Ever since I was just a little girl, guilt has been a huge factor in my life. I’m sure it didn’t start out as guilt, just like the saying goes, that children are born innocent, I believe children are born without guilt or shame; but we as parents, caregivers, people, society, whatever, place those things on their shoulders and burden them with something they don’t need.
Since I was a child, I’ve been extremely empathetic, sensitive and compassionate to what others are feeling, especially those who were vulnerable or weak, be that man or animal. I believe there are many things, which contributed to my becoming guilty, but think this is where the root of it starts.
Throughout my life, my sensitivity has been taken advantage of, used against me. I believe many people view empathy and vulnerability as weaknesses, manipulating and using those traits for their own leverage. My mother still says ,’We never had to punish you as a child, you were so guilty, you always punished yourself.’
Even as a teenage, when I did stupid teenage stuff, like skipping school or smoking, I was never punished, but I would also never do it again, you know why? Because of guilt! Both of my parents would lay the guilt on and I would feel dreadful, the teachers laid the guild on, I felt worse, even some of my friends did it, by this time, I wanted to crawl into a hole and die.
As a fragile teenager, who was struggling with an already rampant eating disorder, body image issues, training for track, constant guilt, regularly attending church, being told what to do from every direction, I had no idea who I was, but I knew I was ashamed of her, I knew she was worthless! I started building walls around the vulnerable bits, started losing faith in people, stopped caring about school work, started putting more effort into track, The Disorder, being an obnoxious show off, recreational drugs and just getting by.
After I was done high school, I took my dog and moved to Niagara Falls. I didn’t know anyone, but in spite of The Disorder taking over most of my spare time, I was able to make friends and start building a life. Then I entered my first serious relationship, he was charming, cute, liked dogs and hiking, he was also mentally & physically abusive, he was almost as controlling as The Disorder, moving me to a city 4 hrs away, isolating me from the small group of friends I had made. There was so much jealousy and no trust, I learned not to share, that shutting down, just agreeing was safest. I escaped this relationship and returned home to NS, but in my breakout, I lost any confidence and trust, in turn was saddled with more guilt and shame.
Over the next few years I struggled to balance school, work, money and The Disorder, I was terrible at managing time and money, both of which I was constantly flushing down the toilet. I was ashamed of the ED, felt weak. I thought this was something I should be able to conquer on my own, because of this, I was incapable of asking anyone for help. At different junctions, family members were angry with me, typically over money, certainly thinking I was irresponsible, unable to uphold my end of any bargain. I avoided functions, family, friends, outings, I was so embarrassed and ashamed, how could anyone understand how pathetic and weak I was, if they knew who I was, how worthless I had become, they would dislike me even more than they already did. It was easier to avoid the ridicule and just keep the hurt, fear and grief to myself.
It took years, before I felt comfortable with the thought, of being in a relationship again. Eventually I started dating and met my son’s father, we had a peculiar dynamic, it surrounded a lot of ribbing and mean, negative banter; I suspect I was okay with this, as it was one way I could protect myself. Our relationship was and still is rocky, there were serious trust issues. With any relationship that revolves around bringing the other person down a notch, you can imagine how much confidence that evoked, in talking about things, sharing and confiding. After we separated it was extremely tumultuous, highly spiteful and underhanded. Things seem fine now, but it taught me a valuable lesson, keep my cards close!
As an empathetic, naturally open and sensitive person, I’ve spent most of my life learning to be guarded, not to trust people, training myself to keep everyone at arms length, so they can’t hurt me. I’ve become a rockstar at skirting any serious issues, behaving like I am an open book, while actually not revealing my true self. Before I began treatment, I was in a relationship off and on for almost 2 years and even at the end, he still said he felt I had up walls, was guarded and rarely shared my feelings; honestly I thought this was just a behaviour I developed with him.
Then I started treatment at clinic, where I was told over and over again, how therapeutic sharing is, how I need to allow myself to feel things, not just get angry. All of which I thought was ridiculous, of course I feel the feels, I share, I’m an open book! And then along came Ryan…
Ryan, one of my best friends from high school, my prom date, someone I absolutely adored! Now he’s a grown up, he’s done and continues to do his own self discovery; it’s obvious he knows and likes who he is, is comfortable with feelings, sharing and trust, on top of being a hilarious weirdo. He’s just like I remember him, only in adult packaging. Being with Ryan feels like being home, it’s easy to feel safe and share. Little by little, the walls of guilt and shame have been crumbling, enough that tonight I shared my feelings with someone else, a friend who I care deeply for.
I wasn’t sure if the situation would go sideways or not, for old Jenn, that would mean avoidance or apologizing, tonight I confronted it head on, expressing my feelings, concerns and hopes. I expected the worst, but was pleasantly surprised, the response was warm and supportive. In allowing myself to be vulnerable with someone, I helped strengthen the bond between us, the trust we share, but also broke down a few more blocks in that damn wall.
Thanks to the clinicians, I realized I have trust issues; thanks to the supportiveness and patience of loved ones, I’ve been able to start taking the wall down; being able to let go, I can finally begin to trust myself again. This journey has so many layers and is a long drawn out process, but thanks to all the amazing, supportive people in my life, I’m going to get it sorted and find my way through!