Often when I am depressed, a part of my brain is consumed by thoughts I don’t actively choose. They are not voices, per se; they don’t sound like someone else is talking to me. But in a way, they are like voices, repeatedly telling me things like, “I’m so bad. I’m a terrible person. I’m bad. I don’t deserve to live.”
I know this is not objectively true. I’m just a person, certainly not a saint, but not a bad person either. I help people out. I give to charity. I am patient. Whatever, I am not a truly a bad person. But telling myself, “I am not really a bad person. Stop saying that!” does not help.
If the negative voices won’t stop when asked to, then I figure they really want attention. But why? I’ve been stuck on this point for, well, years.
This week in therapy, I bring E a list of messages from my critical voice. These are more detailed than “I am bad:”
- It is perverse to enjoy sex in a non-consensual situation.
- It is disgusting to associate pleasure with a humiliating situation.
- Maybe you are exaggerating the degree to which you didn’t want it to happen.
- You would rather see yourself as a victim than take responsibility your part of what happened.
- You want to appear innocent but in fact you allowed things to happen.
- You feel dirty because you know you are equally responsible.
- It is absurdly important to you to say it wasn’t your fault, but it was.
- You are afraid to take responsibility.
Clearly, one theme is the shame I feel from having been aroused a couple of times in situations that I didn’t want to be in. Yuck.
But that’s not what I’m writing about today. Instead, I’m thinking about the other theme, the question of fault, victimhood, and responsibility. The same voices that say, “I’m so bad” (or “you’re so bad,” depending on how the conversation is going), are also effectively saying, “you wanted it, you liked it, you asked for it, you were responsible.”
E thinks the critical voices are not my enemies. Rather, they are an unnecessarily harsh version of a protector part of myself, a part that wants to keep me from pain. For a long time, this has made no sense to me. How can these cruel, even vicious voices be on my side?
But here’s my newest insight: if I believe that I am “bad,” partly or fully responsible for a series of inappropriate, humiliating or harmful sexual encounters, then at least I had some control. I was involved, I made choices, I had some agency. Otherwise, I might have to accept that I didn’t have any control over what was happening. Maybe the voices want to protect me from that?
It’s one theory, anyway, to explain why I tell myself I am bad. I think I’ll need to carry this idea around for a little while, to see if it feels right.
I resonate with this on so many levels. It was like you plucked all my own vague thoughts from my head and made sense of them in words.
I think this is really powerful and I’m grateful for you having written this.