Lost in Moral Obligation

When one is raised as a scapegoat or held to a higher standard than children should be, they develop a deep sense of moral sin. At least, I did. I was raised as Cinderella: attended to when needed but with loads of abuse, and then left to the tower when my family didn’t want me. I call it the “revered scapegoat.” Like a religious icon or a backyard dumpster, I was there when they needed me to help them or just a place to dump their emotional garbage. Then I was placed aside on the shelf or in the drawer until I was called upon again.

I developed such as great deal of shame that I turned that energy into a self-destructive OCD involving a massive moral obligation to do everything perfect. I’m talking even beyond wanting the perfect test scores or cleanest house (although debilitating in itself), I sunk so far that I need to feel perfect. Every muscle ache, nerve tingle, hard swallow, sleepless night, and frantic thought was never ever supposed to happen and if it does, a holy terror engulfs me. I scream, “I can’t.” “I’m going to lose myself into the abyss of dysfunction forever.” I can literally feel my body go into my head and my head super charge with frantic energy. My whole body buzzes, tenses, and becomes restless. “I must escape myself.” “It’s the only way I’ll be ok.”

Thanks, mom and dad.

Thanks, my entire misogynistic family.

Thanks, my genetic bloodline of frantic OCD and hypochondria.

Thanks, the world at large that fuels self-loathing, especially in women.

So I numb myself, anything to not feel the stress. Except, I’ve been in therapy now for five years and I’m healing. So I don’t numb anymore. I find resources to help me through and calm me down enough to relax. This is good but my moral obligation doesn’t think so. “I must be perfect and I must do everything myself.” If not, I’m a failure. I’m a sin of a being. I must be ready and able to be pulled off the shelf and into use again.

I will shame supplements, homeopathy, a night not spent alone, and tea. All things I do to help me calm down my overwhelming fear to perform so I can get enough sleep, enough energy to exercise, enough desire to eat, enough motivation to pursue what makes me feel good. These things help me feel grounded and peaceful. But I shame them anyways. This wound runs deep.

It runs past my childhood and into generations of women before me abused. I have five other family members with the same affliction: my mother, my maternal grandmother, my maternal aunt, my maternal cousin, and my sister. It manifests differently in all of us but the wound is the same: moral obligation to be enough even though we were built with severe lack of care to ever develop enough.

I am slowly working with this shame. It’s glacier slow but I remind myself that I am re-shaping generations of faulty wiring. I’m transforming my entire development. So, I am allowing myself the resources that help me. I am communicating with my parts that are so scared to rely on something else because they could never rely on anyone before. I tell them that this is how we build trust in ourselves and others. How we engage with the world rather than isolate from it. How we build secure attachments to resources designed to help us as Mother Nature created. We are never meant to live in a bubble and not use food, friends, therapists, movements, and well… life itself to help us.

Two huge concepts that I practice daily: radical acceptance and radical compassion. When I find myself falling into shaming habits, I place my feet on the ground, my hands on my belly and heart, and I shift from fighting myself to allowing myself. It’s hard as hell. I started with just seconds of time here but it’s building. The more I allow my scared parts to connect with me, the more they relax into the present moment. “Just this moment is all I need to know right now.” “Just feel the piece of peace you feel now.” And the moments create more moments. Sometimes I can relax deeply enough to just breathe and even sleep here, even if that’s only for a few moments. But I am building new pathways. My brain is connecting new neurons and my body cells are remembering new information. “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” as the saying goes. Well, I am building an entire universe inside of me to replace the old. And I’m going to need multiple parts from Mother Nature to do so: her fire, her rivers, her shelters, her food, her sun and plants, her wise wisdom of how everything works together.

I need help and I need it to let go into what is instead of what if. So I’m going to seek it and use it to build my own inner resources. And I’m going to try really, really hard not to shame myself when I get it. Time to make some tea.

Radical Acceptance and Radical Compassion are books from Tara Brach. They are also theories of multiple therapies. To learn more about them, click below:

Tara Brach


The other practices I do are IFS (Internal Family Systems) and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy. You can read about them here:


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