Elisa A. Escalante/ LCSW/ 3-18-2021
“Get used to a world where no one belongs to you, and no one cares all the way. Live in that truth, accept that truth, and learn to be your own savior.” -EaE
I recently felt a dire need to apologize to myself. It was what I’ll call my first thirties epiphany breakthrough. I apologized to myself for my lack of self care over the years, my inability to say no when I needed to, constantly ignoring red flags that I should not have and ignoring the pain I felt from Afghanistan for far too long. Ignoring the pain I felt from my childhood trauma for far too long as well.
There are common defense mechanisms that get used especially for those that go through trauma situations in which they cannot “show weakness”. These include intellectualizing, numbing and minimizing our emotional pain so that we can carry on with life, perceivable unaffected by our trauma and grievances. I’ll share a few examples. My base gets bombed in the war zone, my go to intellectualization: “I’m statistically more likely to die in a car accident in the U.S. than here in Afghanistan” as well as “well I heard the bomb so that means I’m still alive.”
Then there’s minimizing: “other people got their limbs blown off, so I’m fine.” Then there’s numbing: During my military duty day I find out via voicemail that my mother died, I listened to the voicemail, closed my phone, put it in my pocket, felt numb and kept working, it would be months before I told any of my coworkers about it.
One thing about these types of defense mechanisms, we use them to appear “strong”, and the other thing about them is they can/ will end up leading to more severe breakdowns later. Even if not an emotional breakdown, most definitely physical ones. Humans have to feel what we feel. There isn’t a potion, pill, defense mechanism, person, or distraction that can stop it. We can morph, transfer or try to compartmentalize if needed, but emotional scars will remain.
So why was I apologizing to myself? Primarily for using these defense mechanisms and not allowing myself the care and attention I needed a long time ago. It led to a lot of mental breakdowns and destruction and quite frankly makes me a bad example of what a leader in the mental health world “should” look like.
However, it does lead to an important lesson for all: we all need to apologize to ourselves for something. Are we doing it? Most likely, not. And when we apologize to ourselves are we doing it with sincerity and the intention of trying to do better next time? To tell myself sorry for the mental pain I ignored means it is vital to recognize how not to let it happen again. No more ignoring red flags, no more ignoring my personal self care, no more putting myself last. These are not just things to promise myself, they are things I must take action on if I want to see true change in my life.
⁃ Recognize how or why you have been hurting and your individual contribution to said pain (if any)
⁃ Apologize to yourself for whatever it is you did that was self destructive or harmful in nature
⁃ Take accountability (the change process must start here)
An important question:
“Do you believe you are worthy of pursuing happiness?” Many don’t realize it, but this happens to be a very common roadblock for those that have suffered from trauma, grief and/ or moral injury. Before we can self help and self love, we must first feel worthy of it. If our identity is entrenched in trauma, self destructiveness and shame then we have a large mental battle ahead before we can even see we need to self apologize.
So to go further backwards, before you can apologize to yourself explore why you kept hurting yourself in the first place.:
⁃ Who or what circumstance taught you to self destruct vs self heal?
⁃ Why are you any less worthy than anyone else?
⁃ Are you able to remind yourself you are human and make mistakes?
⁃ Does self destructiveness get you high or make you feel in control?
⁃ Do you believe you deserve better than what is happening to you currently?
⁃ Do you believe in delayed gratification? (Doing things not for short term effect but for long term benefits.)
If you aren’t saying sorry to yourself, you missed something. We are all human, we all make mistakes. Typically we will say sorry to others, but rarely ourselves. Why? We aren’t taught to value our relationship with ourselves. I was 15 years old when an assistant coach for cross country came up to me and said “who’s the most Important person in your life?” I simply said “I don’t know…..” his reply? “It’s you, you are the most important person in your life. You come first.”
That was the first time anyone had told me that, and at the age of 15, I couldn’t even comprehend or wrap my mind around it. I couldn’t even believe in it. Maybe he read my lack of confidence through my aura. Maybe he knew I was in desperate need of self esteem. That was just the first of many times hearing some wisdom that I just wasn’t ready to implement. It would take a lot more damage before my wake up call came.
Apologize to yourself. There was mistakes made, damage done, feelings neglected at times. No one is immune. It’s also an incredibly hard thing to navigate, self care, in a society where we are taught to follow someone else’s rules for life vs our own rules. The rules and boundaries we create, because they feel right to us, are the most important rules of all. Why? Because at the end of the day, you will get to know yourself better than anyone else. Your voice and self determination will always matter most.
One thought on “Apologize to yourself”
WOW… I can’t find the word to express how much this blog hits home for me. However I have to disagree with the part where you say you are a bad example of what a leader of mental health should look like. I think everything you have been thru helps you connect with others because you have been there in their shoes not just relying on text book answers. You give others hope because they see you as real. I know I do
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