by Christina Enevoldsen
When my two-year-old grandson accomplishes anything—big or small—he celebrates. Benjamin gets a huge grin on his face and claps his hands vigorously when he goes potty on the toilet. When he puts all his toys away, he jumps in the air and shouts, “I DIT IT!” He doesn’t hide how delighted he is to master new things and he’s not ashamed to show his pleasure in himself.
As I looked back at how I’ve reacted to my accomplishments, it wasn’t anything close to delight and I seldom rejoiced. Instead, I felt shame. I couldn’t celebrate anything I did because I never thought it was good enough. The bar had to be higher. I couldn’t celebrate until I did better. But better was never good enough.
Instead of praise, I criticized myself:
“I guess that’s fine for now.”
“What took so long?”
“Anybody could have done that.”
“It could have been better.”
If I felt any sense of pride:
“Don’t get too big for your britches.”
“Pride goes before the fall.”
I carried those voices into my healing from sexual abuse. Whatever breakthroughs I had, however I grew, whatever I faced, it wasn’t good enough. I always wanted to be healthier than I was. I thought if I was happy with my progress, I’d become too comfortable and I might quit. I believed I needed to be hard on myself to motivate me to keep going—the same motivation that was used on me by all my abusers.
My abusers “promised” me approval and acceptance if I could just do this one more thing. If I did that thing, I would be loved; if I didn’t, I wasn’t worthy. So I’d sweat blood to do that one thing and then suddenly, it wasn’t that thing, it was something else. I was a continual failure in my abuser’s eyes and in my own.
I was convinced I was a failure, though I was driven to prove I wasn’t. I thought if I could do something so great and so big that nobody—not even my toughest critics—could dispute or ignore it, THEN I would really be somebody. In my mind, since my abusers denied me the approval I craved, they were the sources of it. I didn’t see any other way to be worthy than to be deemed worthy by them. But somewhere on the way to my grand accomplishments, before I was able to proudly shout to the world, “Look at me!” I burned out. I drove my body into the ground and nearly couldn’t function at all.
When I recognized why I was so hard on myself, I grieved. I grieved the lifetime of missed rewards and celebrations. I grieved the loss of my emotional and physical well-being while I was desperate to earn my value. I grieved the pleasure and satisfaction I was denied from my work. I grieved that I never knew how wonderful I am apart from my efforts.
Love and approval were withheld from me by others, but I don’t have to continue to withhold it from me. I was never celebrated by them, but that doesn’t mean I’m not deserving of it. Now that I know the truth, I’m free to honor my accomplishments because I’m able to honor me. I can jump in the air and shout, “I DID IT! I learned to celebrate!!”
Speaking of accomplishments, I’d love to hear your progress in healing. Please share in the comments. Lets celebrate OVERCOMING !!
Finding My Lost Childhood After Sexual Abuse
Is Overcoming Sexual Abuse Really Possible?
My Healing Journey: Stumbling and Getting Back Up
Stand-in or Star: Taking Center Stage in Your Healing
Microwave Healing: I Want to Feel Better NOW
I’m Christina Enevoldsen and I’m the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse and the author of The Rescued Soul: The Writing Journey for the Healing of Incest and Family Betrayal. I’m a Strategic Interventionist and Certified Professional Life Coach with a specialty Life Story Certification. As a survivor of incest, sex trafficking and a 21-year long abusive marriage (now remarried to an emotionally healthy, loving and supportive man), I bring personal experience, empathy, and insight as well as professional training to help childhood sexual abuse survivors thrive.