TW: Allusion to trauma, abuse, neglect.
Most people who have been through a traumatic event, have a tendency to blame themselves at one point or another. More often than we care to count, we utter the phrase, “This is all my fault.” It reverberates through our actions and thoughts, like ripples on a pond. These ripples distort what is true, what we think is real. This is natural and, luckily, we stop taking responsibility for things beyond our control that happened to us… hopefully. What happens when there is a seemingly unending series of events that make us say, “This is all my fault.”?
What we were taught is that we are undeserving of protection. When they hurt us, they not only forsook their responsibility to protect us, but also their right to protection. We searched for a fault within ourselves, coming to the conclusion that there must be something wrong with us, that we are at fault somehow. This is all my fault. What we come to believe is that we do not matter, that we just have to bear it, however heavy that burden may be. They make us believe that they can get away with anything, that the only thing we can do is keep quiet… and we do. They are undeserving of our silence, yet our agony is trapped behind tightly pursed lips. Our screams are muffled, smothered by the threat of worse things to come. We were taught to believe that we were undeserving of love. They hold all the power. They hold our very existence – past, present and future – in their hands. We have no control. They make us feel like we have relinquished all our power.
This is all my fault. As we grow up, we respond in one of two ways: look for that love in all the wrong places, hoping that we are worthy; or we shut out everything and everyone, so that we do not get hurt again. When experience teaches us, is that we matter less than the ones who caused these wounds. I do not like using the word scars, because that implies a healed injury; seemingly insignificant triggers can feel like a wire brush scouring exposed flesh, reminding us of how raw that hurt still is.
It is easier to think that they did not know what they were doing was wrong, but they knew… they fucking knew. Behind closed doors, hidden away from the world, they did what they wanted. We were taught that we were undeserving of being seen; we taught ourselves that it is safer to hide. No, the irony does not escape me. Why was no-one looking out for us? Did they not see that 12 year old shrink into herself whenever anyone came near? Were they so blind that they did not notice the oversized sweaters in summer, the baggy clothes in muted tones, the hypervigilance, the shallow breathing, the instinctive flinch? Did they choose not to see or were we taught to hide ourselves and our shame and our hurt from all the world? This is all my fault.
The years pass; the danger slowly dissipates. What is left? A body that remembers… horrendously vivid nightmares… the reflex to recoil… aversions to all manner of things. We cannot speak their names. We cannot bear to think of looking them in the eye. The prospect of being in their presence fills us with an all-consuming dread. It feels like a shadow with claws that creeps up from your very soul, grasping at your insides, pulling you away from yourself, enveloping you… smothering you. This is all my fault. You can’t breathe; you can’t think. The wire brush is back, scrubbing away at that wound, making you feel raw and exposed. It’s like you’re back there… with them, undeserving of love, of protection, of anything good. I’m not good enough. This is all my fault.
We teach ourselves to remain silent, because we think that saying its name out loud will somehow make it more real. We blame ourselves for that which we were forced to bear witness to, forced to bear. We teach ourselves that we are unworthy of being heard. They get to live their lives, free of guilt, free of shame, and somehow we are shouldered with that burden. Do they ever pay for it? Do they ever show remorse? Did we matter so little? This is all my fault. Were we even undeserving of a second thought?
We are so scared to tarnish their “good” name. We convince ourselves that we are in the wrong, because that way, we have some semblance of control, some hope of avoiding the worst of the horrors we have not yet endured. We are so scared of saying something that will get us into trouble. We are so scared of making it worse by calling them out. When they broke us, those cracks were filled with fear that would stay with us for a long time. We were too afraid to say something, too afraid to run, too afraid to question what was happening, too afraid to ask for help. This is all my fault. We were undeserving of tenderness, of love, of safety, of belonging, of life itself.
As these words materialise, I feel like I am reclaiming a lot of what was taken from me. I am unlearning habits that were formed deep within my being. I put pen to paper, because they are undeserving of my silence, of protection, of being blameless. Their actions deserve to be aired, to be spoken of… not so that I may dwell on it, but that I can regain control. There is a part of myself that was subjected to so many terrors, that it felt like it had been trampled… like it had withered just a little more with each horror I had to endure. None of this is my fault, whatsoever. I am not to blame. That is the part I’m taking back. I am deserving of love.