It's Not Your Fault - The School Of Life

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Self-Knowledge • Trauma & Childhood

It’s Not Your Fault

There’s a strange law of psychology that reveals that small children who are treated badly by their parents will always — rather strangely — blame themselves, and not their parents, for their injuries. They hate who they are rather than hating those who have done them wrong.

Small children immediately notice when they are not loved as much as they might and need to be. They understand nothing of the reasons for the hard-heartedness but feel all of the pain. And yet they need to locate some form of explanation nevertheless and quickly and intuitively settle on the one that always feels most compelling to them: that they have done something wrong

Why is mummy so agitated? 
Because they have done something wrong

Why is daddy so cold? 
Because they have done something wrong

Why aren’t they being treated kindly? 
Because they have done something wrong. 

Why is their little sister being preferred to them? 
Because they have done something wrong. 

After a little while of this, their whole character becomes oriented towards guilt: they are — in numberless ways — simply and primordially ‘bad’. 

In adult life, it takes very little to reignite a feeling that somewhere along the line, they have said and done something awful. What precise offence they believe themselves to have committed shifts according to events in their lives and the prevailing public mood: in a religious age, they may feel they have done something wrong in the eyes of god. In an age obsessed with paedophilia, they will fear they have done harm to a child. When racism is being highlighted as a leading public sin, they will be tortured that they harbour racist feelings. 

Closer to home, they will fear that they have upset their partner, hurt their friends or offended an employee. Whenever they make a new friend, they know that soon enough, the friend will realise they are ‘bad’ and let them go. What makes the guilt so hard to shake off is that they cannot exactly pinpoint its origin. 

A diffuse mood hangs over them whose title is simply: ‘I have done something wrong…’ The mood is particularly prone to descend when they are lonely; guilt thrives on isolation (just as it is love that may disperse it). 

When the mood reaches a pitch, the sufferer may fantasise about going to a police station and handing themselves in. There could be such relief in finally being able to tell the officials: I am awful, I am guilty, I have done so many wrong things… 

One could be put into handcuffs and led to the cells and there, finally, gain some relief from the awful tension. 

Needless to say, there will be no such benefit in reality; the only way to cure the guilt is to unpick its origins, that is, to realise that we are not bad at all, rather that we have been bullied without justice. 

We need — at last — to exchange self-flagellation for anger.

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