What To Do When The Girl Says “I Am Bad”

I’ve been working with the messed-up, angry, frightened, ashamed 14- or 15-year-old version of myself all this week. She gets at least 30 minutes, every evening, dedicated just to her. This has really helped me feel calmer the rest of the day. E. says it’s because if the girl has confidence that I will keep coming back to her to listen to her story and her needs, she can quiet down and stop trying to overwhelm me to get attention.

This doesn’t mean I never hear from her outside of those 30 minutes, but only that she doesn’t have riots in me head and leave me flattened, as she was doing earlier. She still pops up fairly regularly with different versions of the message, “I am bad.” (Variants of this include evil, disgusting, unforgivable, slut, gross…).

It has never helped to talk back to this voice. It’s something very primitive and instinctual. Telling her that it’s not right is like telling the Northwest skies here not to rain in March, entirely pointless.

Yesterday, it suddenly occurred to me to try something different. “If we are bad,” I asked her, “what would make us good?”

She had an immediate answer, “Do everything right.”

Well, if that’s what it takes to be good, no wonder she think she/I am bad. That’s a completely unattainable standard. I remember now that I really did feel that way as a teen. I remember telling a friend, when I was about 17, that I had to do everything perfectly or my mom and stepdad wouldn’t love me. Even if I did do something perfectly, like straight A’s all through high school, they were never satisfied because there was always something else I wasn’t doing well enough.

She’s young, this teen version of myself, and some of her thinking isn’t very nuanced or mature. Everything falls into “perfect” or “disgusting,” and there is no other space to exist in.

This means that my highest self, who thankfully is no longer so overwhelmed by the teen, now has the job of helping my younger self start to create a more complex understanding of herself as a human being with good and bad mixed in. This is not as simple as you might think because any mention of anything bad, and she’s off in a panic that she’s unredeemable and unlovable. She wants to hide, to lie, to harm herself. So I’m thinking about ways to help her with this. I will probably start by having her see this in other people. And meanwhile, I’ll keep telling her that I care about her.

Damn, healing is a ton of effort.

1976 2 Theresa




  1. Once again I am impressed with your ability to keep working on healing. I have a teen part that believes in perfect or bad, too. And in her world, I’m always bad. When you asked the teen ‘what would make you good?’, her answer just really resonated with me.

    Teaching the teen to understand the more complex stuff is hard work. Healing is the hardest thing we will ever do. And you are doing it with grace. 💟


    • Today I literally spent time writing with the girl, back and forth, about a book I read in which the main character is a very sympathetic character who does a terrible thing. Just a lot of thinking about what it means to be a worthwhile human being. I’d like to get her to broaden her understanding of “good.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • This is awesome. I really love reading about how you are helping the teen girl broaden her understanding of good. I love that you are giving yourself time to do this. It really shows compassion and understanding. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I can, sadly, empathise with your teen self, but I completely agree it is better to leave her impossible standards (and whatever caused them) in the past. I do like the idea of compartmentalising the time you spend with her, rather than trying to repress her altogether, and trying to help her grow as a person. I believe the effort will pay off.


    • A very long time ago, I worked with another therapist, and I would call her, telling her I was completely overwhelmed by what we were talking about in therapy. And she would tell me to compartmentalize, but I couldn’t understand what she meant. She never taught me how to do it. But E. taught me to define a place and a time and set a timer, which all sets limits. At the same time, I have to really show up regularly so that part of me knows it will be heard. When she first told me this, it seemed overly planned, but actually it works well.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Isn’t it strange? Intellectually, we know that there’s more to being a human being than doing everything perfectly or being disgusting, but emotionally, it’s very hard to shift from this position.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love your approach here, Q. So smart and I hope helpful. I like that question of “what would make you good?” And just your ongoing hard work and perseverance. And yes, healing is a ton of effort. It is a 24/7 job.


    • I feel as though something clicked in place for me recently, and it’s becoming clearer what I need to do. But it’s hard and time-consuming. The difference is that I have developed a trust in the process. I no longer wonder if it’s the right thing to be doing. I know it is.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I really admire the steps you’re taking in getting to know your younger self. I am not sure how to take those steps and I’m not sure if I’m ready just yet to take those steps either. You’re very brave to do so and I’m so happy for you that you are healing. I look to your blog for inspiration and strength and you never fail to deliver – even when there are posts where you berate yourself for not having it all together.


  5. I am glad you are working with her because that black and white thinking is a mess to live with! I liked this line: “doesn’t have riots in me head” cause thats exactly what it feels like. I know it can be hard (understatement) to like those parts that cause us so much trouble, but sounds like you are loving her and caring for her. She’ll come around since thats really what she wants.


    • She’s worked up again last night and today, but I’m letting her be that way. The thing is, she wasn’t allowed to have opinions, wasn’t allowed to be angry or stubborn or resistant. All of that was crushed out of her. So maybe it’s healthy for her to experiment, to be that way with my wise woman self, since I am committed to her no matter what she says.


      • Good for you to commit to her. I imagine its going to be a learning curve for both of you as she experiments with this new found freedom. That would be a scary change, even if a good one. Good luck!

        Liked by 1 person

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