As human beings, we all hurt at times. This is part of our shared, common humanity.
Some of us internalize this pain at a very deep level, blaming ourselves for it. Instead of viewing pain as something we share as human beings, we believe it’s our fault.
This belief can appear in our lives in several ways:
- Feeling ashamed of our wounds.
- Judging our pain.
- Blaming ourselves for being “too sensitive,” for getting hurt in the first place.
- Turning our spiritual ideals into weapons – where we tell ourselves if only we were more spiritual we’d be impenetrable to hurt.
- Feeling ashamed about how we cope with our pain. I particularly see this in those who loathe their overweight bodies. They hate the fact that they coped with their pain with food. This implies a “should” that they should’ve been able to handle their pain differently. And so their dear bodies become the scapegoat for their dislike of their vulnerability – and sensitivity – itself.
- Blaming ourselves for the early experiences that shaped us.
- Judging ourselves for not doing better in the present – for the fact that our wounds still effect us.
To counter this, we can develop all sorts of coping strategies. We may try to control the pain we carry inside and “white knuckle” it.
We may try to armor ourselves so that we never get hurt again. We may stuff and suppress our feelings and numb ourselves so that we don’t feel. We may bury our sensitivity.
These coping strategies often hurt, and aren’t effective. So we may reach a point in our lives where we want to shift out of them.
To do so, we change how we relate to our pain. One way we do this is by healing a pattern of self blame.
The origins of self blame
The belief that it’s my fault, that I’m bad, and that’s the reason that bad things happen to me are the beliefs of a small child – a tender child who just wants to be loved. When the child gets hurt, when bad things happen, the child thinks, “I must’ve caused this somehow.” And sadly, sometimes that message is conveyed by our culture, families, or loved ones.
A highly sensitive person is much more porous with these messages – they sense and perceive them more easily than others, and can pick them up and take them as their “own.” An HSP is also highly conscientious. So they may internalize these messages more strongly than someone who isn’t so sensitive.
As we grow, we may carry these beliefs with us and internalize them. They run underground and become a part of the air we breathe. They’re unconscious – we may not even see their workings. But we feel their effects. We look at our lives through these wounded, young child eyes.
In that child’s world, pain = I’m doing it wrong. Pain = I’m bad. Pain = I’m unlovable. Pain = I’m responsible.
Foul frustration and self attack
This is where self blame really kicks in.
According to one of my mentors, developmental psychologist Dr. Gordon Neufeld, when too many things aren’t working in our lives, the frustration and pain can build inside our bodies and become “foul.” Because foul frustration has a lot of energy and intensity to it, and because it has to move, unprocessed foul frustration will seek two outlets: either we attack others, or we attack ourselves.
In my experience, most HSPs attack themselves.
This is what self attack can look like:
- Self blame – At some unconscious level, we think that we must be so bad, terrible, unlovable, wrong. We blame ourselves when anything goes wrong – even when other people are the ones acting out their pain.
- Bingeing or overeating can be a form of self attack. When you’re in this space, you’re bingeing almost as punishment. You may be telling yourself things like, “I’m such a screwed up mess.”
- Any punishing addictive behavior.
- Calling yourself names.
- Feeling like you don’t want to be here anymore or telling yourself things like, “I wish I was never born!”
Because self attack can feel scary and intense, learning about foul frustration is soothing and normalizing. We can find a bit of space when we’re feeling this way and recognize – oh, I’m attacking myself. Oh, right, this is foul frustration. Ah, deep, deep breath. We can recognize self attack for what it is: a sign that too many things are not working.
Not that there’s something so terribly wrong with us.
Healing self blame
There are many ways of caring for and healing self blame. Here are two that can help:
1. Set an emotional boundary around what is yours and what is not yours.
Most people who are highly sensitive tend to be overresponsible. They tend to take responsibility for things that aren’t theirs – like the fact that they were hurt, the feelings and experiences of others, or even for life’s very imperfection!
The path to healing is a shedding of what is not ours – all the beliefs about the many things that we felt should’ve been in our control – and therefore, our responsibility. As we release the illusion of control and responsibility, we feel more grounded, centered, and less burdened.
2. By grieving our pain.
The path out of foul frustration is counterintuitive: when we bump up against something we can’t change, we need to grieve. Grieving is what metabolizes foul frustration. This deep acceptance is how we soften the habit of blaming ourselves, or blaming others.
Your pain is not your fault. The fact that you were hurt is not your fault. A Sufi teaching put it this way:
Overcome any bitterness that may have come
because you were not up to the magnitude of the pain
that was entrusted to you.
Like the Mother of the World,
Who carries the pain of the world in her heart,
Each one of us is part of her heart,
And therefore endowed
With a certain measure of cosmic pain.
You can try this on. Try telling yourself: “Precious child, it’s okay – you didn’t do anything wrong. You were simply ‘not up to the magnitude of the pain that was entrusted to you.'” You may feel a release of all the “shoulds” about how you shouldn’t have gotten hurt.
In my experience, when I face and accept that it did hurt – and stop the endless quest for how I should’ve been or done differently – I find a very tender form of grief. In this movement, we move from trying to change the past to caring for the wound itself. We bring care to the ouch. In this care, the self blame softens, and we care for our wounds.
So one way out of self blame is this acceptance, this openhearted allowing – to grieve what we wish were different, to “become changed by what we cannot change.”