Success Shaming, Trauma Central Style

Posted: July 16, 2014 in Trauma Central

I hate it when people are successful. I mean really really hate it, like vehemently. Well … I used to, anyway.

These feelings started when I was young and have shadowed me like a creeping phantom my entire life. Their source: my childhood home, aka “Trauma Central.” My parents thrived on maliciously comparing me to my peers and making sure I came out the loser. I call this “Success Shaming” and take it from me, it’s one of the worse fucking things you can do to a kid.

Back then, the neighbor boy Stevie was my biggest nemesis. No matter what we were doing – basketball, baseball or fucking tiddly-winks – he always did it better than me. “Look!” my dad would bellow. “He’s making a fool out of you.” My mother was also happy to remind me that Stevie would never bring home bad grades to his mother. And more than once, her banshee-like voice shrieked, “When Stevie’s mother says ‘jump,’ he says, ‘How high, mom?’” The result: I fucking hated Stevie … and all the other “Stevies” who came after him.

The Success Shaming continued during my teenage years. Every friend who stopped by was made the shining example of whatever it was I wasn’t doing well enough. Somebody always had a better job, better clothes, and better direction in life. No matter what they were doing, it was always infinitely greater than the miserable existence I was struggling to eke out for myself. At first, I tried to best these wunderkinder; but eventually, I gave up. By my senior year, I deeply resented “success and everything associated with it.

As an adult, I was a seething volcano of dark emotion each time someone got a promotion, got married, or bought a new house. I would secretly wish they’d end up in divorce and bankruptcy. I’d nursed this rage and hatred inside me for so long that it came to define my identity. It would feed upon itself and continue to grow until I couldn’t think rationally anymore … and then I’d start having thoughts so dark and violent that I couldn’t tell anyone, not even my therapist.

But then one day, I broke the cycle.

I wish I could pinpoint whatever it was that inspired this change. At best, I can say that it’s probably a part of this journey of self discovery that’s forced me to confront the many ugly and monstrous aspects of my personality. I’ve traced this negativity to its source and it’s always Trauma Central, but the healing work is mine and mine alone to do. As a result, I now find myself wishing everyone the best in life and truly meaning it. By doing so, I’ve come to see and appreciate my own successes, too. It’s a great feeling!

One final note: four years ago at my son’s baptism, my mother compared my suit to that of my best friend and son’s godfather. She loudly criticized the fact that the jacket’s shade of black was not an exact match as that of my pants, while my friend’s suit was a perfect match. She added, “If only you could’ve seen yourself; your friend outshined you a thousand times over!” Instead of getting angry and hating on my friend’s amazing choice in menswear, I turned to my mother and said, “I’m so glad you’re here to be a part in your grandson’s baptism.”

  1. Good on you for healing that kind inside you that your parents deeply rejected! It’s good to be able to relate. I am also the daughter of narcissistic parents, I went from scapegoat to golden child back to scapegoat, to the family’s therapist! I also had a special needs sibling, so that gave me no support at all…I am finally going through the stage of being angry with my parents…It took my Dad’s suicide attempt to cause that, as I spent 2 weeks picking up the pieces and only realising that he will continue his self destructiveness..Its time to look after me and only me and make a success of my own life.

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