There is a syndrome that I’ve become aware of in the past decade of my journey along the road less taken. This condition seems to be something that everyone who enters therapy to conquer the effects of childhood trauma that can slow down progress and stop it in its tracks if not alleviated.
The syndrome I’m speaking of is becoming and remaining addicted to the chaos brought on by dysfunctional self-pity.
That’s the topic this article is going to explore, but first, I think before I begin this piece I want to add an important fact.
I never point my opinions toward anyone else.
If the shoe fits then wear it, but please, don’t feel a need to attack me because you see yourself in what I say. I speak only from my experience and not as a mental health professional telling you what is wrong in your healing journey.
Addiction to Chaos Begins Early
I don’t know about you, but my family of origin didn’t know how to interact. We spent most of our time with each other looking for weaknesses and using them to keep our own heads above water. We lived in a constant state of emergency, never allowing us to relax and enjoy each other’s company.
When there was the occasional and rare moment of quiet, we seemed to find a way to push an emotional button and set off the sequence of events that would bring chaos to life again.
My parents were exceptionally good at keeping the chaos going. They didn’t interact in healthy ways, but rather chose to argue and remain apart in the evenings when watching television.
My brothers and I were constantly afraid. Not necessarily of what our parents would do to us, but rather to them breaking up and getting divorced. We had reason to feel this way as they argued loudly at night and constantly threatened each other with breaking up our family.
Clearly, our parents were so involved in creating chaos that it had become the only way they knew to interact and live. They were very involved in dysfunctional self-pity, trying to get their needs met from the other and failing miserably.
How Does this Type of Chaos Affect Children?
Children learn how to interact with the world by watching their parents. By observation, we learn how to make friends work together with co-workers, and how to treat our spouses and children.
It is also by watching our parents that we learn how to feel about ourselves and our circumstances.
If we lived in homes where chaos reigned our parents were too busy trying to get their needs validated from each other and in failing to do so felt dysfunctional pity for themselves, we were doomed to do the same.
Not only will we behave the same as our parents did, but we will form a view of the world that is far from ideal. We will grow up seeing it as a cold, hard and unfriendly place from which our needs can never be met.
If you add to this mix, childhood abuse, you have a horrendous problem on your hands. How can a child learn to enjoy life and feel alive if all they can sense is danger all around them and all the time? How can a child understand how to feel about themselves if they see their adults consumed in self-pity?
As adults growing up in such an unhealthy and chaotic home, we have been set up for the perfect storm. Not only that, but we also are poised to pass on the chaos to our own children, and they theirs.
How Chaotic, Dysfunctional Thinking Harms Our Healing Journey
There can be no doubt but that traveling down the road less taken to healing is an arduous and dangerous journey. If we are to succeed, we must look in the unforgiving mirror of self-exploration and try to not only understand what happened but how to mitigate the way that yesterday intrudes in our today.
It is not uncommon, nor is it rare, to be caught up in the chaos, pain, and symptoms of the disorders caused by the trauma we endured. This includes, of course, dissociative identity disorder. These normal behavior patterns developed while working on our childhood issues can lead to dysfunctional self-pity to rear its ugly head.
I know, I have been there myself.
During my first decade of walking my healing path, I was very intent on living in my own dysfunctional self-pity. I became caught up in how badly I had been treated as a child and how ill such treatment had made me, and I was choosing to remain in the chaos my abusers had created.
I chose to live in a chaotic mindset, thinking and feeling that others owed me and that by god I was going to get it. I ate, breathed, and lived self-pity for myself and expected others to do the same.
It was my dysfunctional self-pity that made me believe that my history was so intense and so bad that I could never allow myself to not feel sorry for what I had been through.
That was dysfunctional self-pity and believe it had me shackled tightly keeping me from completing my healing journey.
Healthy Vs. Dysfunctional Self-Pity
I’ve used the phrase several times now, let’s see what is meant by healthy, and dysfunctional self-pity.
In his book, Recovering: The Adventure of Life Beyond Addiction, Pete Walker, MA, MFT says this about healthy self-pity:
“Self-pity in balanced moderation is the miraculously releasing gift of “self-sorrowing”. Self-sorrowing is one of the most beautiful and restorative of emotional experiences. There is nothing in the world more centering than a good unabashed cry about one’s troubles.
Nothing dissolves the awful abandonment pain of the inner child like a good cry for the self. This is especially true when the adult child imagines himself back in the past tenderly comforting his crying inner child.”
He then goes on to define what is meant by dysfunctional self-pity:
“Self-pity is only dysfunctional when it is excessive. This is sometimes seen in people who spend extreme amounts of time feeling sorry for themselves. Although long periods of self-pity can be healthy in some phases of recovery, it is possible to get stuck in and addicted to self-pity.”
It took a long-fought-for revelation in my soul to understand that by allowing myself to follow the guidance of what I was taught as a child and living in dysfunctional self-pity I was keeping myself from reaching my goal.
I know that may sound like I’m trying to discredit your walk or where you are in your healing, but that is NOT what it was intended to do at all.
What I AM saying is to remain stuck in the thinking processes where you are forever a victim means never becoming the person you wish to be. You CANNOT finish what you have so bravely begun, to heal and thrive even after severe childhood trauma that left you broken inside.
The Choice to Leave the Chaos Behind Must Be Your Own
Like the proverb says, you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink and thus it is with healing and leaving our chaotic lives behind. No one, not your therapist, not your friends, not even god himself, can make you choose to give up the dysfunctional self-pity that is holding you down.
I remember the morning I woke up and decided I didn’t want to live in my own anymore.
I had painted myself into a corner, making myself so ill with my feelings of “poor me” mixed with emotional thoughts like, “I’m never going to get any better” that I had slid about as far down as a person with a mental health condition could go.
I had been living inpatient on a psychiatric ward for over seven years and had, before that morning, made no plans to leave. That morning I woke to a bright spring morning, sat up on the side of my hospital bed, and thought to myself, “I don’t want to live like this anymore. I want a future and freedom!”
I had finally made the gigantic leap that I had needed to make for years, I was deciding to live and leave the chaos of my past behind me as much as is humanly possible.
That decision meant not allowing me or anyone else to feel sorry for me anymore, but to work harder than ever before to make my past, just that, the past.
Of course, my history and diagnosis of DID are, and will always be, part of who I am. However, there is no need for me to allow myself to be swallowed up by either of them.
I am Shirley J. Davis, a freelance writer, and lover of people who happens to have a traumatic history and a diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder.
I am not my diagnosis.
I am not to be pitied.
Not by myself or anyone else.
I am a strong, capable, resilient, human being.
However, no one could make the decision for me to move on and live, I had to make it on my own.
My Parting Words Today
If you are just beginning your healing journey, or you are only part of the way through, don’t worry. Especially after reading this article, you will make the decision to do what I have done and make peace with who you are, chaotic/traumatic past notwithstanding.
If you find you are stuck in your healing journey, then thinking about what I have said here today. Talk to your therapist and ask honestly and openly if he/she thinks that dysfunctional self-pity is holding you back from accomplishing the task you set out to do when you began your travels.
I write this blog and maintain this website to pass along the lessons I have learned in hope that you will not make the same mistakes I have. You WILL make mistakes and fall down, but always know that I do care very much about you. Otherwise, I would not spend my time and money writing to you and saying things that can upset you but are intended to help.
I’ll leave you with the following quote:
“Healing doesn’t mean the damage never existed. It means the damage no longer controls our lives.” ~ Akshay Dubey