Recovering from Harm: Naming, Not Blaming
Updated: May 13, 2019
I often hear people say that they don't want to "blame" their parents, their family, or other people who have in some way harmed them. I think people mean a few things when they say this. First, when we've been significantly harmed by another, we often don't want to give that person even more power by acknowledging how much they hurt us, or to assign even more responsibility to that person for what we experienced and the aftermath of it all. Second, when it comes to our family especially, we often have ambivalent feelings. It is natural and critical to our survival that we depend on our family, and part of us are often loyal to them throughout our lives--even when they have harmed us. Sometimes we have a hard time sitting with negative feelings about people who in other ways, loved and cared for us. We may say things like "They did this thing, but they really did the best that they could". Still others believe that whatever happened is "in the past", and that as grown ups, they "should" be able to "move past it", "get over it", etc.
The thing is, healing, recovery, is not about "blaming" the person who hurt you for all of your pain and suffering--that doesn't help and usually leaves you sitting in a pot of resentment and despair.
So what does "Naming" look like?
First, give yourself a break and stay in reality. It's not possible for people "to get over" hurt or betrayal. We get through it. And the way to get through? To name what happened.
In order to "name" experience, we must acknowledge our truths about what happened to us, from our perspective. What others believe happened is not important right now. The first priority is to tell our story, the way we remember it, to validate ourselves. And this part isn't really about the person who harmed us--it's about strengthening our relationship with ourselves.
We want to "name" our feelings about the event. When we dismiss or avoid our feelings, first, they only become bigger. When we actively try not to think about something, we end up thinking about that thing all the time, whether we recognize it or not. Sometimes our whole lives become wrapped up in avoiding feelings. And most importantly, when we refuse to acknowledge our own feelings, we are invalidating and harming ourselves. We are then continuing a harmful pattern of dismissal and emotional abuse in our relationship with our own selves.
Of course, it is true that we do have to "name" who carried out the event(s) that hurt us. This part can be hard. But we have to remember that we can be angry at someone and still love them. Anger doesn't erase all of our other feelings. We can also keep in mind that people are not "all bad" or "all good", and it's likely that the person who harmed us isn't one or the other either. Human beings are complex--and sometimes good people do bad things. It is possible that our parents loved us, did "the best they could" and still have hurt us. And it's okay--and necessary for our own healing--to name that too.
So if you're ever worried that your therapist might lead you to "blame" someone from your past, know that recovery isn't about that. It's about you and your relationship with yourself. Listening to and hearing your experience, validating and having compassion for your feelings, and only then--making sense of what happened in the context of our imperfect human world.
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