Displaced Sadness

In many dysfunctional family systems shame seems to be the core driver. Shame can be used in various ways. Shame is used to avoid uncomfortable feelings and / or personal accountability through blame. Shame can also be deployed to prevent physical and emotional abandonment. Blame through shame mandates compliance to avoid the threat of abandonment. In such family dynamics each individual has to discard parts of themselves in order to avoid being shamed or abandoned.

Such a dynamic can be seen in the individual’s physical, emotional and spiritual development. Early in the child’s life, disowning or discarding occurs each time a trait, quality or characteristic displeases the parent or caregiver. Unconsciously the child learns through the parent’s eyes and gestures what pleases and displeases them. The child begins to associate any quality, characteristic or behavior that does not please the parent as bad. In the event that the parent withholds affection or attention from the child –when the child does not “please” the parent– the threat of physical and / or emotional abandonment is instilled in the child. With holding of affection or attention can be a terrifying event for any child. The child unknowingly begins to associate certain behaviors with specific responses from the parents or caregivers.

As the child continues to develop they learn that repressing what does not please the parent is a way to avoid making Mommy or Daddy angry. {Repression –The unconscious exclusion of painful impulses, desires, or fears from the conscious mind}. Over time the child learns that in order to please his or her parents they must discard any trait, characteristic or quality that displeases the parent. Unconsciously the child may fear the threat of emotional and / or physical abandonment. Depending upon the level or dysfunction in the family system, the child may begin to use active suppression to protect themselves from feelings of annihilation. {Suppression –the conscious exclusion of unacceptable desires, thoughts, or memories from the mind.} As repression turns into suppression, denial becomes the operative mechanism to discard what is perceived as being unacceptable to the “love object” or parent.

Because the child learns to associate negative outcomes with specific qualities, characteristics and traits, they may continue to berate themselves for having “those” unacceptable qualities, characteristics and traits. As the child continues to develop – from an adolescent to a teenager — they may be unable to differentiate between what makes them valuable, special and unique and what they had to discard.

As the individual gets older and begins to seek to form intimate relationships, an interesting phenomenon occurs. The traits, qualities or characteristics once discarded (as they were growing up) are now admired in the new relationship. Initially, these traits are valued and appreciated in the beloved and then something horrible seems to occur. The shame once assigned to those discarded parts of the individual is now transferred onto the beloved. Insidiously, the beloved is now expected to carry that shame for having those once admired traits. Instead of these traits being encouraged and nurtured, they are now viewed as a threat. If the two people stay together in the relationship, those qualities, traits and characteristics will again have to be discarded. Shame has thus again won in the squelching of those qualities. If this goes unchecked, creativity is often lost and thrown by the wayside of life itself.

I have found that the solution to ending the cycle of displaced sadness resides in the place of honesty. I need to look at the parts of myself that I have had to discard to maintain any relationship. Once I begin to realize that someone wants me to carry his or her displaced sadness, I need to evaluate if staying in the relationship is good for me. I have come to believe that I can not help anyone, by carrying his or her sadness. If I continue in that relationship, I may find myself being dragged under spiritually. Each person needs to do resolve their own sadness and shame, as it hinders them. This process ultimately needs to be their choice. I no longer want to discard parts of me; in order to be loved or valued by another person, especially at the expense of carrying someone’s unresolved sadness.

As you listen to, watch or read my articles and questions come to mind, please send those questions to mind. All questions are good questions. In the event that you would like to leave a comment, I would love to hear from you. To do so, please use the below contact form. I will respond to your comments and questions. I look forward to hearing from you.

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0 thoughts on “Displaced Sadness

  1. Hello,

    My name is Richard and I have to say that as a child I had the privilege of being elected identified patient in my dysfunctional family system. In fact I must have served that office so well that I was continually re-elected. I found this article intriguing. As I read it, it became clear to me a large part of why I was unable to attain an intimate relationship. You make a good point. I had to trash a lot of who I am in order to protect myself in the environment of that dysfunctional family system. It is clear now. not everything I trashed was necessarily “bad”. In fact I am of the impression that the lions share of it wasn’t. However as you describe, these virtues as they would present themselves in relationships I have tried to attain, I began to shame my would-be partner for exhibiting them. From my perspective, it was bewildering to see why such a “bad” trait would be embraced by her and why she would turn tail and run when I would “try to correct her.” Now it is clear. And as a matter of fact I have been revsiting many of these suppressed traits and reevaluating them. Yes the voice of my parents play in my head as I am in the process of shutting those old tapes down also.

    One item that comes to mind is my predisposition to be curious. I have the records of a hospital psychiatric evaluation from when I was 8 years old. In it, my mother repeatedly decries my curiosity. I wonder where my life would be now if this curiositiy was allowed free reign. It boggles my mind the disability I must have suffered dearly because of my need to shut this and other wonderful traits down. Then, as you describe in your article, as I would observe a potential intimate partner exhibiting one of those traits, I would shame her! What a crock! Now I do have a girlfriend and I will be watchig this very closely, being careful about when I would tend to project shame on her. I will attempt to identify and examine the trait in question to see if really it is so bad. I will explore the options I have now to reinstate that trait and reconnect with it. I think your article was wonderful!

    I am writing in reference to the article Displaced Sadness published on your site on May 26, 2007. I also read parts 1 and 2 of Traumatic Brain Injury and the Identified Patient published in the same year.

    Currently I am in my 50’s. I am 1/3 the way through a Master’s program in Applied Behavioral Analysis at Kaplan University. I hope at some point we can connect as I see we may have very similar goals and concerns.

    • Hi Richard,
      Thank you so much for leaving a comment and for what you shared with me. Thank you. In my experience, I have found that if I had not hurt enough and sought after solutions I would not have survived on many fronts. My experience has taught me that people either get bitter or better with age. You are doing marvelous work my friend. In my experience, I arrived at the conclusions that i did through unearthing and examining the shame that bound me for many years. Another article that you may find to be helpful is my article, Whose Shame are you Carrying? Here is a link to that article my friend, http://secondchancetolive.org/2007/05/25/whose-shame-are-you-carrying/. Through my process and on my journey several authors Have been helpful in connecting the dots.

      As John Bradshaw stated in his 2 tape series, Healing the Shame that Binds You, “We stand on the shoulders of great people that have come before us” I share what I have learned from these forerunners. To work through your own process, I would highly recommend that you investigate each of these authors, as they collectively have helped me to gain the awareness’s that I speak about in many of my articles. One is Alice Miller and a few of her books that have benefited me are Drama of the Gifted Child, For You Own Good and Thou Shalt Not Be Aware. Another Author is Jane Middleton-Moz and her book, Shame and Guilt: Masters of Disguise played a significant role in identifying and understanding debilitating shame and debilitating guilt Richard. She helped me to connect many dots.

      Several other authors — Jordan and Margaret Paul, Do I Have to Give up Me to Be Loved by You, and Inner Bonding by Margaret Paul, Harville Hendrix, Getting the Love you Want.

      I applaud you for doing the work that you are doing on yourself. You will undoubtedly be a light to the people that a loving God brings across your path Richard. In my experience, I have found that life is about a journey — a process — not a destination. I have also found that life is pursuing excellence, not about trying to prove some thing by being driven by perfectionism.

      I have a Site Map for the articles that I have written. You may find that articles that I have listed in my Site Map would also give you clarity.Here is a link to my site map for my articles Richard http://secondchancetolive.org/site-map/

      Craig J. Phillips MRC, BA
      Second Chance to Live

      Sharing Hope in the Face of Adversity

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      Our circumstances are not meant to keep us down, but to build us up.

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