Letting Go of “Unlikeability”

You Have Been Good Enough All Along – by @tlkateart
 
 
You may have recently seen some discussions about a post online stating that trauma survivors are “fundamentally unlikeable.” I hope it has not been too derailing to your healing.
 
If it has been derailing or activating to you, it may help if you can step back mentally and see the statement for what it is: a cognitive distortion arising from PTSD. It is also an expression of internalized ableism.
 
Remember, when you have feelings of depression or anxiety, your feelings are understandable and deserve compassion. AND–you also do not have to buy into the cognitions or judgments that arise from these feelings!
 
In Radical Acceptance, Tara Brach talks about the “trance of unworthiness” that is engendered by trauma. This is also called “SHAME.” This kind of shame is the deep sense that one is fundamentally unworthy of love. (It is different from guilt, which is a pain from hurting someone and a motivator to do better next time.)
 
In my experience as a clinician and also as a trauma survivor, shame is pretty well universal among trauma survivors and it is easy to get sucked into. But you can remember not to buy into it. You do not have to buy into internalized ableism.
 
If someone dislikes you because you have trauma symptoms, that has more to do with who they are than who you are. If you feel unlikeable because of your trauma, that has more to do with trauma symptoms than with your actual likeability.
 
Another important aspect of this is that you do not owe anyone a performance of likeability. You yourself may want or need to be liked, for your own reasons: psychological, social, practical, or safety reasons. But likeability is not something you owe to others. You don’t have to be likeable for the sake of others’ comfort.
 
 
You are not a burden, you are carrying a burden
 
You are not a burden, we are lucky to have you
You Are Not a Burden by @tlkateart
 
 
You might also find it useful to listen to the following meditation from Tara Brach*: Healing Shame
 

(Note: Dr. Brach uses “toxic shame” vs. “healthy shame” to refer to what I would call “shame” vs. “guilt.”)

 

You are already fundamentally likeable, just as you are. ❤️

 

Trauma Survivors and Assault in the News

If you are a survivor of abuse or assault, it may at times be very difficult dealing with the news cycle on a day-to-day basis. Not only may we hear and read about details of experiences that mirror our own, we also hear a great deal of public discourse around those kinds of traumatic and personal events. In some ways this may be even worse.

Hearing public figures and people in authority expressing doubt, denial, and minimization of survivors’ experiences is often a rerun of the kinds of responses we may have experienced ourselves when we tried to tell parents, friends, family members, or others we hoped would help us. People in our present lives may also be expressing disbelief or minimization about other survivors’ accounts in a way that re-opens our own past wounds and invalidates our experiences.

The lack of support or even belief around assault is in some ways as injurious to survivors as the actual assault was. The underlying message we may internalize is “I’m not important enough to protect or believe.”

You may find you are having trauma symptoms without recognizing them for what they are. It’s common to see increased insomnia, nightmares, flashbacks, depression and anxiety symptoms generally (OCD, GAD, panic, etc.), irritability, difficulty concentrating, hopelessness, and so forth. Always pay attention to an increase in your symptoms–it’s a sign that whatever the reason, you need to make sure you are giving yourself more support, flexibility, and care.

Remember, this does not mean you are “not working hard enough” on your healing. It just means trauma can leave us vulnerable to PTSD flare-ups at times. (If you’re being hard on yourself for experiencing symptoms, remember, it does not mean you are “weak.”)

What can I do?

Limit your exposure to triggering material: we certainly want to be informed about the world around us, but it’s easy to get sucked into obsessively monitoring the radio, social media, or TV for news that goes over and over the same points. If you need to, give yourself a specific window of time to take in the material. But make it short, and recognize that you may need to account for how it may affect your functioning afterwards. If others insist on discussing it, it is okay to say you need to not hear about it for a while.

Be around supportive others: if you have friends or family who are especially minimizing, it will be harmful for you to be around them all the time with no validating voices to neutralize them. Spend some time in person, on the phone, or even online with people you know are supportive and trustworthy. Maybe friends, your therapist, a relative, or your clergy. (If no one you know is available when you really need to talk, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline [800-656-4673].) For those lucky folks who have a pet, hug an animal companion. They are often our most ardent and nonjudgmental supporters!

Take care of yourself. If you tend to dissociate from your symptoms, you may not even realize how stressed you are feeling. Re-visit how to do self-care if you have allowed it to slide a bit. If you have worked on your recovery before, now is a good time to re-visit interventions that have worked for you before. If you have not worked on your recovery, now is the time to start!

For a general overview of how PTSD affects survivors of sexual assault, here is a short article.

Bedtime Panic Attacks

It’s pretty common for people going through stressful periods to have panic attacks just as they fall asleep or even during sleep, after having managed anxiety successfully during the day. This is because our psychological defenses and coping strategies drop away as we fall asleep, leaving anxiety symptoms free to rise. This can result in anxiety dreams or even panic that wakes you up.

While there is no way to “erase” anxiety, allowing yourself to experience the anxiety in a safe, mindful way during waking hours can help to minimize bedtime panic attacks and allow you to sleep better.

Specifically: allowing yourself to feel the anxiety until it passes, while–for example–talking to a trusted friend or your therapist, journaling, or just crying, can be a relief.

Moderate cardio exercise can also help in that it uses up excess cortisol, which triggers panic attacks. (However, don’t exercise right before bedtime as that may wake up your system and lead to insomnia.)