Crime and Punishment

No, I didn't read the book. I may eventually, but I haven't yet.

Today, I want to talk about something I've been struggling with recently which is probably a familiar topic for some of you:


Oh the number of times I've been in a situation where I perhaps haven't even done anything wrong, but a word here, a gesture there, a look, a change in posture - and I'm positive that I've made some sort of horrible mistake. If I'm unlucky enough to be informed that whatever I just did was incorrect, unfair, or even just "not the way I would have done it if it was me" then the reaction is the same, but stronger.

You may have experienced this before. The thoughts start small, but they snowball pretty quickly.

Oh no, I did something wrong.

I'm at fault.

I need to fix it.

They'll be angry with me until I fix it.

I have to fix it alone.

If I ask for help they'll think I'm lazy.

And so on and so forth.

Now, it's important to note that these thoughts are not healthy, even if they're normal. This is what I call a "thought trap," based loosely on my understanding of a "lifetrap," which is an element of therapy that comes in handy for those with anxiety or trauma.

The important part of this is to recognize when a thought trap has been sprung - to see when the thoughts running through your mind are in fact not connected to the situation at hand, but rather recalling emotions from a time now long passed. As an ADHD child, I ended up getting in trouble a lot for things I didn't understand or didn't even notice. Or when I did understand or notice, the I felt I was being punished for my feelings, rather than for my actions.

It was not that I hit another child on the playground that prompted the punishment, it was that I became angry.

So one of the final and most damaging steps of my personal Guilt Thought Trap is: My feelings don't matter. Only my actions. That might seem a little strange, but here, let me explain.

That I became angry on the playground and hit the other child was a problem. It was, more specifically, my problem. It was a problem that I was responsible for and that I was therefor liable for.

That the other child provoked me, or did something that I didn't like, or any other circumstance that led to me being angry didn't matter. What mattered was that I had been angry, and I had acted on that anger.

In addition, the immediate response of the teacher called to arbitrate was very often along the lines of "go apologize."

That I did not feel sorry or even regret my actions did not matter. What mattered was that I needed to go say the words.

Now, as a child, I of course internalized the implication of these things without ever putting them into words. But the result is that now, years and years later, when I become angry and say something hurtful to my friends, the guilt reflex is so strong that I can't stop it. But there's also a kernel of frustration buried in there, because the implication that my feelings have no inherent value is still present.

This is something I'm working on changing with the help of my therapist. I am not yet convinced that the statement "my feelings matter and deserve to be addressed" is true, and that fact unsettles me. But being aware that some of my instinctive responses are FALSE in addition to knowing that this train of thought is not logic, but HABIT, helps me redirect my thoughts into healthier and more productive patterns.

Just something I thought I'd like to share. Writing it all out helps me process things.

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