming trust with and attachment to other members, is integral to recovery— and that isolation is a major risk factor for relapse. 

I’m not denying that connection and social support can play a huge role in our human experience. Of course they can. 

However, I know that, growing up, I was an introverted, anxious kid. 

The very reason I got into self-help literature— which was how I initially got into psychology in the first place— was because I was looking for answers to my depression that DIDN’T involve me interacting with other people. 

Given the choice between continuing to suffer and forming new relationships, I would absolutely continued to suffer. 

And I know I’m not the only person out there who was or is dismayed by the idea that we can “only” heal in the context of relationships. 

There are LOTS of reasons why you may not need or want to form new relationships right now. 

There are LOTS of reasons why supportive relationships like therapy aren’t available to you right now. 

For a lot of people reading this, it may very well be you— and maybe your pet— agains the world. 

I STRONGLY feel you deserve the tools to recover, too. 

I think psychology, as a field, owes it to people in pain to not only focus on healing-through-relationships. 

One of the reasons I talk and write so much about coping skills and what goes on on the inside of our head and heart is because I know there are moments when we will not be able to access external supports. 

There are gonna be moments when we are all we have. 

We need to be realistic about the fact that, in the end, we are kind of in this on our own. 

There may be people who have our back out there. I hope you, reading this, have people who will have your back, who are on your side. 

But whether you do or don’t, YOU still need to have your own back. 

YOU still need to be on YOUR side. 

I am on your side— but to most people reading this, I’m a guy on the other side of a computer or smartphone screen. It doesn’t matter if I’m on their  side, I’m not physically there with them when they’re triggered. 

I believe that you can recover, whether or not you find it easy or possible to form new connections or relationships right now. 

Yes, social support can be enormously helpful— to some people, sometimes. 

But you, you right there, reading this— you have the tools to recover. Even if you DON’T happen to have people in your life who would make it easier and safer. 

I really believe that. 

Our complicated relationship with our complicated past.

One of the most common experiences in trauma recovery we don’t talk about enough is the doubt and anxiety that weighs on many survivors’ minds about whether what they remember was real at all. 

We want to think that would be obvious— we remember what we remember. 

But for many survivors, particularly survivors of complex trauma (i.e., abuse, neglect, or other trauma that occurred over time; was inescapable; and/or was entwined with their close relationships at developmentally sensitive ages), remembering and acknowledging what actually happened can be a tricky thing. 

Many survivors have the experience of “knowing” what happened to them, but not really believing it was that bad…even if they would tell anybody else that the same things happening to THEM was horrible. 

Some survivors have the experience of their memories being inconsistent or incomplete— leaving them insecure about how accurate or valid what they DO remember is. 

For many survivors, thinking about what happened to them is a sad, overwhelming experience— and the temptation can be to deny or minimize what happened as a way of managing those painful feelings. 

There are LOTS Of reasons why remembering what we went through and managing how we feel about it can be complicated. 

It subsequently makes recovery complicated, in that some survivors arrive at adulthood, wanting to heal, wanting to move past the trauma responses and other emotional and behavioral struggles that are ruining their lives…but they’re not quite sure where to start, given their complicated relationship with what they do or don’t remember. 

Even trauma survivors who have been doing recovery work for awhile fall into the trap of wanting to deny or disown what happened to them. 

Very often the culture and the people around us send us VERY mixed messages about how we “should” be thinking about or responding to what happened to us. 

We’re told that we shouldn’t “dwell on the past,” or that we should “move on”…yet, when we try to “move on” by getting clear and realistic about what happened to us, we’re told we’re “choosing” to remain “stuck” in our painful memories. 

Multiply that kind of feedback times years or decades, and you end up with many survivors having ambivalent relationships with the reality of what they went through and the appropriateness of what they’re experiencing now. 

No question: it is super frustrating for our memories to be a little (or a lot) scrambled. 

It’s hard to know how to feel about a past that doesn’t neatly fit into a coherent narrative. 

A big part of recovery is piecing together the narrative of our life in such a way that it makes sense— and allows us to relate to ourselves and our experience with compassion, instead of confusion or frustration. 

You need to know that it’s not unusual to have mixed feelings about what you do and don’t remember. 

You need to know that it’s common to go back and forth on the question of whether what you went through was “really” “all that bad.” 

You need to know that almost everybody who has experienced complex trauma has a complicated relationship with their memories— and, often, their sense of self. 

You need to know that, even if you doubt how valid your experiences, reactions, and feelings are at times, you DO deserve compassion and support. 

You need to know that acknowledging the weight of what you went through doesn’t make you “weak” or “attention seeking”— though there’s also nothing wrong with seeking care when you’re in pain. 

Yeah. It’s not fun, having to tiptoe our way through the emotional minefield that is our complicated pasts. I, too, wish it was all easier, more straightforward, less laden with anxiety and potential shame. 

Just keep coming back to your commitment to being on your side. 

To having your back. 

To not attacking yourself. 

To not picking up where your abusers and bullies left off. 

Keep coming back to the fact that you are, first and foremost, committed to your recovery— even when the voices of anxiety and doubt seem determined to drag you off course. 

Just manage today. 

This hour. This minute. 

You can do this. 

Handling our feelings about our feelings.

Lots of us know what it’s like to feel guilty for feeling depressed or struggling with trauma reactions. 

Many of us have gotten feedback from others that we “shouldn’t” be feeling or experiencing what we’re feeling or experiencing. 

Weirdly, such feedback never seems to support us in NOT feeling or experiencing those things. 

Rather, such feedback only makes us feel worse. 

It adds a layer of shame in top of feelings or memories that were ALREADY a struggle. 

Painful feelings ABOUT our painful feelings are a bitch. 

Feeling depressed about how depressed we are. Anxious about how anxious we are. Angry about ALL of the emotional struggles we’ve had to endure. And guilty about…well, all of it. 

It’s easy to tell ourselves that we don’t have a “good enough” reason to feel what we’re feeling. 

We may tell ourselves that our past wasn’t SO bad as to create trauma reactions now. 

We may tell ourselves that our life isn’t SO bad as to feel depressed about. 

Thing is: whatever we experienced produced whatever we ARE experiencing— whether we think it “should” or not. 

We have to deal with the reality of what we’re feeling and experiencing. 

Sometimes we can let other peoples’ judgments pull our attention away from our emotional and behavioral struggles. 

We convince ourselves we’re just being “dramatic,” and we don’t NEED to do any of that “recovery” stuff because we “shouldn’t” be feeling that stuff to begin with. 

We might tell ourselves we need to “toughen up.” 

I assure you: if you’re struggling with depression, trauma, addiction, or other emotional and behavioral struggles, it’s NOT a strategy to just ignore them because you don’t think you have a “good enough” reason to be experiencing them in the first place. 

Ignoring our emotional and behavioral struggles is an excellent way to guarantee they’ll wind up running or ruining our lives. 

You don’t need to feel guilty for being depressed. 

You don’t need to feel guilty for experiencing trauma reactions. 

You don’t need to feel guilty for struggling with addictive impulses. 

We didn’t ask for any of these. We don’t want any of these. We didn’t “choose” any of these. 

A big part of recovery is learning and relearning, again and again, that no matter what anybody thinks about what we’re going through, we still need to get through it. 

Whether anyone thinks our depression or trauma is “legitimate” or not— we still have to cope with what’s happening in our nervous system and our body. 

Whether anyone thinks we’re “choosing” our addiction— we still have to manage those impulses, cravings, and habits. 

Whether anyone thinks we “should” have an easier time changing how we think, feel, and behave, we STILL have to handle the reality that it’s EXACTLY as hard to be us as it is. 

I wish it wasn’t so easy to feel shame about what we’re feeling and experiencing. 

I wish other people wouldn’t contribute to that layer of shame. 

We CAN get into the habit of meeting our feelings and experiences with compassion and acceptance— but for most of us, it’ll take some practice. 

Many of us don’t have a lot of experience with NOT judging ourselves harshly. 

Many of us wouldn’t know what it would feel like to just feel what we feel without the layer of shame or judgment that has always been there. 

For many of us, it starts with asking: what MIGHT that feel like? 

If I REFUSED to have shame about what I’m feeling right now, what MIGHT that feel like? 

If I REFUSED to judge myself harshly for WHATEVER I’m feeling, how would that change things? 

You don’t have to have the answers now. 

I just want to put those questions in your mind, for it to chew on. 

Carry on. 

“You’re oversensitive.” “You’re being dramatic.” “Was it REALLY that bad?”

Lots of people reading this know what it’s like to question whether what we’ve experienced was “bad enough” to produce the reactions it did in us— or whether what happened to us was “bad” at all. 

Often, this doubt has been encouraged by the people or the culture around us. 

We get swept up in a narrative about how too many people are too sensitive these days— or about how we, specifically, are too sensitive or dramatic to be taken seriously. 

So we question and doubt our perceptions and experiences. 

We have constant arguments in our own head about whether that thing that upset us was “really” upsetting or not. 

We struggle with whether the reaction we’re having is “legitimate”— or the product of us making too big a deal out of something that happens to everyone. 

Sometimes we don’t really appreciate how bad something was until we see someone else put into words how much it impacted THEM. 

The fact that an event impacted someone ELSE sometimes makes it “okay” for us to acknowledge in our own head and heart how much we’d been struggling with it. 

We can fall into this trap of constantly checking our experiences and reactions against the experiences and reactions of other people, to determine whether we “should” feel what we’re feeling or not. 

Here’s the thing: regardless of what anyone— or everyone— around us is feeling or experiencing, WE are feeling and experiencing EXACTLY what we’re feeling and experiencing. 

WE have to cope with EXACTLY what we’re feeling and experiencing. 

WE have to figure out how to get up every day and function in the face of what WE’RE feeling and experiencing— not what anyone ELSE is feeling and experiencing. 

Beating ourselves over the head with the question of whether our reactions to the world and our past are “normal” or not is almost never helpful. 

“Normal” or not, we still have to cope with HOWEVER our body and mind is responding. 

If we determine that our reactions aren’t “legitimate” given what we remember, that does nothing but add a layer of frustration and shame on to what we had ALREADY been struggling with. 

It’s true that many people reading this are more sensitive than average. So is the person writing this. 

We ARE more sensitive and reactive to certain things than other people— and this fact can be embarrassing and kind of crazy-making sometimes 

We often want to be “tougher” or more “normal”— so we keep comparing ourselves to people who don’t have the highly sensitive wiring that we do. 

It’s often a recipe for feeling trapped— smothered, even— by our own shame and the expectations and standards of a culture that doesn’t particularly value compassion or empathy. 

When we find ourselves questioning whether a reaction we’re having is “correct,” “normal,” or “proportional,” it’s really important we take a step back and extend ourselves some grace. 

Whether our reactions are ANY of those things is immaterial to the fact that we’re having those reactions— and we need to manage those reactions. 

Whenever your brain— or anyone outside of you— tries to engage in a discussion of whether you’re being “overdramatic” or “oversensitive,” resist the urge to engage. That conversation goes nowhere. 

Yup, it can be extremely validating when someone else “confirms” for us that our reactions are understandable or proportional. 

But whether our reactions line up with what “they” consider understandable or proportional misses the point: we are HAVING those reactions. 

We need to extend ourselves enough compassion and commitment to make coping and soothing ourselves— not living up to anyone else’s standards or avoiding someone else’s negative judgments— our FIRST priority. 

Realistically acknowledging neglect.

When kids grow up neglected, they can really struggle with self-worth, relationships, and grief as adults. 

Neglect isn’t always overwhelmingly obvious. It’s not always ignoring-to-the-point-of-near-death (though it certainly can be— and that kind of thing happens more than many people would possibly believe). 

More often, neglect is a consistent failure to meet a kid’s needs, when a kid needs their needs met. 

It’s not about being an imperfect parent. Every human parent is imperfect. Imperfect parents can give their kids perfectly good enough childhoods. 

Neglect is a CONSISTENT failure on the part of a caregiver to see and meet their kids’ needs. 

Neglected children often grow up feeling invisible— because their needs often WERE invisible to the people who SHOULD have seen them MOST clearly. 

Parentified kids— kids who had to assume adult-like caretaking roles in their families— were, essentially, neglected kids. 

Kids whose caretakers formed sexual or romantic relationships with them were neglected (as well as abused) kids. Sexual or romantic relationships with kids is an utter disregard of their developmental needs and emotional safety. 

As adults, it’s hard to convince a person who grew up neglected that their needs are important. 

They’re “wired” to believe their needs “don’t count.” 

When you tell a person who was a neglected kid that their needs DO count— that they SHOULDN’T have been neglected growing up— it’ll often feel hollow or sound false to them. 

Why should ANYBODY see or prioritize their needs, when their caretakers didn’t? 

People who were neglected in childhood often struggle to know what and who to believe in adult relationships. 

People who were neglected as kids might feel they have to go out of their way, jump through flaming hoops, clear extraordinary hurdles, to “earn” basic safety and respect in their adult relationships…and even when they do wind up in respectful, relatively safe relationships, they may struggle to trust it. 

Grief and letting go can be particularly hard for people who were neglected as kids. 

We can get overwhelmingly sad or angry when someone close to us dies or leaves— and that sadness or anger can haunt us, sometimes for years. 

When we experienced neglect growing up, our adult attachments are complicated because our models for attachment from back in the day were confusing and frustrating. 

When we’re kids, we struggle with the idea that pain or problems in relationships are not always about us. 

In the course of normal, healthy development, we ideally come to terms with the fact that not everything that happens in a relationship is about us…but in order to internalize that idea, we need the consistent presence and support of adults who can help us understand its implications. 

Kids who grew up neglected didn’t have that presence and support. 

Consequently, often we just don’t internalize that idea— that maybe not all the bad things that happen in relationships are our fault. 

So we just keep on believing that. 

Fast forward to us as adults, and many of us spend all day, every day, anxious about doing something to make the people close to us hate or abandon us. 

“Are you mad at me?” is a question often asked by people who were neglected as kids. 

It’s true that neglect and abuse are often found in the same family systems, and their effects can be difficult to parse sometimes— but I’ve also worked with many people who assumed that they hadn’t had a “traumatic” childhood at all, because they were never hit or berated growing up. 

In fact, these people will often maintain, my parents barely interacted with me at all— I seemed invisible to them. Hell, they left me alone so much that my family members still regularly forget to text me on my birthday. 


Neglect shapes the nervous system as surely as physical or verbal abuse— but we don’t talk about it nearly as much. 

For what it’s worth, I don’t view the work of recovering from childhood neglect as heavy on the “blame.” 

I view the most important thing as realistically acknowledging what happened, and how it affected you. 

Neglecting the fact of neglect can stall the hell out of realistic recovery.