The Janus Mask

Janus is the God of Beginnings
gates transitions time doorways.

The god of new beginnings.

As one face rotates away from you
the other comes into view.

This came rather appositely to mind after I found myself sinking unexpectedly into a state of unhappiness well over a year after having no contact with my abusive family. I found myself unable to rid myself of guilt. The logical part of my brain was able to clearly repeat that this was not my fault. But the endless re-runs of, "If only I had tried harder" or, "If only I had tried something different." suggested something else. I still clearly felt I could have had a better outcome if only I had found a different way to explain things, just been ...different in some way that made it all acceptable, or been able to change them..

I thought I had done with "The Voice In My Head". The loud one that would shout over me that I couldn't do it / anything. That I wasn’t good enough to succeed, so better not to try. The one that cried "Bad Girl" at every opportunity.

It had seemed silent, mostly - or at least well muffled - it hadn’t occurred to me that as that voice had gone it had simply made space for another. I had, after all done the final fight, vanquished my mothers endless critical voice from my head, why would I still be on guard? why On earth should I expect its place to be taken over by another that had simply been waiting for its own opportunity to come to the fore.

Guilt and self blame, and odious combination.

"It is after all - my fault." The voice told me
What is?
"Well, you know, everything..."

Its a Little bit like Magic Thinking - which leads some people to believe that they are the butterfly - you know - the chaos one that flaps its wings and creates hurricanes on the other side of the world, their actions affect the whole universe.

It leads some people to believe that they will only avoid bad luck by walking around a ladder, and feel uneasy stepping on cracks in pavements.
Well it turns out that I had been dong a huge amount of magic thinking even though I pride myself on lack of superstition. Although I can happily pat a strange black cat, walk only on cracked pavements and have no fear of breaking mirrors...have been living with the "Totally Reasonable Belief"  (not!) that everything is my fault.
By everything I mean:
My Family Of Origins problems
The separation from them.
All the other things that I suffered at their hands and minds,
and so on.

I found when I looked at my own thinking that I had  creepingly accepted so much of this as as being my fault, not necessarily directly, but that I had some level of culpability because I believed that different actions on my part would have changed what happened to me. It feels positively abominable to say, but the level of responsibility I have absorbed as mine for what has happened to me is phenomenal.

The simple early guilt of wondering if I could have tried harder is the tip of an ocean liner sized iceberg of;
"Should have," "Could have," and "Ought to have."

It would all have been fixable if only I had done more, tried more. Been different and better.

But when you identify the whisper of this side of the mask as not your own voice it reveals itself for the unreasonable and wormy intruder it is.

Why - for instance, (logic asks) should I have been the one expected to fix everything?

The only way I could have fixed things is to pretend better. I would have had to pretend to be someone else - better. And that is what it would have been - a pretence, after all, I couldn't actually be who they wanted me to be, because I'm just me. Pretending would have been sticking a big fat lie on my life in order to make them happy. Yet I know that actually they still wouldn't have been happy. responding to their criticism would simply have made them change the criticism, not the attitude.

Pretending would also have meant I would have had to want things that I didn't, I would have had to want things someone else wanted for me - not things I wanted for myself.
I would have had to put aside what I wanted - and want exactly what they did.

I would have had to be good at things that I'm not good at and stop doing things I was.
I would have had pretend to enjoy things I didn’t enjoy, and I would have had to like things I didn't like, including people.

Still, I'm a grown up and I know we all have to 'make nice' about things now and then. It saves face and it means you don’t hurt other peoples feelings - so you put up with a few things, and do it graciously in a normal life... Sometimes however in "Normal Life" you don't get up in-the morning and put on someone else's clothes, make up someone else’s face and step out of the door into someone else’s life.

Where does the guilt come in? Because I tried living this way to be approved of, and I failed. I think that may well be something to be very thankful for. The logical outcome of acting on the endless disapproval and criticism of the powerful emotionally abusive parent would be to be hollow - to be a void and have no real self, and so I return to the circularity of it all.
To rid myself of the guilt I found I needed to reverse the question, instead of questioning "Could I have lived that life better?" The question should be, "Why would I live that life?"
What gives anyone the right to disapprove of me so much that the only way I will be acceptable is to negate myself and live my life pretending to be another.

Yet this is what I tried to do.

Where did the voice come from?

The reason I identified this voice was trying to remember if my mother had ever apologised for anything, if she ever felt to blame for anything, (not a single thing came to mind) but what clearly stood out as a pattern was that when she felt bad, she would lash out at others, most often me. She would externalise her bad feelings and blame them, often irrationally and illogically on others. I had, quite literally, 100s of examples of that.
So as the loudest mother voice in my head was mostley silenced from direct criticism it turned instead to this secondary weapon, blame.

She always externalised blame - things were not her fault , time after time she has carefully explained how other people were to blame for anything that brought her displeasure, from events she disapproved of, to her own feelings, and as the scapegoat...(ahhhhhh! how this come full circle) I was to blame a lot. Even knowing this I find myself wondering if I was the scapegoat because I accepted the blame? and yet I think that the voice which speaks to me now - whispering that this too could be my fault is not my own, it is just the second voice, and now I know what it is and  I have a feel for why it is there and what it does, I don't need to listen to it.

I was caught out by this, that the voice in my head was not singular, and I may have to accept there are still others I don't yet recognise. knowing it is not really a part of me means I can separate from it
I can be without its malign influence creeping up and whispering, "But surely you could have tried harder."

"Sure" - I think.
"I could have tried harder to do things no-one should be expected to do and I did try quite hard but I failed. Good !
It was a good thing to fail at!" and I think I will keep that in mind in the coming weeks.

I'm not even prepared to feel guilt or blame that maybe I should have given up sooner. I am more than prepared to draw a line of forgiveness under that for myself and move on.