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Forgiving Yourself - Abuse, Guilt & Depression


wakalaka

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Warning - in this (long) post I'll talk about physical (non-sexual) abuse in some detail. (None of this fits into the SAAM subforum. I hope I'm in the right place.)

 

 

 

 

----

 

As a child, I suffered some abuse. I also inflicted it upon others. It's the latter that I have trouble coping with.

 

I'm in my mid-twenties now. The events I'm about to describe occurred 14-19 years ago. However, it's only recently (the past 2 years) that the memories have resurfaced, along with overwhelming guilt. I don't know why.

 

--

 

My babysitter used to abuse (hitting, slapping, holding me down until I panicked, shoving, hair-pulling, etc.) and generally dominate me. On a few occasions, I tried to struggle or defend myself, but she was a big woman, and I didn't stand a chance.

 

I don't think I ever outright hated my babysitter, though. I recognised (even at the time) that she was a decent person who genuinely cared about me. I think the abuse was a cultural byproduct of her upbringing, where "educating" children physically was simply the norm. 

 

I was also physically punished by several different school teachers throughout my childhood. The worst incident involved a male teacher kicking me repeatedly as I tried to hide under a classroom table. The feelings of humiliation and betrayal were far worse than the pain itself.

 

None of the abuse I received particularly bothers me. I think it was unfortunate, in hindsight... but I don't feel strongly about any of it. If anything, there's pity there for the adults who mistreated me. Just pity. Maybe even some sympathy. I don't know.

 

Now here's the part that bothers me: I hurt the family cat. Let's call him Sam.

 

The first time it happened, I was 7 or 8, I think. I was playing with Sam quite innocently in the study. For some reason, I began throwing the kitten in the air repeatedly. At first, I caught him every time - it was just a game; I had no intention of hurting him. But I accidentally failed to catch him once, and he fell.

As soon as that happened, a sadistic impulse washed over me like a wave. I threw him higher and higher, and he kept dropping.

I only stopped when I noticed that he appeared hurt. Suddenly, I realised what I had done. The magnitude of that sudden realisation was terrifying. Overwhelmed by concern for Sam (I loved him, despite what I did), I ran to my mother, cradling him in my arms, told her (lied) that he had an accident and begged her to help him. The poor guy was shaking and sneezing blood - that's how bad it was.

 

Thankfully, I hadn't seriously hurt him. He was fine. Physically anyway.

 

The next time anything like this happened was years later. I must have been 11 or 12. I was alone, at home, and Sam was meowling and pestering me. He was probably hungry. Or maybe he just wanted some affection. Whatever the case, it annoyed me. I ended up kicking him. "Gently", at first. But something about his reaction - his defenselessness, his weakness - triggered a surge of anger within me. I kicked him again - harder that time.

...and then I kept going. He ran under the bed, so I pulled him out and kicked him again. Then, I suddenly "woke up" and stopped. I apologised to him repeatedly (for whatever that was worth) and did what I could to make him feel safe around me. 

 

I never raised a hand against him again.

 

I lived with him for 12 more years before moving out, and during that time he showed no sign of emotional trauma or distrust. We got along well, took naps together, etc. He seemed perfectly well-adjusted, and he still sought me out for affection.

--

 

I don't think I can accurately capture what I felt as I was abusing him - a mixture of utter disgust, self-loathing, pain, and an overpowering sadistic urge that compelled me to go on. It was almost demonic.

 

So far, I've focused on myself - what I felt, what I feel, etc... but what about Sam?

 

Does he remember? (He's still alive - old, but in good health. I don't see him much anymore as I've moved overseas.) 

Did I traumatise him? Did I damage him in some way? 

 

I'll never have the answer to those questions. That's a kind of torture in itself. I will never know what it was like for him, to be assaulted for no apparent reason. It must have been terrifying and confusing. Whether or not cats are sapient is beside the point - his capacity for suffering is beyond question, and I made him suffer. 

 

Part of me wants him to remember. I want him to be aware of what happened, and I want him to hold me responsible.

But I know he doesn't. Either he's forgotten, or he's forgiven me.

 

Both possibilities are frightening. Forgiveness because I don't deserve it. Forgetting - because that leaves me alone with the knowledge of what I did. I feel like it's my responsibility to carry that burden.

 

No one's going to punish me for what I did. The universe certainly doesn't care. And no matter what I do, no matter how hard I try to atone, I can't take any of it back. That's the worst. The knowledge that those moments are frozen in eternity like a bug fossilised in amber. It happened. It will always have happened. That's an indelible fact.

 

---

 

I'm undergoing therapy for various issues at the moment (anxiety, depression, avoidance, BDD), so I'm trying to work through this. But I just can't get over it. And I have no idea why it's become such a problem now. I was a child, I know that. I had problems, I know that. But none of that makes it any better.

 

I've always hated seeing people **** insects. As a child, I'd routinely make "patrols" to my grandparents' pool just to fish out all the drowning bugs. I refused to **** mosquitoes. I still do, in fact. I never **** anything on purpose (except viruses, plants and bacteria, I guess.) I watch where I walk to avoid stepping on ants. etc.

This Jain-like behaviour came very early on - as far as I can tell, I've always been like this. It's not an attempt to overcompensate; it's genuine, from my very core.

 

So how do I reconcile these vastly different parts of myself??? (The darkness and the light?) How do I stop indulging in emotional self-flagellation?? How do I move forward?

 

I'm currently studying to be a veterinarian. I plan to do rescue work with abused animals. I love doing what I do. However, I can't deny that I partly chose this career out of a desire for atonement. If I save enough animals, surely the ledger of life, or karma, or whatever, will balance out? 

 

But I really need to understand what happened and why it happened. The darkness inside hasn't magically vanished. It's still there, even if I don't recognise it... and while I'll never deliberately hurt a living creature again, that same evil might manifest itself in other ways.

Edited by wakalaka
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Children that are going through some form of abuse often have pent up anger. It's actually pretty normal, and a totally understandable response. Kids have a lot of reasons to feel powerless in a situation like that. I found this interesting:

 

But something about his reaction - his defenselessness, his weakness - triggered a surge of anger within me.

 

Maybe this means something significant - although maybe not. It sounds a little like you may have seen your cat in your own position with your abuser. If so, it would make sense why you got angry. And it would make sense why you reacted the way you did. You may have been angry about your own position - about what was happening to you. And the cat was kind of ... well ... there. Cats are a lot smaller than kids, and you mentioned your abuser was a lot bigger than you. Plus you saw something in the situation that likely reminded you of your own. I can see a kid, in that moment and headspace, acting out of instinct to try and regain some of that control. Or even just acting out their anger.

 

(Note: of course, this is just an observation! I can just as easily be way off base!)

 

To be honest, I'd imagine that your cat has both forgiven and forgotten. It's one of the best things about pets - they don't hold grudges. It usually takes repeated aggressive behaviours to damage an animal's psyche. And if he still sought you out for affection and still slept around you, that means he wasn't/isn't angry with you or afraid of you.

 

But the thing is that you don't need to be punished - by the universe or anyone else. You've been beating yourself up about it already. You went towards a profession to try and help abused animals partly out of atonement. You're making the world a better place. You did something when you were a kid that you regret. And that's totally fair - I think probably everyone has a couple of things they did when they were a kid that they feel terribly for. I know I do. But that doesn't make us bad people. Kids do things like that partly because they haven't learned better, and partly because they're not matured enough to think it through beforehand.

 

Just as a thought - you questioned why this was coming up now. Why it's only surfaced in the last couple of years. So I'd wonder if it's surfaced since you've started undergoing therapy? If it happened because you saw yourself in the cat, it's possible that this is surfacing as something jumbled up with your other issues.

 

None of the abuse I received particularly bothers me. I think it was unfortunate, in hindsight... but I don't feel strongly about any of it. If anything, there's pity there for the adults who mistreated me. Just pity. Maybe even some sympathy. I don't know.

 

Possibly strange question, but do you pity yourself, for what you did? If not, why do your aggressors get pity and/or sympathy, but you feel like you should be punished? You don't seem to see what you did as "unfortunate in hindsight," but you do see what happened to you that way. A lot of times victims of abuse have feelings of guilt - thinking they're somehow responsible. Perhaps the feelings of guilt you might have theoretically had about the situation was transferred to what happened between you and your cat? Which might be why it's been so hard to get past it.

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Warning - in this (long) post I'll talk about physical (non-sexual) abuse in some detail. (None of this fits into the SAAM subforum. I hope I'm in the right place.)

 

 

 

 

----

 

As a child, I suffered some abuse. I also inflicted it upon others. It's the latter that I have trouble coping with.

 

I'm in my mid-twenties now. The events I'm about to describe occurred 14-19 years ago. However, it's only recently (the past 2 years) that the memories have resurfaced, along with overwhelming guilt. I don't know why.

 

--

 

My babysitter used to abuse (hitting, slapping, holding me down until I panicked, shoving, hair-pulling, etc.) and generally dominate me. On a few occasions, I tried to struggle or defend myself, but she was a big woman, and I didn't stand a chance.

 

I don't think I ever outright hated my babysitter, though. I recognised (even at the time) that she was a decent person who genuinely cared about me. I think the abuse was a cultural byproduct of her upbringing, where "educating" children physically was simply the norm. 

 

I was also physically punished by several different school teachers throughout my childhood. The worst incident involved a male teacher kicking me repeatedly as I tried to hide under a classroom table. The feelings of humiliation and betrayal were far worse than the pain itself.

 

None of the abuse I received particularly bothers me. I think it was unfortunate, in hindsight... but I don't feel strongly about any of it. If anything, there's pity there for the adults who mistreated me. Just pity. Maybe even some sympathy. I don't know.

 

Now here's the part that bothers me: I hurt the family cat. Let's call him Sam.

 

The first time it happened, I was 7 or 8, I think. I was playing with Sam quite innocently in the study. For some reason, I began throwing the kitten in the air repeatedly. At first, I caught him every time - it was just a game; I had no intention of hurting him. But I accidentally failed to catch him once, and he fell.

As soon as that happened, a sadistic impulse washed over me like a wave. I threw him higher and higher, and he kept dropping.

I only stopped when I noticed that he appeared hurt. Suddenly, I realised what I had done. The magnitude of that sudden realisation was terrifying. Overwhelmed by concern for Sam (I loved him, despite what I did), I ran to my mother, cradling him in my arms, told her (lied) that he had an accident and begged her to help him. The poor guy was shaking and sneezing blood - that's how bad it was.

 

Thankfully, I hadn't seriously hurt him. He was fine. Physically anyway.

 

The next time anything like this happened was years later. I must have been 11 or 12. I was alone, at home, and Sam was meowling and pestering me. He was probably hungry. Or maybe he just wanted some affection. Whatever the case, it annoyed me. I ended up kicking him. "Gently", at first. But something about his reaction - his defenselessness, his weakness - triggered a surge of anger within me. I kicked him again - harder that time.

...and then I kept going. He ran under the bed, so I pulled him out and kicked him again. Then, I suddenly "woke up" and stopped. I apologised to him repeatedly (for whatever that was worth) and did what I could to make him feel safe around me. 

 

I never raised a hand against him again.

 

I lived with him for 12 more years before moving out, and during that time he showed no sign of emotional trauma or distrust. We got along well, took naps together, etc. He seemed perfectly well-adjusted, and he still sought me out for affection.

--

 

I don't think I can accurately capture what I felt as I was abusing him - a mixture of utter disgust, self-loathing, pain, and an overpowering sadistic urge that compelled me to go on. It was almost demonic.

 

So far, I've focused on myself - what I felt, what I feel, etc... but what about Sam?

 

Does he remember? (He's still alive - old, but in good health. I don't see him much anymore as I've moved overseas.) 

Did I traumatise him? Did I damage him in some way? 

 

I'll never have the answer to those questions. That's a kind of torture in itself. I will never know what it was like for him, to be assaulted for no apparent reason. It must have been terrifying and confusing. Whether or not cats are sapient is beside the point - his capacity for suffering is beyond question, and I made him suffer. 

 

Part of me wants him to remember. I want him to be aware of what happened, and I want him to hold me responsible.

But I know he doesn't. Either he's forgotten, or he's forgiven me.

 

Both possibilities are frightening. Forgiveness because I don't deserve it. Forgetting - because that leaves me alone with the knowledge of what I did. I feel like it's my responsibility to carry that burden.

 

No one's going to punish me for what I did. The universe certainly doesn't care. And no matter what I do, no matter how hard I try to atone, I can't take any of it back. That's the worst. The knowledge that those moments are frozen in eternity like a bug fossilised in amber. It happened. It will always have happened. That's an indelible fact.

 

---

 

I'm undergoing therapy for various issues at the moment (anxiety, depression, avoidance, BDD), so I'm trying to work through this. But I just can't get over it. And I have no idea why it's become such a problem now. I was a child, I know that. I had problems, I know that. But none of that makes it any better.

 

I've always hated seeing people **** insects. As a child, I'd routinely make "patrols" to my grandparents' pool just to fish out all the drowning bugs. I refused to **** mosquitoes. I still do, in fact. I never **** anything on purpose (except viruses, plants and bacteria, I guess.) I watch where I walk to avoid stepping on ants. etc.

This Jain-like behaviour came very early on - as far as I can tell, I've always been like this. It's not an attempt to overcompensate; it's genuine, from my very core.

 

So how do I reconcile these vastly different parts of myself??? (The darkness and the light?) How do I stop indulging in emotional self-flagellation?? How do I move forward?

 

I'm currently studying to be a veterinarian. I plan to do rescue work with abused animals. I love doing what I do. However, I can't deny that I partly chose this career out of a desire for atonement. If I save enough animals, surely the ledger of life, or karma, or whatever, will balance out? 

 

But I really need to understand what happened and why it happened. The darkness inside hasn't magically vanished. It's still there, even if I don't recognise it... and while I'll never deliberately hurt a living creature again, that same evil might manifest itself in other ways.

 

You were young.  Whether it's a response to the powerlessness of childhood or some "rite of passage", I think many children have abused animals or smaller children on occasion.

 

You were young.  You say that the animal later "showed no signs of trauma and emotional distrust".  How do you think he'd respond upon seeing you tomorrow?  Let that be your guide.

 

My supposition is that he's forgotten the trauma that you inflicted upon him many years ago, has forgiven you, and is enjoying life right now.  I wouldn't worry, my friend. 

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My childhood ended when I was around eight years old.  That is when I realized that my father was an alcoholic.  That is around the time that he started beating me.  Almost always when he was drunk.  Sometimes with his hands, other times with a belt.  One time with the butt of his revolver.  I didn't know why, for some reason I thought that I had done wrong and that I deserved it.  I didn't do anything other than be born.  I guess he did not want children and as the first, and as the only boy, I was the target of the abuse and frustration.  This went on for many years, probably until I was 14 when I grew to be a strong young man and could give as good as I got.  He did not hit me anymore but the mental abuse intensified and to some extent goes on to this day.

 

Because of this, I grew up in world where violence was both endemic and unremarkable.  I was a violent and unpredictable young man.  Not a bully, if anything I protected those who could not defend themselves.  My temper was awful and my penchant for destruction knew no bounds.  I did not abuse my first dog but I was mean to her.  I killed my goldfish once because I was bored.  I used to fill a jar with water, throw an ant in and watch him drown.  Sometimes I would save them and watch them revive.  I guess I liked the power of deciding who lives and dies.  These were the signs of a child who was deeply disturbed.  But nobody did anything, people just turned their heads as always.  "Lads will be Lads," right?  That was always a classic excuse for psychotic behavior. 

 

But these were not the doings of a psychotic young man.  They were the doings of a normal young man who was thrust into abnormal circumstances.  Circumstances where the ebb and the flow of everyday life alternated in rounds of fear and anger, violence and tears.

 

I wish I could talk to him, but he is long gone.  My childhood and, to an extent, my youth were stolen from me.  One of the reasons why I am not focused and immature is because of the those awful years.  You see, those scars do not heal.  It is hard for me to trust people.  Very hard.  And there are the scars that do show like the one above my right eye or the hearing I lost from being hit repeatedly in the head.  I learned that if anyone is going to harm you it is going to be someone you know and love so you basically cannot trust anyone....this is no way to live.  Quite often it is those we love who do not have our best interests in mind.

 

So fast forward to now.  How do I deal with all that?  I learned to forgive, both myself and the man who beat my youth out of me.  It seems incredulous but I do not hate him.  I do not like him either.  Indifference is a far more potent weapon than hate.  He did the twelve steps but he never did the step where he had to apologize to those he hurt.  It would have been a big deal to me but he didn't do it.  In a non-linear way I guess it did not affect as much as one would think.  I did grow up to be a caring person, an animal lover and a good husband.  But I often dream of people trying to hurt me and I cannot fight back, of being chased and not being able to get away.  Those years cast a large shadow over me, I am haunted.

 

It seems strange that my life is where it is now.  I guess I broke down because I never dealt with the things that tormented me my whole life and they just fell on me like a ton of bricks.  In some ways I have not changed but in others I will never be the same either.  There is a part of me that will never be free and that part that is free will never be me.  I am rambling.  I hope this helps and thank you for reading

Edited by The Purist
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It is very common for abused children to imitate that behavior... it becomes "learned" and repeated upon others. What I find interesting is that you felt anger as you acted out upon your cat Sam, yet you don't feel any anger towards those who abused you. Often abused children will deflect their anger, deny it or internalize it. It is rightful of you to actually feel angry towards those who abused you... they acted wrongfully and hurt you as a child.

Your feelings of guilt about your cat are only natural, and it does seem (as others have pointed out) that your cat is completely fine, has forgiven you, and is not psychically damaged. You can be assured of that since he still showed you affection, etc.... I think your desire to help abused animals is highly admirable, and will atone you of the bad feelings you experience and will balance your karma. Positive actions bring positive things & you will feel better emotionally I believe as you help other animals. It may not rid you entirely of the feelings of guilt, but it seems that it will be of great help. You also need to forgive yourself... as others have said, you were a child, you were young, and you were also abused.

 

It's great that you are working with a therapist.. you can talk through your feelings of guilt in therapy and perhaps also about the abuse you suffered --- I would recommend addressing this since you fear repeating the behavior in the future, which you want to avoid. Perhaps talking about it will also help you to understand that you have every right to feel angry at those who inflicted abuse upon you as a vulnerable and trusting child. It will be healthy to acknowledge their wrongfulness, and to feel compassion for yourself as a child of abuse.

Wishing you all the best and big ((((hugs)))) to you!! :hugs:

Edited by havehope
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Thank you all for your posts.

 

It feels weird to acknowledge that I suffered actual abuse. I never got a black eye, busted teeth, or anything like that, nor was I ever molested. You hear some pretty horrible stories out there. I know - it's the starving African child fallacy. Other people's suffering doesn't invalidate your own. And yet... calling myself a victim of abuse... just sounds wrong. I must be in denial to some extent, I guess.

 

I agree that my actions were closely linked to the abuse I received (it's strange to call it that; it doesn't seem dramatic enough to fit the bill... but in retrospect, what happened to me was definitely messed up... and to be honest I'm reasonably certain that there's more to it that I don't quite remember).

But to describe the animal abuse as a direct consequence of what I experienced seems to deny my part in it. I ultimately feel accountable for what I did. That may mean nothing - I was only a kid, etc., and I *do* have some compassion for that past self - but the B*tch of it is that even if I do get over this, confront all my childhood monsters, and come to terms with everything, I'll still have the memory of actually doing it. It's absurd - I'm an adult, I'm essentially a completely different person now, my cells have been replaced twice over... but underneath all that, there's a sense of enduring self... and as illusory as that may be, I feel an undeniable connection to the experience of having hurt and betrayed someone repeatedly. I see myself do it. It may as well have happened 8 years ago.

 

It all actually surfaced during an... experience with some cacti ~2 years ago. (Sounds funny, but that was actually a crucial turning point for me psychologically - it helped a lot, even if old wounds had to be uncovered in the process. I started therapy in part because of it.)

I only started therapy 6 months ago... about two decades late, but better than never.

 

I created this thread because I know that it's time for me to start moving on. I don't know how creating this thread helps me achieve that, but reading your responses has been helpful, so thanks.

 

And Purist, that sounds awful. I'm sorry.

Edited by wakalaka
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Yes, you may be in denial to a certain extent about the abuse you experienced. There is no excuse for an adult to kick a child repeatedly or to put their hands on a child and harm that child in any way. I think addressing this in therapy will be very very helpful for you.

 

As for the guilt and responsibility you feel for your cat.... yes, you're accountable for that behavior, but with the understanding that you were abused yourself and you were acting out. We're only human, we make mistakes, sometimes big mistakes, and we do not act always according to our ideal behavior. i have done many shameful things in my life that I have beaten myself up about, but then there needs to be a time to let go of the shame, to truly feel self-compassion for what you went through, and why you may have behaved the way you did. Understanding this can help you to let go... and to not beat yourself up. You have to be kind to yourself.... therapy should help you with this...

 

Not sure if this helps you any, but I encourage you to keep working through all these feelings in therapy and to keep working on self-love and self-forgiveness.

 

Big hugs to you, HH

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It seems that a lot of survivors of abuse, especially childhood abuse, hesitate to actually call it abuse. Sometimes they think it wasn't bad enough to warrant the term. Sometimes it's denial. Sometimes they feel too much responsibility. Sometimes it's easier for them, psychologically, not to call it that. There's probably as many reasons as there are survivors, to be fair.

 

But to describe the animal abuse as a direct consequence of what I experienced seems to deny my part in it. I ultimately feel accountable for what I did. That may mean nothing - I was only a kid, etc., and I *do* have some sympathy and love for that past self - but the B*tch of it is that even if I do get over this, confront all my childhood monsters, and come to terms with everything, I'll still have the memory of actually doing it. It's absurd - I'm an adult, I'm essentially a completely different person now, my cells have been replaced twice over... but underneath all that, there's a sense of enduring self... and as illusory as that may be, I feel an undeniable connection to the experience of having hurt and betrayed someone repeatedly. I see myself do it. It may as well have happened 8 years ago.

 

That's fair, because you feel how you feel. It's important to acknowledge that you were a kid and the circumstances greatly contributed to your actions. But you'll likely still feel bad about it. And you're right, you'll likely continue to have the memory of having done it.

 

The important part about those regrettable things we did as kids though is that it shapes us into the people we are as adults. Do you think you'd be as driven to tend abused animals as you are if that hadn't happened? Do you think you'd be able to confront your demons now if you hadn't taken some action as a kid to let out some of that anger? Those questions are legitimately unanswerable - highly theoretical and circumstantial. But they still demonstrate the point. You're the sum of your experiences, and those experiences have clearly led you to be a good person. To be honest, feeling a connection to what happened isn't the worst thing. Though ideally, you can learn to forgive yourself for what happened.

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I'm inspired that you have the strength to share such painful memories. 

 

They say that children process trauma by acting out the trauma during playtime (typically on other children). Is it possible that this was what you experience? 

 

I admire that you feel compassion and pity for your abusers, but I wonder if there are still some pieces of this experience that you need to process? I felt similarly about a parent, but it led to repeating patterns in adulthood--ultimately, I ended up addressing it in therapy and (hopefully) have broken the cycle. 

 

wishing you the the best!

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