Don’t hate yourself for what your brain did to help you survive trauma (Article)

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A few years ago I read something that I haven’t forgotten since. I don’t remember the exact wording, but it was something along the lines of not calling your maladaptive coping mechanisms maladaptive or wrong, but rather seeing them as outdated coping mechanisms that helped you survive in the past, but which aren’t applicable anymore.

For many years, “maladaptive” coping mechanisms were all I had because I never had the chance to learn anything healthier. These mechanisms ranged from more menial ones like self isolation, to progressively more self destructive ones. Rather than hating myself for all I did back then, or embracing them like they were healthy habits I should continue, there’s a more balanced middle ground.

It’s possible to embrace and love your past self — flaws and mistakes and all — whilst still recognising that past patterns are only hurtful to you today.

My brain never set out to hurt me. It made its mistakes and it stumbled along the way, but it has always been on my side. Whilst hurt and harm may have been adverse consequences of coping mechanisms applied in the wrong way at the wrong time, all the brain ever wants to do is to protect you. Yes, the dissociation, the substance abuse — all of it, was not the brain trying to sabotage me or my body, but was its own way of getting out of a hard situation the best it could. It didn’t know better. The harm it caused was an aftermath of it all.

Instead of seeing your past self as just a collection of mistakes and self destructive behaviour, see your past self as someone who needed to survive above all else, and simply didn’t know better at the time. You can know better, now, in the present.

Hating the things you did to feel better and to make it through the day is counter productive. I don’t hate how much I did XYZ, but I do recognise that my patterns were unhealthy, and many of them I don’t do anymore and hopefully will never do again. I don’t love that I did it, but I accept that I did and that, at the time, it’s what my brain thought would help. And I forgive my brain for that. I forgive myself for that.

Even if you struggle hugely from mental illness every day, the human brain, at its core, almost always has survival as its most fundamentally, intrinsically coded priority. Alleviating pain and surviving is a primal response.

Even at your worst times, your brain is still focused on helping you, even if it doesn’t know how.

You can show it better ways how.

“These hands have made mistakes, and they can always make better ones.”