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Coping with a weird guilt problem
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Coping with a weird guilt problem

Hello,

I am writing to ask for help as to how I should deal with a conflicting situation.

As a child at 5 yrs, I was involved in "playing doctor" with my younger brother. I am a she.  All of it was well within the normal curious boundaries that children of that age display. And i know for sure that there was all there was to it. After-all, I did not even know where children came from much later in life.

I forgot all about it, until another relatively harm-less incident brought back "some" memories 3-4 yrs later, when I was about 8 yrs. or so. And these memories were not very vivid.

I didn't know at the time that playing doctor is very normal, and was overcome by deep-seated guilt and shame. This continued for than a decade, and I would try and suppress any passing memory that came along. Boy, that is some emotional trauma. If only I knew, and spoke to somebody early on...

Now, when I know everything was just done from the curious mind-set of a young child, I can forgive myself (actually quite easily), BUT I still feel deeply disturbed when the memories come. I presume this is because I still look at things through an adult mind-set.
It's almost contradictory, and I feel so weird.

How should I deal with the memories, so they won't bother me...? I am hoping to deal with my crisis via counselling than more so than any medication..

Kindly advice/help.
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368886_tn?1278962315
Hello.

1) The incidence occurred at 5 years of age. Even if you look at it through an adult mindset, you may know that what happened is normal for the age.

2) The disturbance in your mind was created when you were 8yrs old. And I guess the disturbance came from your mind drawing inferences from the event. And those inferences must have been similar to "It was a bad thing to do", "I am not a good person if I do that", etc. These are examples.

3) Back to the present, what you have is the knowledge that you have been feeling guilty and disturbed, but also know that playing doctor is normal for that age, and that when the disturbance was created you were not aware of that.

Through these three points you can have a logical explanation of why you should not be feeling disturbed NOW for what happened back then. But I can understand that you may know it intellectually, but may still feel disturbed. This is probably the head-gut split we are dealing with here. (You know it up there, but can’t feel it in the gut). There is also this ‘secondary anxiety’ about feeling disturbed.

Before anything else, I would suggest you consider talking with a trained psychotherapist (CBT / REBT) about this issue. That will probably be more beneficial in the long run.

It is necessary to know what aspects of those memories disturb you the most today. One side of your adult mind says what happened was normal for the age. We need to find out what does the other side is saying that's probably creating all the disturbances. Is it saying "I should not be feeling this way", "I am a .......... person for doing that in childhood", "Such a thing should never have happened", etc.? You would know best. Until you go for the therapy, you can take this discussion here further and come back with more thoughts on the forum.

And about the secondary anxiety, it helps to acknowledge the situation as something that can happen to anyone, and to know that you can overcome this situation.

Take care.

Abhijeet Deshmukh

3 Comments
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Dear Dr. Deshmukh,

Thanks a lot for the insight. I think you helped delineate this a bit more clearly for me.

I think the disturbance comes from the fact that I am filled with the feeling of "disgust", when I think through the memories. I just keep telling myself that this was not like me.

This is hard, accepting this as normal, while being disgusted with it. I do get very anxious when I think if it - my brain almost freezes, and I cannot concentrate on what I am supposed to be doing for sometime.

I may have sustained some long term damage. These memories almost became a part of me for a very long time, during which I kept looking at them in a very negative way (I didn't know for a very long time that playing doctor was normal). So, I lived with the disturbance, and the reason for the disturbance for a very long time. Does this take time to undo?

I am not sure if this is also somehow also tied to my personality. I have always been very mature for my age (and yet cannot accept this!).

I see that I keep beating myself up that this was just not like me.

I think one place I could certainly use your advice is to know what the best way to handle the memories is. How do I overcome the anxiety? Does undoing the damage take time?

A naive question - with therapy do things get worse, before they get better? Or is there no reason for me to suspect that?

Thanks a lot for your kind help again!
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368886_tn?1278962315
Hello again.

Before I write anything, I should mention that these responses are not meant to be therapeutic. We are discussing what might help you deal with your situation effectively, and what you can expect in the therapy process.

When you say "feelings of disgust", I hear "thoughts of disgust", because that's the way it usually is. Feelings are manifestations of thoughts. And you have mentioned that your self-talk is about "it was not like me". What this tells me is that probably you may need to work on unconditional self-acceptance. What it means is you are comfortable with yourself, accept yourself as you are, in spite of doing something which is not like you.

When you think of the event and say "this was not like me", you probably attach some meanings to this, which appear to be self-evaluative inferences. And inferences can be wrong. But again, if can be OK with yourself in spite of not being up to your own standards sometimes, you are already on the road to recovery.

In the process of psychotherapy (if REBT or CBT), you will be able to explore those self-evaluative inferences and going deeper, your inner core beliefs. And some of those beliefs might be irrational and "demands". One such demanding belief can be "I must never ever do anything that's not up to my own standards".

At this point, it seems relevant to see how long this process might take. As you have mentioned, you have been with these feelings for a long time. But this doesn't necessarily mean it will take longer than usual to undo all that. The process might take its time, but it won't be because of the long term problem. I would mostly be because of the amount of work you might need to do. But I can assure you that once you start getting more and more insights into how you can change the way you feel by modifying how you think about the events, you will be more excited and motivated to carry on.

The idea of a long term damage is most probably just an idea, arising out of the anxiety about possible difficulties you might face during therapy. The "long term" is actually a repetition of the same thought process leading to emotional disturbances. And it appears a long duration to you in the present as you reflect upon the past. But what actually happens is the same thoughts and perceptions are repeated. And so, in the present, what you need to focus on is the thought process, and not on how long this has been going on. It'll help to free yourself from this additional anxiety.

What could take time is the process of identifying underlying fears, wrong and evaluative inferences, meaning, inner demands, etc. All these are actually repeatedly being triggered by those memories. And it is reasonable to say that memories may not be erased. But the self-evaluative thoughts can be modified, so that you won't disturb yourself anymore in spite of the recollections of the past. This is the aim of psychotherapy.

Yes, during the therapy process, you might experience emotional turbulence as more and more inner beliefs are being explored. There might be some thoughts you never knew you had. But if you look at it closely, the actual situation has not worsened, your memories have not changed, and the past events have not worsened. What is changing is your current perception of the past events and of your thoughts about them. Things might 'seem' to be getting worse, but it's a process of change.

Hope this answers some of your queries. Take care.

Abhijeet Deshmukh
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