Loss and trauma – making up for past failures. Have you experienced loss or another traumatic event recently or in the past? Do you feel tied to your pain? Are you working yourself to the bone trying to make up for a past failure? Here are three questions to ask yourself:
- Do you appreciate all that you have accomplished since that event?
- Do you even think about all that you’ve done and are still capable of doing?
- Can you slow down?
If you answered no to any of the above, read on. This post is for you.
After loss or trauma our self-worth can slip away and push us to make up for past failures
After a tough loss or other trauma, our self-worth can easily slip away. Loss and trauma can push us to incessantly try to make up for past failures. It can reach a point that we don’t think we will be able to ever prove our abilities to ourselves or anyone else. We don’t believe we have anything of value to offer.
Part of the reason we may stay chaotically busy and always achieve is to avoid thinking about our low self-worth, while at the same time try to prove to ourselves the exact opposite is true. But what we believe is what we experience. Until we change our thoughts about our worth, we will push ourselves to be and do more without any end in sight to the madness.
Are you burning the candle at both ends?
For those with A+ personalities (the former me), it’s natural to always be at the center of a flurry of activity. That’s the way we roll. Limitations forced me to step back physically from this behaviour a few years ago.
Recently, I’ve questioned why I still pressure myself mentally to always be in a hurry to get things done . To be somewhere. Sometimes without a planned goal in sight. Which makes me wonder how many other people are burning the candle at both ends to get something done in record time. Without really knowing why or what they are pursuing. Is this you? Are you burning the candle at both ends? Even if just mentally?
If you answered yes, be aware that this behaviour can be associated with devastating loss and possibly trauma (I’ve suffered both). Particularly if it’s new to you or feels punishing.
A year before my daughter’s suicide in 2005, I recall speaking with a man who lost his mom when he was young. He told me about this questionable behaviour he had been exhibiting for years. Pushing himself to be this superhero guy without knowing why or what he was really pursuing. He just always felt like he had to be on the fly to achieve something in record time without any real plan.
I listened with curiosity but of course, had no answers. Until it happened to me. Years later, I think I may know the reasons why we fall into this trap. It’s because loss and trauma force us to continually try to make up for all of our past failures when we have lost someone or something precious. This includes a part of ourself.
Loss and trauma and making up for past failures – why we fall into this trap
Here are the reasons we fall into this behavioural trap that can be hard to understand and break free of:
- When we think we are responsible for a death, we work extremely hard to try and make up for this rather serious past failure. True or false, if we believe in our mind that we did something wrong, we did it.
- We believe that we may run out of time ourselves after loss and think we must get everything done in record time.
- To inwardly seek the approval of the one we lost to try and make up for anything else we did to fail them (i.e., many children feel that they were the reason their parent or sibling died).
- To distract ourselves from facing the truth about what happened and our emotional pain.
- When we can’t or don’t want to imagine the future, it’s easier to just go crazy in the moment.
We make extreme efforts in our vulnerability
We make extreme efforts to stay busy or succeed at a dizzying pace in our vulnerability after suffering loss and trauma, related to any of the above. Before we recognize and change our behaviour, we can make ourselves crazy. Acting like energizer bunnies on steroids. Which makes perfect sense to me as a mom who for years felt completely responsible for the choice my daughter made to die.
If you are experiencing either behaviour, ask whether you blame yourself for something else from the past and are working to the bone to make up for past failures. When you understand what’s driving you that feels uncomfortable, you can change your behaviour. You can slow down and take stock of where you want to go and why.
When you know where you are going, you can take your time to get there
While it takes a while to figure all of this out, being aware of the reason for the things happening in your life that feel uncomfortable allows you to change what you experience. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be busy and succeed. This behaviour probably drives most people. But it is unhealthy when you can’t stop pushing yourself when you don’t know what you are pursuing or why. You need a map.
Taking stock of your life
Staying busy and being an overachiever after loss or trauma is just another way to avoid thinking about what it would take to confront the pain and heal. Taking stock of your life requires you to think about what you want now and, in the future, and act. While this may sound easy to imagine and plan for, it can be very difficult for people who can’t envision anything different ever happening in their life. If this is you, join my community.
To get started:
- Modify what you want to and can commit to for the foreseeable future.
- Remember that you can change your mind about anything.
- In your down time, do what you love first.
- Remember that it’s not selfish to put your needs first (excluding those who still depend on you).
- Be gentle in the way you think about and treat yourself.
For more about support and services related to grief and trauma visit vonnesolis.com.