“How you love yourself is how you teach others to love you.”
When we have experienced rejection or betrayal it changes the way we see, and feel about, ourselves. We can pick up the message that there’s something wrong with us. That we’re less than other people. That we’re seriously flawed.
But all of these are lies, and we need to love ourselves.
So how do we learn to love ourselves?
1. Our mindset affects the way we see ourselves, how we interact with others, and how we live our lives. It affects our expectations around how others will treat us, and whether that’s appropriate, and what we should accept. This is an area we often need to challenge, and especially if we suffer from low self-esteem.
Some questions to ask yourself here include: Do I expect others to treat the same as/ better than/ or worse than they treat others? Why is that the case? What do I deserve when it comes to being loved? What will I put up with, and why?
2. Pay attention to how you treat yourself.
For example, do you tend to be self-critical and harsh towards yourself? Are you good at noticing and taking care of your physical, mental and emotional needs? How do you do that? How well do you do that? Do you make time to do the things you want and like to do? If not, why not?
3. We need to show self-understanding and develop self-compassion.
It can be helpful to take the time to write down our life story, and trace how our experiences have shaped who we’ve become.
4. We need to give ourselves permission to design our own life, and to say what we want, and then to go after that.
Of course, our plans can be destroyed by the people in our lives, and it’s hard to recover when we’ve been traumatized. But our life still our own. We still have some agency. And we still get a say in what’s going to happen next.
5. Perhaps you’ve heard it said thar each of us is the average of the five people we spend the most time with. With this in mind, think about who you spend your time with. Are these people who like, love and value you? Are they people who can see your potential, and who encourage you to live your best life? If not, it might be time to make some changes here and surround yourself with people who will love and treat you well.
The book and movie Into the Wild tell the story of Chris McCandless, a young man who dropped out of society, wandered the land, and finally died while living alone in Alaska.
Chris had every apparent advantage. A wealthy upbringing. An intact family. An education at top-notch schools. And yet, one day, he walked away from it all.
What was behind such a turn of events? Why did he turn his back on his life?
Chris (who changed his name to Alex Supertramp) uncovered a dark secret about his family. This changed him forever, and it knocked his life off course.
After finishing high school, Alex went on a road trip where he learned that his dad had been a bigamist. This long-held family secret turned his whole world upside down, and he couldn’t quite recover from the devastating news.
His sense of trust was shattered. He was shaken to the core. He thought all love was suspect, and that closeness just brought pain.
Hence, he set out on a journey. Restless. Broken. Seeking solace. And trying to find peace in the rugged empty wilds.
How This Applies to Us
Discovering those close to us have led a secret life, and have cruelly deceived us, has profound, lasting effects. It tears up our life’s narrative. It fills our heart with pain. It leaves our mind fragmented; our identity in shreds.
A story that made sense, and an unquestioned history, seem like a house of cards. It’s nothing more than a mirage.
The ending of the novel and the movie break your heart. Chris can’t survive alone, and so eventually he starves.
There’s a lesson and a warning here if you’ve been traumatized, or had to deal with secrets that have blown your world apart. It is:
We all need other people when dark secrets are revealed, when trauma overwhelms us, and destabilizes us.
We feel so isolated, and so cut off from the world. We don’t know who to turn to. Who on earth would understand?
But there are those who’ll listen. Who will help us bear the pain. They’ll be there in the darkness, in the long and endless night.
Support makes all the difference. Please don’t carry this alone. Reach out, and share your story. There are people here who care.
“Trauma affects the entire human organism … After trauma the world is experienced with a different nervous system”.
There’s a lot of pressure when you learn about betrayal, to work hard on your healing, and to move on with your life.
But you’re not the same person, and the scars don’t disappear.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think that progress can be made. But trauma leaves an imprint on our body, mind and brain. It changes our neurology and physiology.
In “The Body Keeps the Score” Bessel van der Kolk describes some changes that occur when a person’s traumatized, and is later diagnosed with PTSD. Some of these changes include the following:
1. In a person unaffected by PTSD, the hormone cortisol sends out an “all safe” signal after a threat or danger has passed. This doesn’t happen with PTSD sufferers. This is because the latter’s stress hormones do not return to base level after the threat or danger has passed. Instead, the person continues to experience severe anxiety. They remain agitated, they cannot relax, they remain on guard, and they tend to react disproportionately to minor or neutral stimuli.
2. A person with PTSD is primed to react to anything that might signal danger, many months and years after experiencing the trauma. This is true, even when the person has told their story, and has worked on their healing with a therapist. For as Bessel van der Kolk states:
“Trauma results in a fundamental reorganization of the way the mind and brain mange perceptions. (As a consequence of trauma, the person) remains hypervigilant, prepared to be wounded at any time.”
3. In ordinary everyday life, both the right and left sides of the brain work together. However, trauma temporarily deactivates the left side of the brain. This means that whenever the traumatized person is triggered, the left brain blacks out, and simply ceases to function.
At the same time, the right brain continues to feels the strong emotions related to the original traumatic experience.
Unfortunately, because the left brain cannot function when it’s triggered, it cannot distinguish between the past and the present. Thus, the person feels as if they’re trapped in the past, reliving emotions which are scary and intense.
Knowing the above, which is based on trauma research, can help relieve the pressure to “hurry up and heal.”
We need to recognize these facts, and to practice self-compassion … Because experiencing betrayal is a life-changing event.
That is, the impact is profound, it affects our chemistry, and it’s very difficult to make a full recovery.
*Quotes are from Van der Kolk, B. (2015). The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. London: Penguin Books.