Why and How I Became My Own Worst Abuser (and how I plan to change that)

I’m writing this, my own experience, because I believe many others may have experienced similar things and had a similar response, although perhaps for different reasons. I understand that there is nothing in this that is flattering to me, but if it might be helpful even to only one other person, then it is worth publishing.

I can speculate but never truly understand why my parents disliked me. As a child I believed there must have been something inherently wrong with me. The core of their cruelty obviously had nothing to do with how I acted or what I said since, apparently, the hatred of me had started before I was born, when I had yet to do anything or say anything at all. I reasoned, therefore, that a fundamental part of my being had to be so bad that even my own parents couldn’t love me, which had to mean that no one could love me, so I determined to find out what was wrong with me and to fix it. (Note: I failed to realize that there were other reasons for my parents’ feelings toward me that had nothing at all to do with me.)

I was given the clues for what was wrong with me in statements like “you’re weird,” “no one can ever love you,” or “you’re worthless.” The problem was that none of those statements identified a particular fault that I could change. How was I weird? Why was I unlovable? What could I do to become worthy of affection, respect, or even just tolerance?

With so little direction from others about what I could do to improve myself and make myself acceptable, I was forced to discover that necessary information on my own. I got used to the patterns of my family’s criticisms of me, which were generally constant. I watched closely and learned to anticipate how the condemnation of me would go each time. I didn’t learn enough to ever prevent it, but as it was starting, I could see where it was aiming, so I would rush to criticize myself first, before others could.

There were three benefits that I believed would come from me criticizing myself sooner and worse than my loved ones would do:

1. I had noticed, while very young, that when others tried to hurt me physically, their blows hurt far more than if I hit or otherwise hurt myself somehow. I tended to believe that this was because, when I hurt myself, almost always by accident though I took a dare at least once, my attention was split between the sensation of receiving the blow and the sensation of delivering it, rendering both less intense than either would be were it the only sensation I felt at the time. I suspected this might apply to emotional blows as well, so I rushed to beat myself up (figuratively) for any and all identified misdeeds, hoping that when I was doing it to myself, my family would back down, leaving it to me, and spare me the greater pain of them doing it to me. Most often my family did not back down, but sometimes it seemed they did – enough to keep me trying.

2. My family obviously felt it was necessary to punish me rigorously for any and all faults in me, including those they couldn’t even identify and those about which I was certain they were mistaken since, although I agreed that I was deeply flawed, there were still some criticisms of me that simply didn’t make sense. I reasoned that if I took over the punisher role, berating myself badly enough that they would no longer feel the need to punish me themselves, that would leave them free from what I assumed had to be a hated necessity for them, for which they might be coming to hate me even more. I could not imagine how anyone could ever want to hurt another person but, apparently, I was so horrible that even my younger brother felt it necessary to join in the slam-fests and rages against me in order to correct me. I tried to convince myself that this cruelty was done with the best intentions toward me, though it never helped me. I tried begging them all to help me improve myself instead of just pointing out how much I needed improvement, but it seemed this was the best they could do. I hoped that, with my loved ones freed from being forced to punish me by me taking over that role, they might even have a chance to find and praise something good in me. I was desperately hoping that there would be something good in me they could find, because I couldn’t find anything good in myself.

3. I was eager to avoid the punishments for being such a bad person by no longer being a bad person. I wanted to try to correct every fault as quickly as I could – ideally before anyone else noticed them. I did also try to be good, which is much more than simply not being bad, but it quickly became obvious that there was nothing I could ever do that was good enough to compensate for my inherent wrongness, so finding and fixing my faults as quickly as possible, ideally before they were noticed by anyone else, seemed my best chance to avoid the constant criticisms from my loved ones. This required me to be always alert for any possible flaw in myself, no matter how slight. My goal was to catch my every fault the instant it first appeared inside me, before it became public knowledge. I became fixated on my flaws and lived in expectation of more emerging in every moment.

Sadly, none of my reasons to rush to be my own worst critic worked as I had hoped. I’m sure now that it failed to lessen the constant criticism of me by others. It certainly did nothing to earn me praise, much less the love I needed. Also, in the short-run, it didn’t spare me any pain when I savaged myself. In the long-run, I’m pretty sure it hurt me far more. Worse, no matter how fixated I became on rooting out all my faults, I not only failed to become flawless overall, but I seemed to fail to cure even a single fault. No matter how hard I tried, no matter how much I thought I had improved, no one else ever noticed any improvement in me at all.

The only result from this disastrous experiment of mine was that I formed the habit of seeking out everything wrong with me, without ever crediting anything good in me. It was the exact thing my loved ones did to me, except, with access to my unspoken thoughts and hidden feelings, I succeeded in doing it even more thoroughly than they ever had. Over time I became blind to any possibility of good in myself, no matter how hard I continued to try (becoming a perfectionist) because no matter what accomplishments or awards I achieved, it was never enough and would never be enough. On the other hand, failing to win awards or accomplish goals was certain to be used as proof by my loved ones that I was worthless, and I came to believe in my heart that this was true. I became my worst critic, beating myself emotionally, even for things others wouldn’t notice, with more savagery than even the worst of my loved ones could have inflicted upon me.

I clung to the hope that my self-berating would, eventually, improve me enough to make me lovable. By adulthood, however, I finally realized that the world takes you at your own self-evaluation, and my self-evaluation was the lowest it could possibly be, which meant I was creating the hatred and contempt of others toward me by hating myself, even though I never intentionally did anything unkind or harmful to others. Perhaps, worst of all, was the fact that this inner critic – so much harsher than all my loved ones put together – was inescapable. My parents have since died. My husband divorced me and shuns me. I opt to stay away from his crazy, cruel mother now, and I’m struggling to create distance from my brother – yet all their abuse, through all the many years of our relationships, are still active and strong in me, echoing through my thoughts, especially whenever I try to interview for a job or sell one of my skills to a new client, or start a new venture, or do anything at all to find a way to survive. Their voices merge together inside my head demanding I stop trying because I’m such an obvious failure that I’ll never succeed. “No one could ever want to hire me or even help me. No one is ever going to want to be around me, much less love me. I would do better to just give up and die…” except I won’t give up. Stubborn me.

What I am determined to do, instead, is call out those voices for the liars they are. I know better than to try to ignore them. My father did that, and I watched as his similar insecurities took him over and ruled him, turning him cruel to innocent, little me, almost without him realizing the deep damage he was inflicting. It seemed to me that he had so much pain he couldn’t endure it, so he used me as his scapegoat, hurting me to relieve his own pain without consciously realizing how horrible he was being. When I finally told him, in adulthood, what he had done to me and how deeply he had hurt me, he wept. In his heart my father was not a cruel man, only a deeply damaged one, but his heart never had a voice because his fears and insecurities took over and drowned everything else out.

I will not allow the same thing to happen to me. I don’t dare let these echoes of unjust condemnations slip through my guard to control me from my unconscious. They want to keep doing drive-by damage, but I’ll stop them by confronting them. I have to face them calmly and deal with them directly, dispelling them over and over, every time they pop up, until their energy is exhausted. I have to counter my bad habit of seeing only my flaws by forming a new habit of seeking out positive qualities in myself, no matter how slight, that I can place, as often as necessary, in the stead of the self-cruelty and the cruelty from others that has been my norm until now.

It isn’t easy changing habits. It requires effort and concentration at almost every moment. This is a matter of survival, however, so I cannot give up. I will succeed because I have to. I still have too many abusive people in my life, rushing to tear me down, and I have no one at all in my day-to-day who cares about me or encourages me. That is probably the most difficult hurdle to overcome. Just the fact of my isolation from anyone, except those who intentionally try to hurt me, becomes the worst weapon against me. My own mind, as well as my remaining abusers, use it as constant proof that I shouldn’t survive. I shouldn’t even try to improve. I should just give up because no one in my world cares about me anyway, which is proof that I have no value at all. However, while writing my own obituary for my past self, (published as part of my Halloween 2021 blog and discussed more fully in my blog “Power of an Obituary”) I realized, to my shock, that I was worthy of love. I always have been. Not only that, but I was amazed to discover that I have qualities that are needed in this world and that are, according to my loved ones, so extremely rare as to be essentially non-existent – especially kindness and compassion for others. I disagree with my loved ones that these qualities are stupid and useless. Rather, I hope I can find a way to accomplish great good through these qualities. I choose to believe that I have the ability within me to make this world a better place. Even if no one else ever gives me credit for any good I do, even if I am never loved by anyone, I will not stop until I have done all that I can to prove my worth to myself and to please myself by bringing value and help to others.

I also wrote a fantastic obituary for my future self, setting lofty goals (published in my Halloween 2021 blog). Even if it is never more than a fantasy, even if no one on earth cares about me when I die, and all my loved ones who survive me line up to spit on my grave and rage at my corpse, I am determined, by that time, to be so proud of myself for trying my hardest and doing my best and succeeding at making something, however insignificant, better in this world, that no one else’s hatred of me will be able to matter to me. Even if they piss on my grave, my hope is that they will only be watering the flowers growing there. If it proves that they are right that I am worth nothing more than shit, at least I can do some good as fertilizer. So, plant my corpse with seeds, because I intend to keep growing beauty in this world.