If we suffered emotional abuse or neglect in childhood we are not really always going to consciously know about it, at least not initially. This is because as small children we never had any idea of our limits of responsibility. To a child his or her caregivers or parents are God like and if they deny the hurt they inflict upon us it, or worse even blame us for it then we are going to find it very, very hard to have a balanced and grounded sense of self esteem and self love within. As a result many of us will suffer from a number of punishing voices of either a voracious inner critic or persecutor/saboteur who tries to protect the inner child but never gives back responsibility where it truly belongs, i.e. with the parents, caregivers or abusers.
With neglect or abuse our ego boundaries will also be damaged and even worse, toxic feelings and splinters of pain will be lodged deep within us in our tissues. This is a subject Marion Woodman addresses in many of her books on helping her clients recovering from addictions and eating disorders which are often psychic defences we can resort to in the absence of human love, protection, care, empathy, validation and soothing. The pain we have suffered then becomes deeply internalised and we suffer shame and come to blame ourselves, turning against our vulnerable inner child and keeping the cycle of abuse going on internally.
We even see a lot of this blaming and shaming going on in a society that denies abuse or covers it over. Addicts are blamed for not ‘pulling their socks up’, women and girls are blamed for attracting sexual abuse, boys and men are criticised and shamed for not ‘manning up!!”. Priests are blamed for abusing when their behaviour formed in the crucible of emotionally barren pedagogies and religious systems that denied the sacredness and sanctity of sexuality and the human body. It’s a truly disturbing and toxic situation.
Often our pain of childhood too may only come to light when we enter another relationship which triggers earlier wounds. We may be shocked at the degree of anger or rage we feel towards a partner who treats us like our parents did, or we may project that pain onto them and find it impossible to be close. But our anger is never bad or wrong, rather it is evidence of psychic wounds demanding attention, understanding and healing.
In her book on healing from the abandonment that comes following the end of a marriage or partnership, Susan Anderson addresses this issue of internalised blame. If we are left later in life we often will blame ourselves and there may indeed be some way in which we contributed to the fall out but this should not be a black mark against our inherent sense of self esteem if we are truly working to heal, understand and correct things. Being left can trigger the feeling that we are not worthy enough and sometimes we may be shame dumped by a partner who themselves carries injuries that they are not willing to address.
That said the ending of a relationship can begin a healing for us if we are willing to look deeper and do the work of recovering our lost sense of self value and self esteem which will be a huge part of the healing process. It will involve facing any shame we feel inside that we may have internalised and defended against or covered over. If we cannot face the shame we feel or may have taken on we cannot really heal ourselves from it. We will never cure the feeling of ‘not being good enough’ if we consistently look to others to define our value but it is a paradox for those abused in childhood who were shamed and blamed and never helped to understand their sense of value was negated by unloving parents will need to find someone to help mirror them while they work hard to reclaim this lost sense of self.
Emotional absence of parents in childhood also is a huge part of internalised shame. As kids we need the mediating soothing of parents. If we are just left alone with big feelings its too much for us to manage. I know this is why I struggled so much in my own life and relationships. Neither of my parents understood their own feelings very well and then they were absent a hell of a lot. I learned I could only rely on myself for consistency and I increasingly began to turn towards writing and reading to find my way.
It’s interesting to me now that as an adolescent the writings I was drawn too were poems like T S Eliot’s The Wasteland as well as the writings of Sylvia Plath. Both battled depression. I was also drawn into smoking dope very early on and listening to a lot of angry and disturbed music about emotional alienation. Around this time I had nearly lost my life at 17, spent 3 months in hospital, come out, had no counselling and then had to watch as my older much loved sister hit the wall with a haemorrhage and was later abandoned in the worst possible way and tried to take her life. I got involved with an addict around this time who never really loved me, had two terminations of pregnancy I keep hidden due to shame and had to watch my father die of cancer by age 22. From 1984 onwards the darkness of my life escalated and I only really started to wake up and come out of it around the time I chose sobriety at the age of 31 in 1993.
I still suffer from internalised shame and self blame despite years of therapy. It is with me every morning when I wake up. The critic is up WAY before me each morning and if I had never got a good therapist I could still be permanently depressed and suicidal.
Suicidal ideation as I understand it comes from the internalised introjects (inner voices) we are left with when we are abandoned emotionally and given no help to understand our true predicament. It’s one of the reasons I am very opposed to drug therapy alone, Without being able to make meaning of what really happened to us (our soul) the truth stays locked inside and a lot of psychiatrists and therapists are happy just to keep people unaware unless they have faced their own pain or are well educated into the impact of emotional neglect or abuse. I know this situation is changing slowly but drugs are to my mind never the final answer for depression and anxiety alone.
If you do suffer from a punishing inner voice or tormentor, my advice is to please reach out for help to someone who can HONESTLY AND TRULY VALIDATE YOUR PAIN. No you don’t have to be stuck in victim or not reclaim power but to know you truly were a powerless victim at one stage of your life is most essential if you don’t want to keep that blame and shame internalised for ever. If you were abused as a child IT WAS NEVER YOUR FAULT. As a child you were powerless, you looked to adults, you had no idea that adults could be damaged and you most definitely NEVER DESERVED IT. If anyone tries to tell you this my advice is to run a mile or put a good distance between yourself and that person. Most of all your traumatised inner child needs your unconditional love, support and care, to truly recover you must find ways to give it to him or her how ever you can.