When I began, I wanted to judge myself . . . how did I get here? Why would someone treat me like that? Why did I let them? What’s wrong with me? How was I so blind? How many times do I have to go through this before I get the lesson?

Essentially, there was a cloud of shame, feeling like my life was a mess . . . I was a mess—if I had only done things differently then I wouldn’t be picking up the pieces again. To pour salt in the wound, my mind would replay awful insults that only confirmed the shameful feelings.

I was full of hidden emotions of being unlovable, unworthy, and undeserving . . . Somewhere along the way, I started believing that I did something so terrible and these must be the consequences. I made my bed—now I have to sleep in it.

I had been indoctrinated my entire life that if I performed I received love and if I didn’t then I was punished—the poster-child environment for performance-based love. So, when people mistreated me, I assumed I was the one at fault, because if I had been perfect they would not have treated me that way.

Indoctrinating an innocent child with this ideology is evil. It’s not accurate. It’s not helpful. It’s not true. It’s destructive. When someone is controlling, manipulative, or abusive—something is wrong with them. Normal, healthy people do not run around destroying other human beings and calling it love.

However, the irony of this dysfunctional indoctrination is our parents, teachers, and others whom influenced us were just doing what they were indoctrinated to do. They didn’t know what they didn’t know either. Not knowing what we don’t know does not make them or us exempt from the consequences and it certainly doesn’t excuse the behavior. This may shed understanding, yet we cannot take responsibility for their actions.

To make personal matters worse, I was told feelings were bad—they are a sign of weakness and to never feel.

Naturally, when I didn’t perform perfectly—I felt bad. But I didn’t have an outlet for those feelings, so I bottled my emotions and developed coping skills to sooth the internal conflict I was experiencing.

At the time, I didn’t realize how dysfunctional this indoctrination was nor how destructive the coping I had developed would be until it nearly cost me my life.

Beginning to do the healing work necessary to overcome the dysfunctional indoctrination and the overwhelming shame associated with it takes a tremendous amount of self-empathy.

We didn’t know what we didn’t know. We must forgive ourselves. We did what we needed to at the time based on the beliefs and the emotional tools we had.

Most of our lives we’d been indoctrinated with dysfunction. We thought we understood what it meant to be loved, to be safe, connected, and happy—yet what we experienced turned out to be very unpleasant. We may not have had words to describe the pain we were experiencing at the time. This dysfunction felt more like control, manipulation, emotional blackmail, and abuse.

When we start to realize we’ve been lied to, we adopt this destructive indoctrination as law. We feel like our world has been turned upside down. We are battling with our former beliefs. It can feel confusing.

However, as mind shattering as it may appear, it truly is a beautiful gift. It lets us recalibrate belief systems and values that are no longer serving us. Once we change those, our choices change, and when our choices change, our results change, too.

As we go through this transformation process, we grieve. We grieve the loss of what we thought was true . . . who we thought we were . . . what we thought love was . . . the reality of our existing relationships or lack thereof . . . a certain lifestyle . . . Ultimately, we grieve the loss of the picture-perfect life we thought we were creating.

At this point, we realize we were more in love with the idea of what we thought existed than what actually existed.

This grieving process can bring up feelings of shame as well, because our minds instantly revert to judging. Should-ing all over ourselves.

I should have known better . . . I shouldn’t have been so naïve . . . I shouldn’t have trusted that person . . . I should be smarter than that . . . I should’ve left sooner . . . I shouldn’t have let him treat me that way . . . And this can be a viscous cycle.

Shame and self-judgment play off each other and get us deeper into the mud that’s been crushing our spirit.

To be clear, there is a difference between shame and guilt. The feeling of guilt says, “Oops, I did something wrong. I made a mistake. I am still deserving of love and connection. And let me fix it.” The feeling of shame says, “I am wrong. I am the mistake. I’m unlovable and I need to be fixed.”

Shame is debilitating. It keeps us stuck. When we criticize, judge, and punish ourselves, we are laying a solid foundation for making more destructive choices. That is the opposite of healing. When we feel good about ourselves, we are more inclined to live with courage, make healthy choices, and uphold our standards.

Your mind is your strongest asset. We are simply conditioning it to serve you and not harm you. Your head and your heart are the most important gems you have to protect and nurture. Past pain can be used to learn important life lessons.

Past pain is not intended to be used to beat ourselves up with. We’ve had enough of that already.

To practice self-empathy—we must acknowledge how we feel and forgive ourselves. We are not our mistakes. We are not our past choices. We are not defined by how someone loved us or didn’t love us.

It is what it is. Those events occurred in our lives. We may not ever know the reason or the purpose behind it until much later or maybe never, and that’s okay. And we may never get the apology we want either. That’s okay, too.

What matters now is that we have the courage and ability to heal ourselves, and the freedom to create the internal safety necessary to put our lives back together. Internal safety is being safe with our own thoughts, feelings, and choices.

The process for creating internal safety begins with releasing shame by utilizing self-empathy and doing everything that makes us feel good about ourselves.

Let yourself grieve the loss of what you thought you had or what you thought you wanted. Forgive yourself for not knowing better and for not being perfect. Give yourself the space to feel without judgment—sit with the uncomfortable emotions that arise without making them right, wrong, bad, or good.

The emotions and events in our lives are weighted by the value or significance we give them. Refrain from imposing dysfunctional indoctrination, or former beliefs onto your healing process. Where you are right now—is exactly where you are. Not right, wrong, bad, or good. It simply is.

As long as we’re putting in the effort to heal—the outcome will be what it will be. Fall in love with the healing process and everything else will take care of itself.