Tag Archives: failure

The Twins, Part 2 – Perfectionism

Siamese Twins, Nuremberg Chronicles (1441-1514) (PD)

Siamese Twins, Nuremberg Chronicles (1440-1514) (PD-Old)

This post was written in collaboration with Marie Williams whose remarks are highlighted.  Marie blogs at Come Fly with Me, https://mariewilliams53.wordpress.com.

We return to the topic of procrastination and perfectionism, related patterns of behavior in which many abuse victims find themselves trapped.

The part we play in creating our own dilemmas – the large and small crises in our lives stemming from procrastination – was discussed in Part 1 of this series.

Chance for Failure (Imperfection)

“…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1: 7).

Apart from the problems it would generate for anyone, failure – defined by many abuse victims as imperfection, to any small degree – results in shame and self-revilement for us.  Since creating these dilemmas greatly increases our chance for failure, the question arises why we persist in creating them.

“The whole time I was procrastinating, I thought myself foolish, an idiot, a dunce, a failure, because who in their right mind, sees a fire starting or about to start, purposely hides the fire extinguisher, forgets where she has put it and then goes and reads a book, deciding to deal with the fire when it becomes bigger and more unmanageable?  Because that is what procrastination amounts to when you come to think of it in rational terms.  Yet I could not help myself.”

-Marie Williams

The obvious answer is that we do not believe ourselves capable of accomplishing the task at hand.  Putting it off defers the painful acknowledgment of our own inadequacy.  And it provides us an excuse for failure.  Had conditions been right, had we started on the task sooner, perhaps we might have succeeded after all.

Again, the question is why.  Why are we so certain of failure?  This goes directly to our childhood abuse. On an unconscious level, we create these dilemmas to replicate the abuse which is what gives them such power over us. 

We were told repeatedly how inadequate we were.  Told how ugly, stupid, skinny, fat, or retarded we were.  Told that we would never amount to anything.  Or we were ignored entirely, starved for food and affection both.

No shock that we doubt and second guess ourselves, wrestling over decisions.

“I floundered when faced with choices.  Wanting to please and be approved of ALL THE TIME, I became lost in my own lack of confidence.  This, I think, was due to the fact that I couldn’t manage the abuse.  I adopted the same response to situations which generated that same confusion in me.”

-Marie Williams

Failure becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Our abusers are “proven” right.  So it seems to us.  Our failure couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the damage they inflicted on us.  Nooo. Continue reading

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Skin Suit

“Seated Nude” by Amadeo Modigliani (1909), Source wikipaintings.org (PD – 100)

WARNING:  Graphic Images

This skin suit that surrounds me, more wrinkled now than any “lawyer suit” I ever owned, is no longer smooth, no longer supple.  It is marred by scars and stretch marks, like the tributaries of some ancient river; has been visited by varicosities, and callouses, hives, rashes, and eruptions too often to count.

But once this skin knew the joy of raindrops.  Once it knew the fever that passion evokes.

This skin suit that envelopes me has been bruised, pierced, incised, and sutured; has been burned by the sun to a poison apple red.

This skin has been stroked and patted, been tenderly groomed, oh so tenderly violated, again and again and again and again – each cell silently screaming in protest, recoiling in horror.

This skin suit of mine has served as a witness to all the best and worst aspects of my life, to the weakness and the strength, the failures and the triumphs; has lain prostrate with pain, overcome by grief, yet risen to see the glory of a new dawn, and lived to praise God for His deliverance.

And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,
That in my flesh I shall see God…” (Job 19: 26).

With special thanks to Marie Williams and Sandy Meckler for their encouragement and friendship

FOR MORE OF MY ARTICLES ON POVERTY, POLITICS, AND MATTERS OF CONSCIENCE CHECK OUT MY BLOG A LAWYER’S PRAYERS AT: http://www.alawyersprayers.com

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Negotiation – Bargaining with the Devil

Maryland Car Dealership (courtesy of Chrysler/Jeep), Author Christopher Ziemnowciz a/k/a CZmarlin (PD)

Few people enjoy negotiation.  Most find it unpleasant, if necessary.  But, for abuse victims, negotiation can be immensely painful.

Why is this?  After all, most adults have been “bargaining” since they were children.  Just one more game.  Just one more story, Daddy.  Pleeze, Mommy, ple-e-e-eze.

Past Experience

Most people bargain with at least some expectation of obtaining what it is they are after.  That expectation is based on past experience, and a degree of prior success.  It pre-supposes an opponent can be persuaded to modify his/her position, perhaps even relent.

The experience of abuse victims is entirely different.  We were forced to bargain with the devil.

However else the abuser may have appeared to the world, however pleasant or sincere s/he may have seemed, however refined, relative to us s/he was evil incarnate:

  • unscrupulous;
  • manipulative;
  • single-minded;
  • more mature, intellectually;
  • erratic and confusing, with motivation outside our comprehension;
  • all powerful;
  • often brutal; and
  • wholly self-centered or, to put it another way, unmoved by compassion for us.

As children, we were powerless.  That point was made, again and again.

“My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my jaws…” (Ps. 22: 15).

Negotiation was, by nature, a traumatic event for victims.  We may have pleaded with the abuser — quite literally — for our lives, certainly for our sanity.  That fact alone makes all subsequent negotiations highly charged.

And negotiation required abject submission on our part.  Anything else produced harsh punishment.  We could only lay our requests on the altar, hoping to withstand the resulting blast.

Negotiation and PTSD

As adults, we may find it difficult to ask for a raise or promotion; difficult even to contest a utility bill.

The very act of speaking during negotiation can be difficult for us.  Our mouths turn dry as cotton.  Our tongues stick to the palate.  We feel powerless, outmatched.

Buying a new car becomes an ordeal for us, topped off by shame, if we cannot manage to secure a reasonable price. Continue reading

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Doubts

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them…” (Rom. 12: 6).

The doubts others plant in us can be suffocating. Stifling to our spirit.

Often this starts very early, with the harsh criticism of childhood endeavors, the imposition of restrictive adult standards on children too young to fulfill them. We learn to pursue perfection – ever elusive perfection – rather than develop our own art.

That applies whatever form our “art” may take:  poetry, sculpture, music, carpentry, cooking, laughter. You name it. Denied tenderness, we are robbed of words, robbed of rhythm, robbed of savor, robbed of joy. Denied our natural way of relating to things.

It is as if our hands were cut off, our lips sewn together.

We stumble on, unable to say why it is that we feel so clumsy. Why our efforts feel awkward, inadequate. Others have learned to dance on their hands, paint with their feet. Surely, we can, as well.

We search for the fault in ourselves, certain it must be there. Knowing it must be there. This emptiness, this persistent feeling of failure, cannot be the fault of those who raised us. Can it?

Still, we falter and lose heart. Our doubts loom large. And all because the adults around us did not have imagination enough to recognize what we might become. Continue reading

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Abuse Victims and Failure, Part 3 – A Fresh Perspective

“ ‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all…

– Emily Dickinson

Abuse skews the perspective we have on our lives. But our viewpoint (and the labels we choose to apply to our experiences) can make a surprising difference.

What others may call “failures” can be seen as new avenues of exploration or stepping stones to the next success.

  • Thomas Edison made thousands of unsuccessful attempts at creating the light bulb. When a reporter asked him how it felt to fail so often, Edison responded that he had not failed. He had merely ruled out ways that would not work.
  • Babe Ruth was famous for his home run record. But for decades Ruth, also, held the record for strikeouts. He hit 714 home runs, but struck out 1330 times in his career. Ruth said about this, “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.”

“I’ve failed over and over again in my life. That is why I succeed.”

– Michael Jordan

The Chance to Start Again

We can view failure as a chance to start again, with more knowledge than we had before [1].

  • The industrialist Henry Ford, the department store magnate RH Macy, and the animator/studio head Walt Disney all filed for bankruptcy, at some point. Yet they are considered exemplars of innovation whose vision changed the world.

Not Counted Out Yet

“I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles.”

– Audrey Hepburn

True, we face enormous challenges as abuse victims. True, we may be exhausted from a decades-long battle with the after-effects of abuse. But we should not count ourselves out too soon. Continue reading

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Abuse Victims and Failure, Part 2 – Bad Advice

“Well, you can knock me down,
Step in my face,
Slander my name
All over the place.

Do anything that you want to do, but uh-uh,
Honey, lay off of my shoes
Don’t you step on my blue suede shoes…”

– Elvis Presley, Blue Suede Shoes

Discouragement from those significant in our lives often accompanies abuse. Sadly, we may adopt the negative opinion others have of us based on their own shortcomings.

But bad advice is simply misdirection – not an infallible predictor of our future. The important thing is that it not become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  • The author of a beloved 19th Century girls’ novel worked as a maid, seamstress, companion, and teacher. Thankfully, Louisa May Alcott found her true calling, and left us the classic Little Women.

Taught to Fear

  • Lucille Ball said that all acting school taught her was to be frightened. Ball, of course, became one of the most popular comediennes in America, starring in such sitcoms as I Love Lucy. She was nominated for thirteen Emmy Awards, winning four (along with a Lifetime Achievement Award).

Abuse victims are taught to fear. Change is viewed as negative, and the new as dangerous.

This attitude passed on to us – if we remain bound by it – makes progress impossible, and success unattainable. Genuine opportunities are missed, since their negative consequences always appear to outweigh any benefit.

Meanwhile, real risk is not accurately assessed. Danger is not perceived, so we rush headlong into its arms – sometimes in the very effort to escape our past [1]. When harm follows (frequently in the form of further abuse), we question our judgment and become ever more fearful.

Trained not to trust our abilities, we cannot conceive of overcoming the obstacles in our path. Yet, it must be added, a remarkable number of us do overcome them. Ironically, our pain is sometimes the impetus for change.

Without guidance, support, or even much confidence, we ignore the odds against us, and persevere regardless. Continue reading

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Abuse Victims and Failure, Part 1 – A Slow Start

“Today you are YOU,
That is TRUER than true.
There is NO ONE alive
Who is YOUER than YOU!”

– Dr. Seuss

As abuse victims, most of us are familiar with failure. This is not necessarily because we have failed.

Many victims are successful in the work world. Work may actually help us to deal with the abuse we once endured. It can provide a focus for our energies, sometimes to the point of exhaustion [1].

What we experience, however, is a persistent feeling of having failed in the most important arena of all; having failed at love.

This feeling stems, in part, from a mistaken belief that we “deserved” the abuse to which we were subjected (surely, if we had been lovable, we would not have been abused, goes the thinking); and, in part, from the failed relationships resulting from that abuse.

But all human beings experience failure. Life is a process of trial and error for everyone. A baby tries to stand, and falls. S/he tries again, and falls again. Eventually though s/he learns to walk, then run.

A Slow Start

Some of us have a slow start. We may, in fact, have been advanced for our years – struggling to develop without the nurturing and encouragement we should, in all fairness, have been provided.

Still, for argument’s sake, let us say we make a slow start. That is no indication of how we will finish.

  • One little boy did not speak until comparatively late. His parents feared he was mentally impaired. A teacher described him as “mentally slow, unsociable, and adrift forever in foolish dreams.” The boy was expelled from secondary school for being “disruptive,” and was refused admittance to a prestigious university.
    We recognize now that Albert Einstein was one of the greatest minds of the 20th Century. He is regarded as the father of modern physics [2].

Rejection

With or without a “slow” start, we all experience rejection eventually.

  • Teachers quickly grew impatient with Thomas Edison’s inquisitiveness. One called Edison “addled.” Edison went on to invent the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and the light bulb.  Altogether, Edison held over 1000 patents.
  • Charles Schulz of Peanuts fame had every cartoon he submitted rejected by his high school yearbook.
  • More than two dozen publishers rejected one children’s book, before it reached the public. The author, Dr. Seuss, ultimately wrote more than forty others, including such favorites as The Cat in the Hat, Horton Hears a Who! and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Continue reading

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If You Have Survived…

Sometimes, the critical voices from all sides can be overwhelming to abuse victims (and non-victims, for that matter).  Other times, the criticism of a single loved one will become the inescapable voice in our heads. This is a little advice to tuck away for such times.

If you have survived abuse or neglect, you are not a failure [1]. Having survived at all is an achievement. The scars you bear attest to your strength, not your failure.

It is not your purpose in life to meet the expectations of others, certainly not those of family members and other loved ones incapable of loving you in return.

Obvious as this may sound, make sure you seek validation from someone actually capable of giving it to you. Some people are simply blind. They lack the ability to see you clearly. Others may find it easier to focus on your imagined defects, than their real ones.

Anyone saying you should limit yourself, rather than use the gifts God gave you, may be worried about their own limitations. Criticism that convinces you that you can do nothing right will result in your doing nothing at all.

Self-blame is a paralyzing form of abuse. Try not to engage in it. If you’ve made mistakes, learn from them. That’s how life works for all of us.

Life is always better than death. Choose life… if nothing else to spite your detractors [2].  You have at least as much right to this world as they do.

[1] This is not to suggest that the victims of abuse and neglect who did not survive were, in any sense, “failures”. The label does not apply.

[2] Small joke.  Use every tool at your disposal, including humor.

FOR MORE OF MY ARTICLES ON POVERTY, POLITICS, AND MATTERS OF CONSCIENCE CHECK OUT MY BLOG A LAWYER’S PRAYERS AT: http://www.alawyersprayers.com

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