When you view your needs and desires as a moral failure, you turn your body against itself. Forgive yourself and grant yourself the right to want more.
Polly, your columns - amazing on their own - are, I'm finding, also great as a complement to therapy and related work. I have spoken with several people including my therapist about one of your recent columns about shame and forgiveness. Thank you.
To the LW: having also moved abroad twice in my late teens and early twenties, I think people really underestimate how disruptive and difficult that can be. And also as someone who also experienced abusive behavior as a child, it takes years to be able to encounter yourself in a loving way and really apprehend your own innocence. Because thinking of yourself as “innocent” feels wrong, since we as a society think that abuse and illness only happen to people who somehow “deserve” it. But I have truly high hopes for you. You’re so self aware. You’re starting on this path relatively early in life at 25. I believe that you’ll be freer over the months and years with the advice that Polly dispensed. Rooting for you.
As someone who spent decades working through shame and self-hatred, I can tell you, LW, that Polly's advice is spot on. Having privileges can't cancel out your burning desire for more/different. Working hard toward a big move doesn't mean you have to love—or even like—the end result. Life is one continuous trial and error experiment, so keep using those passions, that strength and drive, to try the next thing, big or small. Abuse messes with your self-worth so deeply, you can find yourself (at least, I find myself) self-blaming for the most ludicrous things. I promise that with time and therapy, you'll one day be able to laugh at how silly it is to consider yourself a failure for something like the housing crisis or for anything at all really. The day I knew I'd crested the peak of self-worth was the day I wrote at the top of my (friggin') obligatory daily gratitude list, "ME."
My goodness, I just loved this. I don't have anything meaningful to contribute, except that learning to forgive myself was one of my biggest goals of my thirties, and it has changed how I view almost everything. I'm much happier in myself, and less angry at other people too. The world still sucks a lot and I hate how it makes us view ourselves and interact with others, but as long as I can control my own narrative at myself, it makes everything else just a little less overwhelming, and a lot more filled with possibility, curiosity and wonder.
I often think when reading this column, "wow this is just like me," but today's LW could actually be me. Mostly, I just want to let Always Miserable know how much I relate to her. I also grew up in a home that offered material needs, status, and privilege as well as physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. I learned to survive through an eating disorder, which I now have 12 years of very imperfect recovery from. I continue to struggle with a desire for more meaning, joy, fullness, and inspiration. As Polly says, my disease tells me this is just entitlement, lack of gratitude, or chronic dissatisfaction. But really, my desires are a strength and anything that tells me otherwise is shame. I'm lucky to have a good therapist, but I haven't totally mastered the forgiveness piece! As Polly says, this may take years. I think I've experienced glimmers of it, though, and I think it's best encapsulated in the passage below, which I'm going to save somewhere for myself to refer back to:
"You will feel justified in wanting more. And that will suddenly be enough.
And after work, you’ll sit in your apartment, talking to your husband about small adjustments you can make right now, to crawl toward a life that feels right. No gigantic changes just yet, just small things, little discoveries, ways to meet new people, ways to feel more affectionate and connected, ways to explore the city and enjoy the time you spend there, no matter how long that ends up being.
And the more you talk about how you honestly feel, and describe how impossibly enormous you realize your desires are, and you admit that it’s incredibly hard to allow yourself to dream big or to savor small things, that all of the things are hard for you, and you cry suddenly, and your husband holds your hand and says, “I get it.”?
That moment is enough.
That’s what forgiving yourself will do for you. It will make the present moment enough. It will make WANTING MORE acceptable, and even enjoyable, because it won’t be about obsessively mapping out an escape from the current moment. Wanting more will become a way of savoring what you have. Admitting your dislikes will be a way of embracing what you love. Being your wretched, picky, impatient, annoyed self, who hates everything, will be a way of loving yourself."
If I can offer anything further, it's that you don't have to give up on battling your eating disorder. And in fact, your ED is only keeping you stuck in the shame. Again, my recovery is by no means perfect. I still grapple with obsessing over food and my body, but it's nowhere near what it was (starving, purging, compulsively exercising every day; walking around CLOAKED in shame). I'd be happy to talk about what worked for me any time!
You know how the victims of the violent are known for violence, or at least the tendency? Well, I'm thinking about that with shame.
I'm catching myself, with the best of intentions, subtly shaming others. While this does make me feel ashamed, if I forgive them, and stay quiet, I'm also forgiving myself.
Shame does not appear from nowhere.
I think this means I'm not going to be giving much advice for a time, unless it's very clearly asked for, even though it's part of my job to comment on and approve many things!
Hey Polly — I wonder if you might have a recommendation for a book or books about dealing with shame? I know this runs counter to your advice — that it's about FEELING shame and forgiving yourself, not trying to think your way through it — but I'm finding this one tricky to get a handle on. Thank you.
Thank you, thank you thank you. What a gift!
This hit home like a swift dart piercing the bullseye. A complete and utter mirror, without the loving husband but the two continents and the shabby building and renting.
I don’t hate my job but know I am capable of so much more. I’m a teacher as well as a nurse. My outside face is compassionate and hilarious and my inside moody and lonely. I want love but feel I don’t deserve it or that it will end in disaster as always.
I was a child in Ireland, during the civil war. A real Derry Girl; which holds no humour for me. I also dealt with a domestic war behind closed doors. In spite of PTSD I found myself at Oxford, and then Sydney Universities.
I am now 7 years out of a narcissistic abusive relationship which almost cost me my life. It did cost me all my financial worth and I’m am so ashamed. I mix with multi millionaires whom inadvertently and unknowingly make it feel 10 times worse.
Not only have I gleaned some fabulous insight I embrace the articulate intellect with which you pen these letters; My heart sings as words are my thing and I have neglected that side of me. It’s one of the missing pillars. A large hole in my psyche. I will survive. I will subscribe! I will learn to forgive. Oh I mouth those words over and over again, but I need to really dig deeper to set down my carried shame.
So much truth 😢