Love and blame – how to move through the impossible
Making sense of pain, when we love the person who is hurting us
The recent Neverland documentary gives us incredible insight into the thoughts of the survivors of sexual abuse at the hand of Michael Jackson, Wade and James. The survivors talk first hand about how they loved Michael and felt special during their friendship which prevented them from seeing the damage, the manipulation and wrong doing that was occurring with the sexual abuse. They talk about the difficulty that both themselves and society has of balancing the image of a star and their feelings of love for the friendship, and yet acknowledging the pain and damage caused by his horrific actions.
But this article isn’t about Michael Jackson, or even specifically about sexual abuse.
It’s about balancing the difficulty between loving someone and understanding that their actions have caused us pain.
For so many of us, in fact I’d go to say a large majority of us that have experienced neglect, emotional abuse and family conflict, particularly in our early years, we are left with this inability to balance our feelings.
When we are young we have intense needs for care and our parents are often those in charge of that care. So our very survival rests in their hands. From this primal need we learn to love and look to these people to protect us and teach us about the world. We create an image of them in our minds.
Sadly when they are unable to provide adequate care and love, it’s almost impossible to let go of that image we have created, particularly when we are young. This is because we still have very strong survival needs. We protect that image as a way of protecting our survival.
So when the person we love, whose responsibility it is to nurture, empathise, keep us safe and help us grow is not able to meet those needs, and we are unable to let go of that image of love, sadly we turn our pain inwards. We believe the reason they can’t provide our needs is because WE are the unloveable ones, that WE shouldn’t have needs, that WE are too much, or not enough and there begins a life long pattern of trying to change ourselves, to become more lovable. In the hope that we can get our needs met and be safe.
Fast forward to becoming young people, then young adults, then adults, if we don’t question this belief system, we continue on taking our pain inwards. We maintain a protective barrier around the image of those we love, and may go on to create painful and self harming behaviours which express our pain. This self harm behaviour can come in many forms… negative self talk, reckless actions (which also act as a form of self regulation) and possible physical self harm. All the while we find it difficult to remove the image of our loved one, and defend it fiercely.
Then perhaps we begin to self reflect and question our relationships. As relationships form some of the biggest emotional experiences in our lives, it’s not uncommon to see patterns emerge.
But as we begin to touch on the ways our caregivers let us down, this can be frightening and scary… letting go of this image of our parents (or people who were in charge of our care) can feel like letting go of the safety we so desperately craved and needed as children.
Finding a therapist who can walk alongside us in this journey can be extremely helpful. Not only to help us understand the impact of our experiences, but to help re-learn to balance love and pain. To make space for both feelings that co-exist.
A therapist can help to take away the fear of blaming another for our experiences but help to simply learn that these experiences are valid and that other people are responsible for their impact on us. These people may never admit or own their responsibility however, relinquishing it for ourselves can be a huge weight lifted.
We may be able to learn that our experiences were not our fault, and that healing is now our responsibility. And this may cause feelings of justified anger.
Again, the loved one who caused this pain doesn’t have to experience this anger from us in order for us to heal. Learning where our boundaries are and expressing them with a safe and caring therapist may be enough.
We may find that we are able to bring compassion for the loved one who hurt us but at the SAME time own our own experiences as also being valid.
Melanie Klein talks about the good breast bad breast theory. That a child can not tolerate a mother (as referred to by the caring breast that feeds him) being both bad and good at the same time.
You will see this split of good and bad in many many movies and childhood animations and pretty much everywhere you look. You can see it too, with so many fans unable to even consider the possibility of Michael Jackson the star also being Michael the abuser.
It is hard to tolerate that what causes us pain, may also be a source of love in other ways in our lives and from our childhoods. By excluding the pain we are denying ourselves the compassion we need to heal. We deny our story and our reality. We work hard to protect what we believe is keeping us safe.
Therapy can provide that safety to work through the internal conflict and provide the growth and expansion within to tolerate the reality of both the good part of the other and the bad part of the other, and at the same time, help us to embrace our own imperfections and shadows.
Our experiences may not be our fault but to heal is our responsibility.
* this experience can be heightened if we are the children of an addict or someone who has a mental illness as they can be experienced as two or more very different people.
This post was originally created for the counselling directory and can be seen on their website here.