Help me stop thinking I'm evil.
April 10, 2006 5:04 AM   Subscribe

Will I ever be able to stop thinking that I am evil?

My father sexually abused me when I was a little girl, and I believe that I caused it because I am evil and deserve to have bad things happen to me.

Currently I'm in my 30s and have a pretty good life. I have been in a great relationship for over 5 years, I am successful in a job that I enjoy, I have great friends and a great therapist. My relationship with my family is distant but OK; by my choice, I have not had contact with my father in over 10 years. I'm proud of the life that I have built, and I even hesitate to post this question because I keep thinking my problem is not that bad.

Deep down, though, I still feel like I am deeply, fundamentally evil and that I will contaminate and destroy anything I contact. This causes me all kinds of problems. For example, it is very hard for me to believe that my partner truly loves me, because I'm convinced I am unlovable. I have a lot of trouble asking for help with anything, because why would anyone ever want to help me? (I may be the only woman in the world who refuses to ask for directions.) I have a low-level background conviction that I'm a fraud, just getting by pretending to be a good person, and someday I'll be found out and exposed for the monster that I am.

Therapy has helped me understand the reason for this: if the abuse was my fault, then I can hold on to the idea that my father loved me - he "had" to abuse me, because I'm so evil - and therefore I'm spared the full pain of what he did.

OK, I understand this intellectually, but I still want to stop feeling this way because it is a pain in the ass. Yes, I'll continue in therapy, but what else could help?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I had the same background conviction, the same sense of contamination, the same inability to ask for help, but my coping mechanism was "Well, it was my fault that I decided to go into the woods with him." Everything stemmed from there- if I'd been a reasonable, sensible 6 year-old, none of this would have ever happened.

The only thing that made it better was having a child, and having a child reach the age of 6. Then, I saw from the outside, objectively, that there is nothing reasonable or sensible in a kid that age no matter how smart and clever s/he may be. I don't know if that could be transferable to your situation- if you have kids available to examine for the kind of evil that would deserve that sort of punishment- or if that would help, but that's what made all the difference for me.

I still don't feel *great* about myself, 100% of the time; I still have some lingering issues and fears, but, it's not all the time now, and I can go weeks or months without thinking dire thoughts about myself. It's not perfect, but hey, what is?
posted by headspace at 5:35 AM on April 10, 2006

Sometimes I feel guilty for earning more money than seems fair compared to my friends, and for having built a position within my own business that truly lets me do very little work if I want to and still survive comfortably.

I feel "bad" that I got a good shake, but only occasionally. I have moments of clarity where I simply realize that this is how the world has to be, until Star Trek becomes the utopian reality, and that I should do my best to take advantage of my good life and enjoy it, and also, to be kind and help others.

I don't think I've done anything in particular to deserve any of this, but I'm not living the life of luxury or anything, either. Still, there are people (cultures, countries, continents) that work two-three times as hard as I do and barely have the clothes for their backs to show for it.

I don't think I'm unlovable, but I used to have trouble with letting my in-built humility just run amok. I dated a girl who was extremely hubristic, but just enough so that she was at least accurate. It was crazy to see someone so outwardly proud of themself, but being around her pushed me to accept my talents, accomplishments and abilities more outwardly as well, and I found that experience invaluable. People like you even more when they see that you at least like yourself. You can cross the line into sheer cockiness, but sometimes it's a risk you take and you count on others to let you know how nuts you're being. Take more pride in yourself—you seem to have built something pretty impressive with someone whom you love.

It must be incredibly difficult to resolve your emotional worth based on your experience with abuse, but I've never been subjected to that, and I can't profess to know what it's like. While I'd love to say that you should do your best to proactively force that issue away from having any control over what's a very successful, well-to-do life, I know it's far easier said than done, and I think that the therapy is the best bet with that.

It's easy to convince yourself that you could damage people. It's easy to worry and grow wrought with concern that you could destroy someone's balance or hurt someone's feelings. And the reality is that you could, conceivably. But in all likeliness, it would only be 1% of how bad you're believing your impact would be.

I'm not sure what you expect us to say when we expose your monsteresque qualities. I think people let their inner demons manifest too strongly for their own goods. Only you can see them, and only you'd expose them. Everyone has little bits of "evil." I think you should try your hardest to not try. Focusing on it gives it more weight, when letting it simply fall out of your consciousness allows it to be swept under the rug, while your fantastic qualities shine through even to you.

It of course goes without saying that no one deserves to be sexually abused, and that simply, you weren't the evil party in that situation. It's important to truly try to accept yourself, and to ignore this perceived evilness. It's not what it's cracked up to be, and it's not really there. Think monsters under the bed: You need to think about them for them to exist. And yet, quitting is still easier said than done. I refer you to Calvin's take on the matter.

I wish you the best, and wish I could offer more of a concrete, one-stop-pill to exorcise your prescribed sense of evil, but it shouldn't be more complex than it already is, and you shouldn't let it take hold anymore. Evil is a strong, shudder-inducing word. If it helps, just remember that you're not that good at faking being good, and thus, you haven't really "tricked" anyone. The devil you're not. Someone who has made the best of a rough start (to say the very least) and who can embrace what they have in front of them, without the word "evil" even entering the scene, you are.
posted by disillusioned at 5:37 AM on April 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

Whoa. You're father abused you, and you're evil? Your father should have his balls cut off and force-fed to him. There is no greater evil than a father who abuses his child. It's a betrayal of trust on all levels. Until you put the evil where it belongs - for God's sake, out the man. Expose him for what he is - how can you ever get over these feelings? Has your therapist said anything about this?

On so many levels, you need to make this public. Who is he preying on now? These sick bastards don't stop with one child. Who else has he done this to? Who else is afraid to speak up? Who else is protecting his public persona at their expense?

What he did to you had nothing to do with love, one way or another, and nothing to do with you, except that you were helpless and available. It had to do with self-gratification, selfishness. It was all about him.
posted by clarkstonian at 5:47 AM on April 10, 2006

Do you have a religious tradition? Are you open to religion? I know that my wranglings with depression and anxiety have been easier with the help of my therapist, my shrink and my church. I tend to beat myself up over my failings and hearing the message of God's love over and over again DOES make a difference in the way I perceive myself. The triple threat of forgiveness, redemption and unconditional love works for me.

I know that the women's ministry of my denomination recommends this book.

I don't know you, but I know you are not evil. I know you are hurting, and see yourself as damaged goods, but I know you can heal, and grow stronger through the healing.

Peace to you.
posted by Biblio at 5:57 AM on April 10, 2006

These thoughts that you are evil are just that: thoughts. Just because you think something, doesn't make it true (even if it feels true). And now that you've had insight-oriented therapy to KNOW they're not true and to know from whence they came, if you are willing to try therapy again, there is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy--practical training to separate yourself from these thoughts so that they don't have such a ring of emotional "truth" anymore. Along those lines, meditation may help, for similar reasons. Email's in the profile--you are not alone.
posted by availablelight at 6:04 AM on April 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

i'm not sure there is much more. in my experience, you've taken all the big steps. now it's just a case of letting time wear the thing away. which can drive you crazy, because it's so much slower than the big changes you've already been through. there are times when it's going to feel like it's too damn much just because it's always there, no matter how small, and no matter how good life is. but it will get better, slowly.

just thinking about things helps. there's a temptation, once you get things "sorted out" to a certain point, to just forget about it, because living is generally good enough. but if you remember to think about things, every now and then - just turn them over in your head - it helps spread out the pain, wears off the sharp edges.

it's a war of slow attrition. take little steps over a long time. ask someone for directions one day.

other than that, you just keep on going. enjoy life. when it gets too much scream or cry or throw a plate against the wall or whatever, and then pick things up and go on.

[i feel kind of fake for writing this, because my experience isn't with being abused, but i suspect the basic problem is the same; hope it helps]
posted by andrew cooke at 6:24 AM on April 10, 2006

If you'll forgive me for reading between the lines more than a little bit, I get the feeling that you are perhaps starting to wonder if your current therapy is getting you to where you want to be as fast as it should be. I hope that if that is the case you won't let your self-esteem issues prevent you from looking into alternatives.

Also, the really obvious advice is to get involved with good causes, through volunteering or fundraising or whatever. This is pretty much guaranteed to make you feel at least a bit better about yourself. It is arguably unfair that you would need this to feel like a decent human being, but you're far from alone.

Finally, all that we can really infer from your father's behavior is that he had a terrible weakness. You don't have to choose between hating him and hating yourself.
posted by teleskiving at 6:41 AM on April 10, 2006

You may have Scrupulosity, like myself. Please read my experiences from the link provided and email me if you have any questions.
posted by rinkjustice at 6:47 AM on April 10, 2006

Wow, aside from the reasons leading up to it, your feelings sound exactly like mine. I went one step further and didn't think myself as really human--some kind of aborted demon-creature that crawled from my mother's womb, sent on Earth to bring pain to everything worth caring for and undeserving of anything but contempt and hate. Sounds ridiculous when I type it, but for a long, long time that's how I felt. To some degree I still feel that way, but it is a helluva lot better than it used to be.

It helps tremendously to have a supportive network of friends and loved ones who told me that I was a good person, and provided continuous love and friendship. Enough that sometimes I'm even able to accept that love without feeling guilty or like I'm burdening them. In addition, I'm separating myself as much as possible from the source of my feelings--my family, in this case.

To some degree (and this did not help as much initially, but helps later down the line), I also thought about how I was evil, and strove to address those traits. For instance, if I thought I was selfish I tried to be less so, if I thought I was annoying I tried to be less so.

And y'know, it sounds very simple, but eating healthfully, exercising, and keeping busy enough that I'm not brooding in bad thoughts helps a lot.

So yes, it does go away. Little by little, day by day, the things that you know intellectually will become what you know emotionally. Take heart and keep working at it.

(On th subject of parental love: Your father is, at best, a seriously sick and disturbed man. It can be really fucking hard to hear that even if you know it's the truth, because everybody wants to have good parents that love them and it hurts so goddamn much when you feel that's not the case. But you must, must understand, that when your parents hurt you, especially when you are that young, it is not your fault. It will never be your fault. It is their fault. And it is OK, it is OK if they do not love you. I don't mean it's OK for parents to not love their children--I mean that you will receive so much love from so many other places that are not your father, that the beauty and necessity of your existence is so validated by everyone else around you, that his love is unimportant. His love is not a love worth deceiving yourself for. The lack of it makes no judgement on you as a person or your ability to love or be loved. Family is not the people who have biological ties. It is the network of people whom you engage in mutually supportive and loving emotional relationships.)
posted by schroedinger at 6:56 AM on April 10, 2006

Little techniques that help are to recognize the thoughts when they happen and take a moment to first validate the underlying feeling and then to put the literal message into a reasonable context. This is very effective in eliminating black-and-white thinking. An example might be, you break something you're trying to fix: Thought: "I can't do anything right." Validation: "wow, that really is a hard thing to fix. Anybody would be frustrated (underlying emotion)." Context: "This was hard, I can do many things just fine. On another day, I could probably do this too."

This teaches you to learn to be kind to yourself, to feel your emotions and choose how you're going to react and act on them.

Also, if you find yourself giving yourself grief every time someone pays you a compliment, train yourself (and it is training) to say "thank you" and to mean it. Your own poor self-treatment is training (intentional or not). You can train yourself out of it too.
posted by plinth at 6:58 AM on April 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

Anonymous, it sucks you had to suffer through that abuse as a child, and it takes a lot of guts to ask for help.

One of the most useful things for me to overcome everything from negative thoughts about myself to more deeply ingrained, scar-thoughts like your own has been to challenge these thoughts in written journal entries. (Along the same lines as what many people here are suggesting.) With guidance from my own therapist, I pulled a worksheet from "Feeling Good Therapy" by David Burns (an awesome book), and go through it when I really want to work on these automatic thoughts. The questions are along this line: "What's the evidence that this automatic thought is true? What's the evidence that it isn't true? What's the worst that could happen? What would I say to a friend who thought this? etc" Somehow actually writing the answers down makes this "stick" better.

It takes more than just one entry to address these thoughts, mostly. And it has slowly helped trained my thinking to not just take those thoughts as truth and to challenge them to make sure I'm going in a positive direction. If you'd like to get a copy of this worksheet, Anon, pm me.

Take care and peace to you.
posted by lucyleaf at 7:12 AM on April 10, 2006

A year or so ago, I found myself in the same situation in therapy. I'd gotten very good at "figuring out" my problems intellectually. But I wasn't getting any emotional relief from them.

After a while, I realized that thinking was one of my defense mechanisms. If I stepped back and thought about a situation, I didn't have to dive in and experience it in all its messy emotional chaos. The more sure I was that I had my feelings figured out, the less I had to — you know — feel them. It was a great defense mechanism, but it was a huge fucking roadblock in therapy, where the whole point is to work out the feelings themselves.

There were a few things that helped me, and I wonder if they might help you too.

One was a meditation class at the Zen center in town. The idea behind Zen practice, as they explained it, is that the less you overthink your life the more directly you can experience it. That was a helpful idea for me, and the practices they taught me were useful, even though I don't consider myself Buddhist. (Other kinds of meditation might help too. I wouldn't know; I haven't tried 'em.)

Another was falling in love and having a lot of really good sex — that's a direct, messy, emotional experience that you just can't step back from and rationalize.

Another was changing the focus of my therapy. I stopped trying to analyze what was going on and started just talking about how it felt — physically and emotionally. I stopped trying to understand my brain and started paying attention to my body and my gut feelings.

YM, of course, MV. Keep up the good fight. You'll find something that works for you in the end.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:19 AM on April 10, 2006

I'm proud of the life that I have built, and I even hesitate to post this question because I keep thinking my problem is not that bad.

There is some good advice on this thread so far, but I just want to say: This is a problem worth confronting. The fact that you don't consider it to be "that bad" means that you're trivializing some part of your self-worth. You are most certainly worth the time.
posted by mikeh at 7:20 AM on April 10, 2006

Could you forgive your father? I know that will sound odd, and there are plenty in this thread who would suggest that it is not what he deserves. They are probably right.

This isn't about him though, it's about you. Forgiveness is closure. All those things you should have done, all the things you meant to say and maybe one day will. Forget them all - all of the things that were done and not done in that relationship. Forgive the whole lot - everything.

If you can do it, and really mean it, some kind of symbolic act is helpful. For me it was a jump into a waterfall. Whatever works for you. It's pretty simple, powerful stuff. You are rising above evil. It might help.
posted by grahamwell at 7:38 AM on April 10, 2006

In my experience as a doc dealing with folks like yourself, adult survivors of childhood abuse often have a hard time, and a lot of suggestions above seem off the mark to me.

I do think that the things that are likely to help have already been suggested. Continuing with therapy is good. Cognitive-behavior therapy has been the kind of therapy that seems to help my patients the most, but my patients tend to use dissociation as their primary coping style.

I also think that striving to have good, healthy interpersonal relationships is important for someone like you. Find healthy, happy people; make friends; and be intimate in healthy ways, as far as your comfort zone allows. These experiences can help to remodel the dysfunctional models you developed when you were too young to have any control over the matter.

I don't think that analytic going-over of the memories of abuse is any good for you, and I think that all the chin music about blame and forgiveness in the above thread is simply irrelevant. Having lots of sex is not going to fix the problem, and neither is reading a web page about a religious obsession.

Keep trying; don't give up; don't do anything rash that would interrupt or undo the great progress that you've already made. As andrew cooke points out, you've already made great steps just in being able to understand and express some of the causal patterns that have brought you to this point. That is the hard part; the next part is just change, which requires only time and patient gentleness towards yourself.

Good luck!
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:17 AM on April 10, 2006

Do you keep any pets? Their affections are so much simpler than those of people that it's hard to play such complicated rationalization games about why they love you. When a cat loves you, it's all gravy.

Very basic suggestion, but I dunno... might help.

Also - maybe it's time to see your father and lay this shit at his doorstep. Have you confronted him about this, ever? Not seeing him sounds like a good choice on many levels. But perhaps you do have unfinished business.
posted by scarabic at 8:33 AM on April 10, 2006

I don't know what specifically might help you, but it strikes me as hideously tragic that not only did he abuse you and you had to endure it, but that you must endure this persistent belief that gives you so much pain. It's as though the abuse never ends.

Best of luck to you. You deserve to feel good about yourself, and you are not evil.

He is the evil one, not you.
posted by beth at 8:37 AM on April 10, 2006

I can't imagine what you've been through, but in my experiences with counselling and that sort of thing, lots of repetition of positive thoughts and behaviour is as important as talking something through. I think CBT is along those lines. I don't feel I know enough to recommend this to you, but Paul Mckenna - Instant Confidence has helped me a lot although it can be cheesy.
posted by lunkfish at 8:43 AM on April 10, 2006

Therapy has helped me understand the reason for this: if the abuse was my fault, then I can hold on to the idea that my father loved me - he "had" to abuse me, because I'm so evil - and therefore I'm spared the full pain of what he did.

OK, I understand this intellectually, but I still want to stop feeling this way because it is a pain in the ass. Yes, I'll continue in therapy, but what else could help?

I guess it comes down to how you want to feel about it and how you feel you could live with one resolution or another. If you wanted to still feel that he loved you and "had" to do it, you could use a rationalization that it was karma. I use this as my solace in times of trouble or when I'm treated badly (although never to the same extent that you were).

I'd say the important thing is to stop it lingering and to stop it affecting your future so much. Do you think you could rationalize it in your own mind as being bad karma which you've now 'burned off'? It might not be the solution for you, but it works for some people.
posted by wackybrit at 8:49 AM on April 10, 2006

Evil, my arse.
posted by Mrs.Doyle at 8:53 AM on April 10, 2006


I can't help but feel a little bit formerly in league with your way of thinking -- I am the poster of this question from a bit earlier who has a bit of an update. To recap: I had a terrible difficulty overcoming the idea that attraction and a special variety of homicide were linked, and when I thought of one the other came to mind. The similarity between us is that I also trained myself (by a different sort of rationale) to think I was evil, except in a deliberate way rather than being afflicted by it. After realizing my folly in thinking, I tried to un-adopt this pattern of thinking and couldn't as best I possibly tried. I prayed about it consistently and sought help from others.

I am cured of it, though, now. Thankfully, there is absolutely no relationship between the two anymore. I realized, with only scripture pondering and soul searching as my therapists, that on more than one occasion my parents teased me about girlfriend matters when I was younger, and absolutely loathed that type of negative attention. From then on I could no longer approach a family member about such topics, and essentially eliminated that particular pursuit altogether. I was also fairly well picked-on in school and have a condition called Essential Tremors (only found that out this past March what the condition was) that makes my hands shake very visibly when I'm nervous/ intimidated/ emotionally-turbulent/etc. My frustration with being unable to seek after girls the way my friends could and with a desire to overpower bullies, gave way for a serial-killer/vampire persona to emerge and take root quickly, because with this particular perspective I was stronger than everyone else. Since I couldn't run after the gals and having newly adopted the five-finger shuffle habit with frequency, I decided to use them as fantasy prey, "since it wasn't actually hurting someone" and "if I can't have them, no one will." From there, I was deliberately evil-thinking in mind, and inadvertently trained myself to think such ways pretty much 24/7. After realizing the folly of my thinking, I determined I needed to stop thinking in such destructive patterns and resolved that I would not pursue romance until this pattern was successfully obliterated.

Instead of a "if I'm doomed, then I'm taking everyone down with me" attitude a serial killer might likewise possess, I changed it to, "if I am uncomfortable being in this world, I can at least make it more comfortable for others."

Scripture also had a little to say on the matter. The bible says that all people, everywhere, are unworthy of heaven (Romans 3:10, 3:23) and that permanent death is the reward for that imperfection (1 Corinthians 6:9, Romans 6:23). Christ, however, was the only perfect person according to God's standards and didn't deserve to die, but was killed by his own creation[man]. He was given life again to rememdy that fact, but the unwarranted death still remained a stain in the formula of [sin=death; sinless=life]. So the offer is made that all who will die (everyone) may use this unwarranted death on the record books as a voucher in place of their own (2 Corinthians 5:12, 1 Peter 3:18, John 3:16, Romans 10:4) and upon Christ's return will be given life again. I recognized my flaws in worthiness, and prayed for redemption via replacement of this unwarranted death for mine which is available to all those who merely ask for it (because upon the coming judgment, even every idle word spoken will be revealed (Hebrews 9:27, Mark 4:22, Matthew 12:38 & 10:26, 2 Peter 3:9) and when that prayer comes up on record, it will be granted (Romans 10:13).

Knowing that, under God's view of my permanent record, I have been granted an unwarranted blessing, I can no longer consider myself evil, since the judge of what is-or-isn't has himself claimed otherwise, as can you if having prayed for this.

There was still much regret for still possessing such a temptation to link relationships with evil intentions, but after hearing sermon upon sermon about it by happenstance, it simply sank in that temptation is not something to feel guilty over. I used to be convinced by my temptation that "I am a serial killer who has simply not made the first strike," but that changed after I heard a witty quip about becoming a rock star: "Those aspiring to be rock stars have just as much in common with those asipiring to be dentists. Neither are rock stars, because neither have yet rocked." Just because I was tempted to, didn't mean I was.

I was also inspired by a dream I had at the beginning of this year where normally I would have just fallen for the temptation outrightly but to my surprise didn't -- and didn't even think about how tempting that really would have been -- realizing that I had come to rely so desperately on wishing to no longer have this temptation to being without it and not even realizing it yet, coupled with an experience of a romantic love that I had not yet ever felt before, so important and touching to me on incredible inward levels that family ridicule was of no concern.

I had so often linked relationships with being ashamed (and that shame causing frustration/anger, and that anger leading to justification for the persona) that when presented with a circumstance in the dream where I felt no concern for such shame in such an encounter, the prior formula was destroyed. In this way, I think that possibly your distrust of your father may be inadvertently applied to others such as your special guy. I strongly suspect that a significant demonstration of an intense love for you, on a level that impacts you on a profound level, probably best from a male, would shatter your current perception. Having been unable to trust your father so early in life without some degree of fear or severe hesitation to be near him may be inadvertently preventing you from receiving love expressed from another guy because he reminds you of your father in some capacity. I would suggest taking into account just how much people demonstrate their love for you at least as a starter, and by expressing your love for friends also.

I would not advise taking clarkstonian(3rd poster)'s advice by seeking some sort of vengeful the-hell-with-you attitude. As frustrating and life-changing as it is, it would be just as flawed-thinking to believe that he isn't ashamed of it himself, or could ever be. A perpetual hatred and deliberate disgruntlement for your dad will probably fuel distrust for others in the future. Recognizing him as a flawed person, just like everyone else is (without minimizing the incident) could make eventually reaching a point where you could forgive him much easier.
posted by vanoakenfold at 9:20 AM on April 10, 2006

Will I ever be able to stop thinking that I am evil?

Evil is a relative term, but in general, an evil person either has no empathy or is able to very easily rationalize extremely selfish acts. You seem to have neither of these traits, I think what you mean is "cursed", rather than evil. And there's no such thing as a curse.

Therapy has helped me understand the reason for this: if the abuse was my fault, then I can hold on to the idea that my father loved me - he "had" to abuse me, because I'm so evil - and therefore I'm spared the full pain of what he did.

Can this really be true? I can see where therapy would try to identify a primary misconception, but there would have to be so many illogical beleifs as a foundation to this belief, like "there are evil children", "evil children get abused more than good children", "evil children can be cured/deserve abuse", "an otherwise loving father has a duty to abuse evil children"... Maybe you could seek a second opinion from a different councillor.
posted by 445supermag at 10:16 AM on April 10, 2006

Heck, if you can stand another religious reference-the Christian preacher Joyce Meyers has written and spoken fairly frankly about growing up with a father who repetitively committed sexual abuse/rape on her-even forcing her to say she enjoyed it. Whether or not you agree with her faith, I think she has some pretty powerful things to say about incest and abuse. I know she had a tape series out that addressed it and I am pretty sure some of her books also speak of it. Might be worth investigating.
posted by konolia at 10:26 AM on April 10, 2006

I would just like to second what nebulawindphone had to say.

Particularly, that thinking is far more often a way of avoiding dealing with emotions than a way of making progress in coping with them.
posted by tkolar at 10:41 AM on April 10, 2006

just to reinforce here - evil doesn't exist, it's just something Man created to provide explanation when bad stuff happens.

My dimestore psychology is that you've externalized this - it's a way for you to explain something you had no control over. Forget this "evil" nonsense and deal with it head on. You were a victim, but you don't have to remain one. Take charge - only you can heal yourself.
posted by hellbient at 10:57 AM on April 10, 2006

(Disclaimer: I'm almost never this cheesy.)

Have you tried feeling sorry for that poor girl that was abused, actively sending love to that core inner self, visualizing yourself as a very good and inwardly-beautiful person who deserves love, and picturing the outward manifestations you want to achieve by this?

It's cheesy, but try it. :) One time I noticed, "wow, I spend more time cleaning the living room than my own room! Do I respect my roommates more than my own self?" So, for a couple days, whenever I remembered, I'd mentally send myself loving energy and envision myself as someone truly, deeply good, who deserved a clean, beautiful room. I forgot to keep doing this, and then I forgot I'd even done it. Then, three weeks later, I found myself wondering, "wow, since when am I a neat freak?? This is amazing! I've never kept a room this clean for so long..... Ohhhhhh!"

I'm not saying that whatever lack of self-love led to my dirty room is the same as the lasting effects of childhood abuse -- and I'm so sorry for your experience. But you might give this a try. It's such a minor time investment, there's not much to lose. Just send love to that core self and imagine yourself as a good person.
posted by salvia at 11:20 AM on April 10, 2006

This is going to be strange, but you can't fill up that hole. You have to work around it. Your problem is that you keep seeing normal regular everyday things through the prism of something that happened to you long ago.

Put another way, I've recently come to the realization that I can't take back the past and I can't fill the hole where something more loving was supposed to be.

This means that you have to stop trying to do so. I found that I was always trying to use the fact that someone loved me now to fill up the hole. It was ultimately unfair to them and not what they signed up for. They are there to love you as you are now and they can't fix what happend in the past. You might be doing this too.

As Jeff Tweety says, "no one has found how to unring the bell."
posted by Ironmouth at 11:23 AM on April 10, 2006

Oh, here's an alternative to what I just said, if it feels too silly. I know people who have invested healing power in external things. They believed that a certain place was a "healing landscape," or they believed that plants send out healing energy. Then, they went to that place, or put plants in their house, and they believed that those things were healing them. In Mary Austin's story, The Walking Woman found herself "sobered and healed at last by the large, open soundness of nature." Someone else I know healed her own cancer this way, supposedly. (I'm not denying the value of professional help -- just saying, some people feel this technique has a lot of power.)

So you could ask yourself what you believe will heal your belief that you're evil and then seek that out, assuming it's something it'd be healthy to get attached to. In my opinion, it's still your own mind doing the work -- the imagination is a powerful force -- the question is how to harness it.

Another way to explain what I'm trying to say is "fake it till you make it," or "the hand teaches the heart." You could internally fake the feeling that you're a good person, until you actually do believe that you are. You understand intellectually that you're not evil, so you could practice feeling that way, even if only for moments at a time. Lots of luck and best wishes.
posted by salvia at 11:44 AM on April 10, 2006

I wonder if you are thinking what I am, anonymous: these guys posting here don't really know me, so for all they know, I may really be evil, still. If only they knew the real me.
"...I'm convinced I am unlovable. I have a lot of trouble asking for help with anything, because why would anyone ever want to help me? (I may be the only woman in the world who refuses to ask for directions.) I have a low-level background conviction that I'm a fraud, just getting by pretending to be a good person, and someday I'll be found out and exposed for the monster that I am."
It's painful to see you write what I could have written myself. I never get so far as to think I am evil, just worthless. I wasn't sexually abused. Just neglected, unprotected, unguided and oppressed by the incompetence of the adults around me.
I have learnt to accept the gifts of affection and acknowledgement that my friends and colleagues offer me, but I know that I have to do this last bit on my own. I like to think rationally and sceptically, and hope this tiny bit is helpful: if you were evil (accepting for the sake of discussion that evil does exist), would you even have asked this question? Wouldn't an evil person have such confidence that their evilness was ok that they would not wish to risk the discovery that may occur after posting this question? At the risk of seeming to appeal to authority, mathowie for one clearly wouldn't have permitted this anon question, if he thought you were actually evil.

It's probably too much of a stretch to see if you can abandon the concept of evil, though there are a good many people who do not think it exists - as a useful description of human behaviour, anyway. In my view, your dad's behaviour was weak, immoral, callow, stupid, hurtful and bullying. It is likely (if 'the girl is mother to the woman') that you were beautiful, young, lively, bright, upright, sensitive, caring and intelligent. He wanted the things you were, because he needed it. Then, he gave you something that you did not need - a faulty self-image.
I'm sorry - on preview, that just seems too much 'in the brain', and not in the heart.
So I'll tell you how I diminished the power of the resentment I felt towards my mum. Those feelings, though not of the magnitude yours seem still to be, were hurting me and tying me to a past no-one lelse seemed to know. Two years ago last Sunday, on Mothers Day 2004, I did a ritual: I gathered some friends, some family that I trusted, and located a place of significance from my childhood. I found something that symbolised my resentment - a large piece of silk, the same shade of emerald green that my gorgeous cardigan was, before my mum threw out when I was seven.
My friends and family held hands whilst I lit the first piece, and they helped me destroy it by throwing snippets onto the flames.
Then we had a wonderful lunch, to celebrate the letting go (I realised a couple of months ago - I hardly think of her at all these days - a blessed relief).
My mother gave me things that I didn't need, and she is not around to take them back. So I gathered up my personal power, and, for once in my life asking for help from people (and crikey - I received it!), I destroyed what I didn't need any more.
I'm not happy. I'm not 'fixed'. But I don't have that which I hated - a feeling that I knew was past it's sell by date.
Apologies for the cheesy last section, but that's how it happened. If it assists anyone, or if you wanna know more, my email is in my profile.
posted by dash_slot- at 12:44 PM on April 10, 2006

I hesitate to add, but I have a few techniques that I thought I might share. I'm going to talk about myself here, because I don't know what you "should" do. I'll tell you, as best I can, what I did do to deal with something that seems similar (though the abuse I suffered was not sexual). Perhaps you will find it useful.

First, I gave up on the concept of closure. When I get a deep cut, I don't expect the scar to disappear. Eventually, I stopped waiting for the feelings that I had about my childhood to disappear too.

Instead of closure or forgiveness and definitely instead of confrontation (what could that possibly result in? Can he undo what was done? No! Is he likely to admit/understand what he did? Not in my case) I focused on giving up on resentment. I don't know if you have any resentment, so this might be useless to you, but I was holding onto a lot.

Giving up on resentment, for me, entailed not pursuing trains of thought that made me angry about my past: the ways in which I was changed and kept from a better life, the potential that was lost, the things that should have gone another way. When those thoughts came up, I reminded myself that the only avenues of action are in the present, and redirected my thoughts to what I could do in the now.

Second, I accepted all emotions about my past without necessarily acting on them. That is, if I feel love, hate, anger or whatever towards people or events from my past, I let that happen and don't try to change my emotional reaction. I do not, however, act on those reactions. I may sometimes feel like I was a bad daughter, but I don't allow myself to believe it anymore. If I feel that I am spiralling into something negative, then I think about other things.

Third flows from second: repress. I realized that what's been termed "repression" in pop psychology is actually quite useful at times. Although I don't deny having various feelings, there are avenues of thought that I do not allow myself to pursue. I am a healthy person now, and just like healthy people don't slice their skin with glass (or whatever), they don't slice their psyche by dwelling on painful thoughts that lead nowhere.

I estimate that I've spent between 500 and 1000 hours in my life being forced to listen to someone talk about what a lazy stupid person I am. You can imagine what an easy train of thought that has become for me. When I start thinking "Jeeze, you're a lazy useless piece of shit" I don't try to "work it out." I clamp down, put an immediate kybosh on it, and go do something that takes my mind of it. That thought is a groove in my brain. It will always be there, and the best I can do is refuse to let it activate.

Fourth, and this gets back to what ikkyu2 said, I cut people who drew me into bitter, resentful conversations about childhoods out of my life. Actually, I cut out all people who were preventing me from living healthy out, and I stopped reading news and paying attention to stories of child abuse. That was a temporary thing (otherwise, for instance, I wouldn't have read your question), but it was very helpful in opening up a space in which I could develop new, healthy, positive relationships.

Finally, when I do succumb to depression or anxiety, I try to view it the way I would a cold. I know that I have a lot of things in my life that are good, that are worth working towards. I know that people love me, and even when depression makes me feel like that can't really be true, I keep in mind that these feelings are produced from experiences that don't reflect my reality, and that if I keep working at my life and my present, then the feelings will eventually pass. I repress that grove of thought as much as I can, and if I can't do it on my own, I get a cheesy, fun movie or show and watch it with a friend, or go hang out with my friends and their kids, or whatever it takes to remind my brain of the new groves that I'm making and the new perspectives that I have.
posted by carmen at 1:55 PM on April 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

I have the same underlying notion, resulting from a standard variation on the usual causes. Haven't licked it yet, perhaps because I haven't tried as hard as you. But my reaction, to feeling evil/worthless/unworthy of defense or help, has changed mightily since my niece and nephew were born.

Partly this is an intellectual change (no sane human could think children are sexually enticing) resulting from being around children for the first extended time in my adult life. But part of it is emotional and visceral. I was a little kid! Just like them! Look how unthinking they are! (Someone upthread mentioned this effect of being around children, as a sort of guidepost). My reaction to this has been to feel less innately cursed and more angry with my parents.

Which isn't fun either, as they're alive and I'm in touch with them both. If anything I'm more angry than when I got out of the house, publicly denounced my father, and heard all manner of character assassination, nicely balanced by "Who cares, [goofyfoot]?" along with "I thought so, but didn't want to say anything." But it's anger in a different manner - now I know just how a little kid acts, how a little kid seeks attention, and how that can be turned to personal profit by someone searching for an excuse. I see how the mechanism worked from the eye of the abuser: it's a little kid, and it's mine, and who will know?

It's as though I see how the evil seeps from the abuser to the abused, and how kids don't have the necessary defense.

Interestingly, my brother - raised by the same parents, but in a wholly different, almost entirely benign manner - has a balanced but keen protective instinct toward his children. Whether that's because he and his wife managed to shuffle their combined instincts into good parenting re boundaries or because his vision of his parents was upset by my shouting from the rooftops years ago that parents can be thoroughly lousy - who knows.

Thank you for your post, headspace. You articulated something very frightening.
posted by goofyfoot at 8:52 PM on April 10, 2006

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