Episode 63: “I Don’t Deserve To Heal” with Alyssa Scolari, LPC
Episode 63: “I Don’t Deserve To Heal” with Alyssa Scolari, LPC
Have you ever felt like you just don’t deserve to be happy? Or more specifically, have you ever found yourself having self-harm urges or feeling suicidal after someone is genuinely kind to you? If so, you are not alone. Tune in to understand the reasons why this might happen as well as how you can train your brain to start accepting love and kindness.
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Alyssa Scolari [00:23]:
Hey, Warriors, what’s up? And welcome back to another episode of The Light After Trauma podcast. I am your host, Alyssa Scolari ,and I am honored to be here with you. We’re doing a solo episode today. So some housekeeping things first. I just wanted to say thank you so so much for 15,000 downloads on the podcast. I am blown away and continue to be blown away. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. That was a really exciting milestone.
Alyssa Scolari [00:56]:
The other thing I wanted to say is head on over, if you haven’t done so already, to my Instagram page lightaftertrauma is the handle. So it’s just the exact same title as the podcast. And check out some of the content and let me know what you think. If there’s more you want to see. I have really been boosting the amount of content and really putting it out there. I’m trying to put out content about four days a week and I’m also going to be doing an Instagram live this Thursday, October 7th, at 8:00 PM Eastern time. So that’s Eastern standard time. I would love it if you could make it. Even if you can pop in for only 30 seconds to just say hi, I would love to meet you. This is my first official Instagram live. So I’m really excited for it.
Alyssa Scolari [01:50]:
And yeah, I can’t wait to meet the folks who have been listening to the podcast because it feels like I have a bunch of friends out there. And I know I’ve said this before, but it just feels like I have so many friends out there, but I don’t know their names. And I would love to just talk to you. And thank you personally, we’re talking about stress management on the Instagram live, so I’m going to share some stress management tips because Lord knows we all need it.
Alyssa Scolari [02:14]:
So that’s this Thursday, October 7th at 8:00 PM. Eastern Standard Time. I will be on Instagram live, feel free to come join. The Instagram handle is lightaftertrauma and thank you always for your support and your love. I love you all so much. And also if you haven’t done so already, please leave a rating or review for the podcast. The more ratings we get, the more we grow and the wider audience we reach so that we can give even more free content to people all around the world.
Alyssa Scolari [02:49]:
So if you are a listener of the podcast and you like what you’re hearing, or if you hate what you’re hearing and you want things to be different, just go leave an honest review. Let me know your thoughts. I would be honored to hear from you because this podcast really is for you. So yeah. Please leave a review. I would really appreciate it.
Alyssa Scolari [03:12]:
Okay. So today, so I cannot take credit for the inspiration for the topic of today’s episode. This topic came from a podcast listener, so thank you. I will not name their name because they did not give me permission to do so. So you know who you are. I told you I was going to be doing an episode about this topic this week. Thank you so much for reaching out and sending me an email. It was great to connect with you.
Alyssa Scolari [03:42]:
So today we are talking about feeling like you don’t deserve to heal and feeling like you don’t deserve nice things or compliments or healthy relationships, or really any kind of genuine relationship. Feeling like you just deserve loneliness and heartbreak because that is the narrative that you grew up believing because that is what you had experienced for of your life.
Alyssa Scolari [04:22]:
I love this topic because it really resonates with me. When I first started my recovery journey and I was in therapy, my therapist, who was truly not, she’s not the greatest at all. And she did a lot of harmful things and this was one of them. When I started this process and started uncovering a lot of repressed memories, I was in a spiral. I was going out of my mind. They were definitely some of the worst years of my life and, dare I say, at many points I often remember saying to my therapist or my husband, “This process is actually harder than experiencing the trauma itself.” And that’s not a fact. That’s just my lived experience is that having to like work through it and having all those memories come to the surface so much harder than the trauma itself. Again, that’s just my experience.
Alyssa Scolari [05:28]:
So when all of this started happening and I started having all these memories flood back, my therapist was really good at showering me with compliments. Which, I think that there’s a debate on whether or not therapists should be constantly complimenting their patients. I think it depends on the type of compliment. It depends on the goal of the compliment. But my therapist, wasn’t very good at holding space for me being in that spot. She very much wanted me to be healed and happy and she wanted me to immediately see how wonderful I was and be done. And I wasn’t there. It was going to me a long time to get there. But in that process, all of her compliments, and when I say compliments I mean things like, “Look at how well you’re doing. Look at how you’re still functioning in life even though you’ve been through so much.”
Alyssa Scolari [06:35]:
Let’s see, what else did she say? Oh, she was full of them. “Look at what a wonderful family you have. Look at the husband that you have.” She used to talk about my husband like, “He’s such a wonderful guy and you did all of these things. You have this amazing, wonderful life now.” And what I noticed was happening for me is the more she talked about how amazing my life is, right? She would kind of say, “Yes, this trauma happened. These terrible things happened, but your life is so amazing now.” And the more she would say that to me, the worse I would get when it came to self harm, any kind of like self-deprecating, the self-deprecation increased. Really all the self-destructive behaviors skyrocketed. And I noticed this pattern early on, but I didn’t quite understand it enough.
Alyssa Scolari [07:33]:
So I wasn’t really able to talk to my therapist about it at the time because I didn’t understand what was going on. But it wasn’t just my therapist. Right? It was anybody in my life. If somebody would say, particularly the words, “I’m proud of you,” were really hard for me to hear. And if somebody would say that I would spiral. I can recall a time where, so I have, had a supervisor, I should say. My supervisor has now blossomed into a wonderful friend and mentor, Rebecca Christensen. She’s been on the podcast before. She’s amazing. She’s just, she’s an angel on earth is really what I can say about Rebecca.
Alyssa Scolari [08:21]:
But you know, when I first started meeting with Rebecca and she helped me ultimately open up my private practice and she would often say, “I am so proud of you for doing this. I am so proud of you for doing that.” And don’t get me wrong. She didn’t mean anything about it. She had no idea that I was panicking when I would hear those words and neither did anybody else, so this is not a blame game. My therapist definitely knew. So I do place the appropriate amount of blame on her, but for everybody else, this is not a blame game.
Alyssa Scolari [08:56]:
So she would say all the time, Rebecca, “I’m really proud of you. Look at all you’re doing. You’re amazing. You’re going to do great things in life.” And I would, she might say that in a text message. And I would not be able to look at it. If I were to open up my phone and I could see like the, the first, I don’t know, whatever, three to five words of the text. And if I could tell that it was a compliment, I would have to shut my phone off and put it down and I couldn’t look at it.
Alyssa Scolari [09:25]:
And then I would start to panic. And then I would call for David. And then I would usually end up crying or having a panic attack. And then eventually I would read the kind message and I would have another panic attack. And then I would talk to David about it incessantly. And I would be like, “Well, David, what does this mean? Do people actually think that I’m kind? Do people actually think I’m a good person? How can this be?” And then I would say, “Well, David, they just don’t know the truth. They just don’t know what I’m really like. They just don’t know how evil I am, how insane I am.”
Alyssa Scolari [10:09]:
Because I truly thought that I was in every sense of the word, insane. That all of the memories that were coming back were false and that something just broke in my brain. So I said to David all the time, “These people who are showering me with compliments and telling me I’m a good therapist, they just don’t know the real me. And if they really knew what I was like, they would hate as much as I hate me.”
Alyssa Scolari [10:42]:
How sad is that? I take a moment to pause and reflect on that because I was fighting for my life and I couldn’t even tell how amazing I was doing it. It wasn’t until, let me think. Yeah. You know, it, it wasn’t really until the last year or so. And I attribute so much of my healing to this podcast. Hasn’t really been until the last year that I have been able to sit with compliments. So I’m sure that I’m not alone in this. And I know I’m not because the podcast listener, that I was referring to earlier, emailed me and told me that this is one of the most difficult things for them. And I could not agree more in the beginning when I was first understanding everything I had been through and trying to make sense of it all. I couldn’t hear that I was a great person.
Alyssa Scolari [11:40]:
I couldn’t hear how strong I was, because I didn’t even know if what I was remembering really happened. Or if what I was remembering was just some figment of my imagination. And I think a lot of trauma survivors feel that way. Whether or not we repressed our abuse or not. Whether or not we have repressed trauma or we have a full memory of it, I think a lot of us feel this way. Well, what if I made something up? Well, what if I could have done something differently when I was traumatized and then nothing bad would’ve happened to me?
Alyssa Scolari [12:15]:
We find ways in our head all the time to make the trauma our fault, because that gives us a sense of control. And it makes us feel like we could have done something about it. So I just couldn’t handle it. And I know that I would resort to binge eating really before, before I was able to recover from my eating disorder, lots of compliments and lots of praise and lots of attention would often result in binge eating and occasionally cutting.
Alyssa Scolari [12:46]:
But I would say more so binge eating to try to stuff down any of the feelings that were coming up from me when I was having somebody genuinely love me and care for me. I couldn’t tolerate it. And I’m sure a lot of us are wondering, right? Like, “Well, why?” Like, “Yes, I do that too. You know? Yes, I also can’t take a compliment. Why is that? I get really uncomfortable when people will praise me or compliment me. Why am I like that?” And let’s break it down on the most basic, like a fundamental level.
Alyssa Scolari [13:21]:
So when we look at your brain structure, when you have complex trauma and you have a history of being invalidated, unheard, unseen, gaslit, made to feel like your voice doesn’t matter. If you’ve been sexually abused, physically abused, emotionally abused, whatever it’s been, your brain develops., especially if you experience this as a child, that changes the development of your brain. So without getting too technical, because I am a brain nerd and I could absolutely go off on this, but I won’t. So without getting too technical, what happens is your brain develops and gets to this sort of homeostasis where it is so used to the invalidation.
Alyssa Scolari [14:18]:
It is used to being ignored. We are used to being unheard. So, you know, somebody gas lights us. We’re like, “Yep. That’s just one more person trying to fuck with my head.” Somebody sexually abuses us. We’re like, “Yep. That’s just one more person who doesn’t respect my body.” Doesn’t mean that it’s not traumatizing. Please don’t misunderstand me because it is all extremely traumatizing. But when you’re in it and you’re in the thick of it, we learn to expect the worst things to happen to us. “Well, yeah, of course my mom said that to me.” Or, “Of course my dad said that to me. That’s what he said his whole life. That’s just dad. That’s just what he does.”
Alyssa Scolari [15:06]:
So we sort of developed this pattern of accepting the abuse and accepting things that people say that hurt us. Shit, if I could go back now and talk back to all of the people who have ever said horrible things. Whew. I wish I could. I wish I could. And, and sometimes I have, right? Sometimes I have. But I know for so many of us, we can’t and back then, I know for me, I was just like, “Yep, this is one more person who has let me down or disappointed me. Or one more person who has crossed a boundary, but I don’t feel of comfortable speaking up or I’m not going to say anything because you know what, that’s what people do. People don’t respect my boundaries. So I’m used to it.”
Alyssa Scolari [15:58]:
So then you have somebody come along, and a lot of times it’s your therapist, because we talk about this stuff in therapy all the time. It’s a little bit easier to brush off compliments from friends because we’re just like, “Ah, yeah. You’re my friend. I know you like me. Whatever.” A kind of take it for granted type of thing. But when we finally go to therapy and we are getting treatment and our therapist is genuinely proud of us. Or we we can tell that whatever was said, whatever that therapist said, gave us this message that they genuinely care. That they genuinely want us to get better. That they genuinely see the good in us our brains initially are kind of like, “We’re not used to this. What is this? Somebody respecting my boundaries? Oh no, I can’t handle it.”
Alyssa Scolari [16:53]:
And then what happens? Right? We panic. Oftentimes we feel guilty. Oftentimes we get extremely uncomfortable. We feel shame. And we just kind of want that moment to be over. And we want to brush it under the rug, because we’re really uncomfortable. Sometimes it gets even worse where that comment kind of sits in our brain. And then we feel like we have to self destruct because it’s like, “Nah, my therapist said that to me. And that can’t be true. That can’t be true. My therapist just doesn’t really understand what a monster I am. So I’m going to show them what a monster I am.” And a lot of this is subconscious. I want to point that out. Right? I don’t think any of this for most people is like a conscious stream of thought that we sit in.
Alyssa Scolari [17:39]:
It’s like, “Well, how can I show my therapist what a monster I am?” I do think a lot of this is subconscious and for me it certainly was subconscious. So our brains simply can’t tolerate it because it is so new. And the brain on trauma is very hypervigilant. It is extra wired for protection. So when we are receiving information that is brand new to us, we automatically label it as a threat, even though it’s a compliment, right? Even though it’s something like, “Hey, Alyssa, I just really love the way that you are so resilient and you keep going and you keep getting up and you’re able to also work through your own shit and be there for other people. I think that’s amazing. You’re doing great things in this world.”
Alyssa Scolari [18:26]:
Oh, I’m cringing. I’m cringing as I say it. Cringing as I say it, because it is so hard and my brain is like, “No, that can’t be right. That can’t be right. We’re not used to receiving this kind of information.” So even though it’s good stuff, my brain is hearing that and going, “Ugh, no, no, no, no, no. This must be a threat. This must be a threat.” And then what happens when your body perceives a threat, right? You go into fight, flight, freeze, or falling. And we panic or we self destruct or we shut down or we kind of just laugh because we don’t know what else to do. Or we kind of mimic the facial expressions of the person next to us because that’s what’s supposed to keep us the safest.
Alyssa Scolari [19:10]:
So that is, breaking it down on a fundamental level, that is why this happens. So the good news is this changes. It has certainly changed for me. I had somebody text me, I want to say, what’s today? It’s Sunday, October 3rd, when I’m recording. So I had somebody text me on Friday, October 1st. And this person was somebody that I used to work with a few years back and she follows me on social media and she texted me only to say, “I am so proud of you. And I hope that one day I can be half the clinician that you are.” And man, that was amazing to hear.
Alyssa Scolari [20:08]:
But I have to say that if this were to two years ago, I would’ve not been able to tolerate it. I would’ve started sobbing and I would’ve showed David and I would’ve had a panic attack. And I would’ve said, “She doesn’t know the real me. She does not know the real me.” But today I open up my phone and I see that and I go, “Oh man, this is awesome.”
Alyssa Scolari [20:39]:
This is somebody who did not have to do that. With as busy as everybody is, people don’t have time for compliments. People usually just make time for the complaints. People are so much more likely to complain than compliment someone. So for her to find the time out of her busy day to pick up her phone and compliment me when it’s, doesn’t really, it’s not going to affect her. Right? This was a completely selfless act, as small as it might seem, it actually feels really big to me. And I just smiled and I teared up a little bit, but I teared up because I’m just so grateful and very humbled by the love that I’ve received, but I can tolerate it now.
Alyssa Scolari [21:34]:
And the reason I can tolerate it is because of this podcast. So it does get better. What you are doing by trying to sit with people saying kind things to you and trying to accept people saying kind things to you and trying to accept relationships where people respect your boundaries you are rewiring your brain.
Alyssa Scolari [22:03]:
Your brain is forming new neural pathways all the time through this process called myelination and, I believe I said that correctly, if I didn’t someone correct me, but I believe the process is called myelination. Where your brain is forming these new neural pathways. And the more we allow ourselves to be around people who shower us with love and affection, unconditional love, I should say, and kindness, the more our brain is rewiring itself. So that now when it receives that information, when it gets that input, it goes, “Oh, we know what this is. This actually, isn’t a threat. This is good stuff. So we’re going to file this away as a really good moment and not a moment to freak out and panic.” So I really hope that makes sense. And unfortunately the process of rewiring your brain it takes a long time.
Alyssa Scolari [23:09]:
You know, the great news is that it can be done it. I am living proof that it can be done. The brain is neuroplasticity, right? That means that the brain is constantly changing and evolving. So in the same way that your brain learned that only boundary crossing and abuse and gas lighting was safe, that’s the same way in which we can learn that unconditional love and affection and genuine compliments are safe. It takes time and it takes practice. So what does that look like? Right. It’s nice to talk about that in theory, right? “Oh yeah. Okay, great. My brain needs to rewire itself, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” But what are some things we can do to work on that? Because it takes work, right? It’s not just something we’re going to wake up one day and go, “Oh God, look. I can accept these compliments now and I can accept healing. And I can accept that. I’m getting a little bit better.”
Alyssa Scolari [24:12]:
Could be because it’s not just, and I should say this, I should have said this from the beginning, but it’s not just compliments, right? It’s the healing process. It’s anything positive in our lives, right? It’s healing when we’re getting better. When normally a triggering situation would’ve made us self destruct or self harm or use our eating disorders. And then in this instance, we didn’t, and we overcame this triggering situation without self-harming, all of that, right? Any kind of steps towards healing, healing your brain, healing your nervous system, healing your relationships, and your social life. All of it can be difficult. So what are some things that we can do when we notice that we are starting to have better people in our life, or when we notice that we’re starting to not self destruct, when time get tough, what can we do?
Alyssa Scolari [25:09]:
Here are some things that I did. So one of the things that a lot of DBT skills, which I’m sure many of you may be familiar with, I know that I’ve talked about them before on the podcast. So DBT stands for Dialectical Behavior Therapy and DBT is really wonderful for like distressed tolerance and has really effective coping skills. And honestly, I hate the word coping skills because I think it’s just so hard to use coping skills when you’re triggered. And it’s so hard to find coping skills that are actually good and effective, but I can say, I promise you, DBT skills are where it’s at and go a really long way in helping to sit with this kind of stuff. So DBT skills are meant for like, well, they’re not meant just for self harm, but they definitely are used in self harm.
Alyssa Scolari [26:08]:
And that’s really what this process is, is you’re having a really great healing experience or a really great interaction with somebody and your brain is perceiving that as a threat and therefore self-destructing. So for me, I find that what helps is sitting with it and trying to talk through what exactly is happening inside of my brain and why I’m perceiving this as such a threat. And sometimes I can’t, right? Sometimes that like good interaction is way too much for me. And that’s when I have to do other stuff, which is like, “Okay, I’m going to sit with this, but I’m also going to go take a bath.” Or, “I’m also going to go take a walk.” Or sometimes what we need to do is distract. And that can be key.
Alyssa Scolari [27:05]:
A lot of times, that’s what I need to do. And the thing for me is as much as I want to distract, I don’t want to forget about it because it really is special to me when somebody is kind to me. Or when I have a really good interaction with somebody it’s very, very special to me. So while my system might not be able to tolerate it in that moment, I very much want to come back to it. So what I have found most helpful is I will write it down. Whether I keep like a note in my phone, or if it’s a text message, I’ll take a screenshot and then I will immediately distract it with somebody else or with something else or somebody, right? I’ll talk to my husband or I’ll be playing with the dogs, or I will, a really big fan of Epsom salt baths. Or we’ll just go to the gym. Or we’ll kind of go read emails if I’m in the middle of a work today.
Alyssa Scolari [28:02]:
But writing it down really how helps me to be able to like put it someplace and then kind of move on with my day. So it’s like, “Okay, my system can’t tolerate this right now. So I’m going to distract. I’m going to do something that’s going to calm my nervous system.” Whatever that might be. Also another big one making a hot cup of tea. Ugh. So soothing to me. So do things to soothe your nervous system, if you can’t tolerate it.
Alyssa Scolari [28:29]:
And I know that that sounds kind of silly, right? Like why should I have to try to calm my nervous system or use coping skills because I received a compliment? But again, it goes back to the way your brain is wired, which as a result of trauma, your brain is wired so that you’re used to being shit on. But when somebody is actually respectful, your brain’s like, “Uh oh, what is this?” Right? It really should be the opposite in folks without a history of trauma they’re used to people respecting them. And then when somebody is disrespectful, then they’re nervous system gets dysregulated and their brain is like, “Rut oh, this is a threat.”
Alyssa Scolari [29:10]:
So sitting with those feelings, trying to work them through, going through DBT skills, I won’t go through all of them. I think that a lot of sensory stuff is really helpful for me. Whether it’s cold water, whether it’s, like I said, a hot cup of tea, whether it’s a massage, an infrared sauna, I’m a very sensory oriented person. So you can Google DBT coping skills and you can find a list of skills. And again, I know that that might sound like a lot of work, but I am telling you it is so, so worth it.
Alyssa Scolari [29:47]:
And over time, as you continue to be able to incorporate this new information into your body and into your brain, this new information that tells you, “Oh, hey, maybe I am not a horrible human being after all. Maybe I’m just a person who had terrible things happen to them.” It will get easier and easier to accept wonderful interactions. And it will be easier and easier to accept your healing. And you will find yourself craving healing and you will find yourself feeling worthy and deserving of healing.
Alyssa Scolari [30:28]:
So I hope that that helps spread some awareness and insight as to why it is so hard for people to take a compliment or for people to have a genuinely a good interaction with other people in this world. Why we self sabotage with our healing sometimes because it’s really difficult, right? The trauma is hard, but the healing is hard too. So I know that I’m not alone in this, as I said earlier, and you are not alone in it either. It’s really difficult, but you can get there and you will get there.
Alyssa Scolari [31:07]:
So with that said, I hope that everybody has a wonderful week. Remember again, I am going live on Instagram this Thursday at 8:00 PM. Eastern time again, that is this Thursday, October 7th. My Instagram handle is lightaftertrauma. Be sure to go check that out as there is lots of great stuff on that page now. We’re really rolling out the content and I am holding you all in the light. My husband has brought home some Rita’s water ice. So I am going to go chill out with him, have some Rita’s and enjoy my Sunday night. Wishing you all the best. Take great care.
Alyssa Scolari [31:47]:
Thanks for listening everyone. For more information, please head over to lightaftertrauma.com or you can also follow us on social media. On Instagram. We are @lightaftertrauma and on Twitter. It is @lightafterpod. Lastly, please head over to patreon.com/lightafter trauma to support our show. We are asking for $5 a month, which is the equivalent to a cup of coffee at Starbucks. So please head on over. Again, that’s paton.com/lightaftertrauma. Thank you. And we appreciate your support.