Last week I saw a patient for the first time in eight years, and I was encouraged to see that she had lost weight, successfully weathered some of life’s storms and emerged with a positive attitude. Previously, we had worked together for almost a year to clean up several issues from a very painful childhood, and we were both quite pleased with her progress at the time. More recently, she had been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, and her physician believed that reconnecting with her psychologist would be beneficial.
When we talked, she said, “I’ve never forgotten the story you told me about the hammer over the head. I’ve told it to a number of people, and it always seems to help.”
Here’s the story I told her. . . Imagine you are a child sitting on a chair. Your father (or whoever hurt you) is standing behind you repeatedly hitting you over the head with a hammer. At one point, he checks his watch and announces “It’s time for me to go.” As he is leaving, he asks you, “Do you think you’ve got it?”
“Yes,” you tell him.
Then he hands you the hammer and walks out the door never to be seen again. You take the hammer and pick up where he left off, endlessly whacking yourself on the top of the head just like Daddy did.
In many cases of abuse, this is exactly what happens. A parent, teacher, sibling, etc. teaches you through repeated abusive behavior that you are deserving only of poor treatment. You learn that lesson so well that long after the abuser disappears from your life or stops exacting his torture upon you, you still remind yourself that you are an unworthy blob of primordial goo.
Undoubtedly, you don’t want to feel this way. In fact, you have no clue that you are perpetuating the abuse in your own way by lowering the boom on yourself.
In what ways are you continuing to abuse yourself as someone else may have done in your past? Do you avoid challenges? Do you overeat or smoke? Are you holding on to a negative relationship out of ease or convenience or fear of being alone? Do you refuse to get proper medical care or exercise? Do you treat others as if they matter, but act as if you don’t?
There are a number of ways to hammer yourself with abuse. Changing these patterns, however, begins with one simple phrase: Enough is enough!
Drop the hammer. It doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to some other broken person who found it necessary to take his/her brokenness out on you. You didn’t like the abuse at the time; yet it feels natural and normal to do to yourself what was done to you. It’s what you know; and the pain is at least familiar.
To change this pattern requires the awareness that “I’m doing this to myself” and the courage finally to say “Enough!” and break the cycle. It’s not easy, but there is help available.
Isn’t it time to treat yourself as if you matter?