The Toll of Complex Trauma
This is for those of you who are caught in what seems like an endless cycle of starting something, seeing glimmers of success, and then, for some strange reason you cause yourself to fail. This is self-sabotage, a common cycle for those who suffer from Complex PTSD, and/or recovering from childhood trauma and abuse. Frustration, depression, and isolation are hallmarks of this painful sense that you will never be successful because you are “too lazy”, or you know what to do but can’t seem to “make yourself” do it.
You may start that new entrepreneurial venture, begin studying for a test, or start writing that script or song, and seeing some real indicators of success, and then – something sets in, you feel yourself becoming blocked and empty. A paralyzing feeling that you simply can’t go on. You cannot physically keep going. You know exactly what to do, but you can’t bring your mind, emotions, or body to do it. You become depressed, you retreat into yourself and then, after some time you find the courage to start again, and the cycle repeats.
When we grow up in toxic family systems there are specific roles that are played and rules that are made. These roles and rules are not often spoken out loud. But, they are implicit, unwritten rules and roles that function in cycles and play out repeatedly. These cycles keep each member of the family trapped within the dysfunction. These embedded rules and roles of the individual members of these families last even when the children in the family grow up and physically leave the family home. These rules and roles are deeply engrained and the traumas of living in this restrictive environment impose rigid limits on our subconscious beliefs and feelings. Because of this, adults from toxic families can recreate similar patterns in their own marriages, friendships, and parenting.
For example, if a child grows up in a toxic family system in which one parent is narcissistic and another parent is enabling, the adult who grew up in this family may create the same narcissistic -codependent dynamic in relationships with others (spouse, child, friends, colleagues). This dynamic may also play out in the individuals deeper relationship to the self, causing her to play out a tug of war within her own fractured personality.
Children in these [toxic] families are shamed when they exhibit individualistic traits which lead to independent success.
One very common element of narcissistic families is the unwritten rule that no one can grow beyond the family. No one can exceed the family emotionally, intellectually, financially, psychologically or otherwise. Children in these families are shamed when they exhibit individualistic traits which lead to independent success. Maybe a child is verbally abused after a successful musical or athletic performance, maybe the child is told that they could never be such a great student if it weren’t for the parent’s criticism and shame. This occurs because the dysfunctional family needs its unwritten roles and rules to keep each member stuck in the system. Within this enmeshed system, the disordered members of the family do not have to take responsibility for healing and changing their own pain, shame and trauma.
However, when one member grows beyond, or grows out of the family, it disrupts the other members who are left within the toxic rigidity of the system. This means that the toxic family members are reminded of their own imperfections, pain, shame and trauma. It is much easier for dysfunctional parents who are not ready to heal, to create a system to protect themselves from their own shame.
For the children who are raised within this petri dish of pain, this is the beginning of self-sabotaging tendencies. There is not only fear of failure in these families, but there is fear of success. These children have been conditioned to believe that any personal, independent success is shameful, and punishable by contempt from the family. Most of the time, the success of one family member triggers shame-based and fear-based reactions in the other family members. To survive, the child will “play dead” by repressing her true self and her natural desire to assert herself into the world. The child learns that she is helpless and not in control of her own life. She learns that she does not deserve her own life. She learns that it is punishable to grow. These are the tangled roots of self-sabotage, also accompanied by difficulty saying no. This makes the individual lack the basic tenets of self-care and nurture. This environment conditions the child to mesh with the family rather than search for her true self. It teaches her to shrink and devolve, instead of instilling the confidence and resilience needed for growth, maturity, and positive change.
IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT
All of that was written to say that if you are stuck in cycle of self-sabotage in which you feel unexplainably blocked from achieving your success even when you know exactly what to do, it is NOT necessarily because you are lazy, it is not because you are stupid. If you have grown up in a toxic, abusive, narcissistic family, and you block yourself from success, it is because you are ASHAMED. It is because you are AFRAID. It is because you are TERRIFIED at a very deep level that you will be abandoned into the dark places within if you do succeed. And, most importantly IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. You are a precious innocent soul who was misled, misguided, and abused and it is not your fault. You are not forever damaged. You are here to heal and come into your true path.
Self-sabotage is a primitive, visceral, and natural response that involves more than your emotions. This was how you survived in a family who punished people for showing up and being their true selves.
You were trained (from before you can remember) to keep yourself down. This is a primitive, visceral, and natural response that involves more than your emotions. This was how you survived in a family who punished people for showing up and being their true selves. You had to hide your true self to adapt to the constantly changing, hypocritical, and unreasonable demands of toxic parents and the toxic system they created. It’s not your fault. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re not damaged or defective beyond healing and freedom. You’re not lazy or stupid. You CAN succeed and you can prosper.
Once your body, mind, soul and spirit learns how to feel safe, loved, and enough, you will naturally begin to take the steps you have been avoiding taking to ensure your personal success. Once you learn how valuable, beautiful and precious you are, you will gain confidence in what you have to give to the world.
It is not your fault. You CAN succeed. You CAN find your true path. You ARE here for healing. If this article has triggered some sadness in you, that is okay. You deserve to freely feel. Your emotions are your birthright. That is the grieving and unearthing that must take place in order for your soul to be able to accept its dignity, value and truth.
God has never left you or forsaken you even if it feels like He has. Reach out to Him and people who can help you find Him in a genuine way as to help you effect inner healing and life transformation.