DEAR DOCTOR KATHLEEN,
When I was a child, I was abused and neglected and lived in many foster homes. I am very good at taking care of others because I never want anyone to feel the pain I’ve felt. The problem is that I get very run down and feel unhappy about my own life. I don’t feel that I deserve to do things for myself, and yet I know I need to. What can I do?
Because of your childhood, you have been “taught” that you are unlovable and unworthy. You were deprived of normal love and kindness and continuity and trust in the world. It is natural for you to want to take away the pain of the world. But you need to include yourself. If you have horrible memories of your childhood, or more recent memories of abuse, if you could wake up tomorrow with no memory, you would be living in NOW and would have very different feelings and judgements about your life.
You need to see yourself clearly, as if for the first time.
Remember in the film “Spellbound,” Gregory Peck has amnesia and is searching for his identity, for his past? Can you imagine what it must feel like not know who you are, where you live, what you do for work, who your family and friends are? It must be terrifying, but it also must be freeing. If there is no memory, there can be no knowledge of prior trauma or abuse.
I know nothing
I often ask my patients to GET AMNESIA. They are often so entrenched in their past that they can’t see their present. Their sense of self is based on their past experiences. Look in the mirror. What do you see? See yourself as a stranger sees you. Look at your features. Don’t just take for granted that you actually know what you look like. What do you like? What don’t you like? See your face and your body as if for the first time. What’s your best feature? Smile. Relax and look. Really look. How do you dress? Do you like your clothes? Do you take care of your appearance?
Now, look around. Where do you live? What are your surroundings like? Look in closets and drawers. Who is this person who lives here? Are you living in a place that’s comfortable, neat, disorganized, soothing, modern, messy, clean, noisy, dark, filled with art, plants, animals, children? What kind of environment have you created for yourself?
Where do you work? Are you successful? Are you in a position that feels healthy and productive? Is your job satisfying? Who are your co-workers? What kind of relationships do you have with them? How does your boss see you? Are you doing well? How do people treat you?
And most importantly, who are the people in your life? What are your relationships like? Do you have a few close loving friends, or do you have many light, casual acquaintances? Are you married to someone you love, or are you stuck in a bad relationship? Would you choose these people all over again? Are you surrounded with good, kind, happy, loving, supportive friends and family? Have you let destructive and negative people into your life? How do your friends and family treat you? Are you loved? Are you close to your family? How often do you socialize? What do you do for fun? Do you have fun? Is your life balanced between love and work?
As you assess your life through the eyes of someone with AMNESIA, you will become aware of your self in a new way, with a new perspective. By GETTING AMNESIA, you are allowing yourself to see the life you have chosen for yourself. You will see yourself without the negativity that so often surrounds you if you are still entrenched in your self-thoughts.
Everyday is a chance to re-CREATE your new life and sense of self.
LIFE GOES ON©
Kathleen Cairns, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in West Hartford, Connecticut. She works with adults, adolescents, and couples. You may call her at 860-236-5555 to make an appointment. She is the author of “The Psychotherapy Workbook.” You may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and she will try to answer as many of your questions as possible.
Life goes on… and every day matters…