Wellspring Wednesdays|Week 11: Know Better, Do Better
Today’s title comes from one of my top favorite quotes, from Dr. Maya Angelou. The whole quote says “Do the best you can. When you know better, do better.” I love the perfect balance of appropriate blame with personal responsibility. It’s one of my life mottos, and I’d like to take a few minutes to share how I find this to relate to trauma recovery.
What I meant by appropriate blame mixed with personal responsibility is really simple. So often, trauma survivors of childhood abuse or developmental trauma (specifically) blame themselves for being bad, carrying undo shame, and feeling a burden to life itself. The reason for this is also simple. In developmental trauma, a young brain is trying to rationalize why they are being abused, hurt, neglected, yelled at, called names, sexually assaulted, manipulated, etc. The brain can reason between two choices, either: “my caregivers are bad” or “I am bad”. In this quest for logic in a very illogical situation, a child has to choose the “I am bad” logic simply out of safety. If a child determines their caregiver is bad, that will unearth even more dangers, problems, and possibly life-threatening harm to the child. They must decide that they are the bad one, and they somehow deserve the treatment they are receiving. That, my friends, is the best the child can do. It doesn’t have the reasoning faculties to do much more beyond that at that point. Who would sit here and blame a child for feeling that way when the alternative of them being in the care of an evil parent is even more disruptive and harmful?
However, since then, you’ve grown. You’ve learned about yourself; you are even on a self-exploratory path right now even listening to or reading this. You have somehow found yourself on a trauma recovery journey, and, in that, you are discovering that you are inherently good. The truth of that means you are realizing you did not have Good Enough Parents like we spoke on weeks ago. That’s where the grief comes in as you mourn for the world you grew up in. This also means that you have not just a right to do better, but a responsibility to do it.
Now — all you perfectionists out there (myself include), sit back down. I know you already got up and grabbed a pen and paper to start writing down all the ways you have to do better. Or worse yet, you are already grabbing the car keys to take off to start all your wonderful do-bettering. Calm. Breathe. Hear me out.
I’m not saying that with every tiny new bit of wisdom you hear, read, or are told from your therapist or coach means that you have to immediately implement changes. Trust me. Something huge like finally realizing why you binge drink or recognizing your intimacy issues doesn’t automatically solve your behavior and fix you. What I mean is more that you have a responsibility to pursuing your healing. Like in the United States, we don’t have a right to happiness but the pursuit of it. Here, I think, you have a responsibility to give yourself the chance to do better going forward in your future. Once you start learning the truth about your trauma, come to terms with your abuse, flesh out the lies you were told to believe about yourself, and start some self-inquiry (feel free to try out this guided meditation to ignite some of that) — you then are able to make the NEXT BEST STEPS (whatever it is) based on the new info you’ve gathered. If you don’t have the resources, time, energy, or wisdom to know exactly how to do something, you can still choose to pursue those answers to determine which way to start moving.
This also highlights another issue we survivors need to work out — where to place appropriate blame for what did happen to you back then. Just like you wouldn’t fault the child for self-abandoning and self-blaming when they don’t know how to do anything else, you can recognize that now and start figuring out who and what is to blame for the trauma(s) you endured. Once you are able to unburden yourself of that and forgive yourself, you can start the real healing.
You didn’t know anything else but your trauma world. Now you do, so you can shift your pain onto the right person and give yourself appropriate levels of self-responsibility going forward. You can keep listening to this podcast, keep showing up for yourself, start a trauma recovery coaching relationship, read the books, do the work, press on, and push forward. You don’t have to do this in a drill-sergeant way. If fact, you mustn’t. You do this with self-compassion, kindness, gentleness, forgiveness, grace, and perseverance. This is a journey — a long and arduous one at times. But now you know, so now you can do. As you learn, you can heal. As you make small steps, you can grow.
If you need coaching support as you come to these realizations, feel free to send me a message on the Connect tab of my website or schedule a 20-minute free consultation to decide if coaching is right for you. Always do your best with what you can at the time — with what you know, what you have, and who you are. Then, once you know better, you can make the changes and do better. You got this!