Gordon Livingston, Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart, p.13
Yesterday, in two different sessions, clients asked me why people do self injurious things like cutting and wanting to be abused by people they provoke.
In Freudian psychology there is the idea of the internalized object which means that a person incorporates the expectations, desires, and treatment by others into one's own sense of self. A 4 year old child offered a cookie who says, "Mommy says I can't have one until after I eat my dinner." has incorporated the maternal object and is guiding his own behavior in compliance with maternal expectations to maintain her approval and avoid her disapproval. Similarly, a child who scolds himself after spilling his milk saying to himself, "Bad boy! You're such a slob! You're a clumsy brat!" has internalized the bad maternal and/or paternal object.
As adults these tapes continue to run in our heads. We not only treat ourselves the way we were treated but we also tend to treat others the same way. As paradoxical as it sounds, abused children, as adults want and expect abuse. Without it, they get anxious. It is like going through life waiting for the other shoe to drop. Until we get what we expect we are uneasy. Most of this process is unconscious.
When we becomes consciously aware of these tapes, of these internalized objects, we can then choose whether we want to continue to act according to them or change them. To change them takes repeated effort over time. It is a challenge.
To cut oneself to obtain psychological relief seems totally nonsensical until you understand that somewhere along the road, the person learned that they are a bad person who deserves to be punished, to suffer, to experience pain, "because that's what you deserve!"
Exorcising these psychological demons is not so much a rational process although reason helps, but rather it is more a psychological process. Like ducklings following its mother after birth, we are impinted, and reconfiguring the neuropathways of the old imprint takes repeated effort over a period of time, resisting the old behaviors and developing new, more constructive and functional ones. Practice makes perfect.
As Tom Robbins, the author wrote one time, "It's never too late to have a happy childhood."
You deserve to be happy. You deserve to have a high quality life. To create a better life for yourself is a challenging project but one well worth pursuing.