Are You a Slave to Ghosts From Your Past? (I Am)

Ghost figure on a train track representing ghosts from your past
Address your ghosts

To me, success is scarier than failure. I have no idea if anyone else experiences this, but I’m going to explain my barrier to happiness, and what I feel I need to do to get beyond it.

I wasn’t mentally well for a long time, and when things started getting better, I encountered a problem I didn’t expect. Instead of appreciating how far I’d come, I had an identity crisis.

You could call it imposter syndrome, but it was more complicated than that. It’s as if getting better showed me what I believe about myself.

When I succeed at something, I’m not immediately hit with feelings of victory and appreciation. Instead, I feel guilt. Like I’m leaving someone behind. Like my happiness is someone else’s pain, and for that, it feels like a crime.

Ghosts from my past have made me feel like success is wrong. Becoming stronger, mentally healthier, and more accomplished violates some hidden contract I’ve made with a person I can’t identify.

The closer I get to being who I want to be, the more my instincts tell me to turn back because it shouldn’t be me.

Why would someone feel like they don’t have a right to succeed and be happy? This can’t be something I was born with, because no child is born believing that they don’t have a right to happiness. Someone has to teach them.

So who taught me? Who am I trying to protect? Who am I a slave to? Why do they have so much authority over my feelings?

Talking With My Shadow

If you don’t know anything about Carl Jung, I’ll tell you that he was a psychologist who looked at the human psyche in a profound way. One of his most popular concepts is something called the Shadow.

Jung believed that our “shadow” is the part of ourselves that we refuse to acknowledge and embody. If you are kind, it could be your aggressive side. If you are timid, it could be your desire to stand up for yourself.

If you are a tough guy, it could be your artistic sensitivity. Society’s expectations make us repress our shadows, and Jung believed that we cannot be whole until we integrate our shadows in a healthy way.

My shadow is the selfish part of me. It’s the part that wants to win and thrive in life. I repress this part of myself so that other people won’t feel bad. I dampen myself so that no one can be jealous or hateful toward me.

No one can abandon me if I stay quiet and remain who I’m supposed to be in other people’s eyes. Somehow, I’ve been shamed into believing that I don’t deserve to be happy.

The Ghosts Who Hang Around in My Head

How I view myself, and my emotional responses to success, have been conditioned by life experiences. This can happen in a thousand different ways. Here’s an example:

I got good grades in school. I behaved myself. So people would call me “perfect.” It was demeaning. They acted like I was inherently the best, and it wasn’t fair that I was the best.

Others had to struggle to succeed, and I somehow did not. That screws with your head if you’re a developing kid who wants to be liked, and who doesn’t want to see people suffer.

If you’re perfect, then you can’t gain anything. Every success is the result of an unfair advantage. So how could you ever feel proud? It’s like being cursed with original sin. You’re harmful by default.

That’s just one example. I know the feeling I get now was born from many experiences. Some mundane, some uncomfortable, and some traumatic. All of these incidents impacted my self-esteem.

When I succeed at something, I feel like I’m hitting a boundary. It’s like there’s a sign that says, “You aren’t allowed beyond this point.” If I didn’t have this boundary I would be —

  • Honoring my needs
  • Doing something worthwhile
  • Getting closer to being who I want to be
  • Earning a victory

But the boundary feeling tells me that I’m —

  • Hurting and embarrassing others by succeeding
  • Going to be hated and abandoned
  • Violating my contract to stay a loser so that someone else won’t feel bad
  • Leaving people behind

How dare I do what’s best for me? I’ve been working on this problem for a long time, and I believe the solution is twofold. I have to listen to my resistance and understand what it’s protecting me from, and then I have to put up two middle fingers.

Clarity From the Ghosts

Evidently, I’ve hung around a lot rotten of people who don’t want me to be happy. Here are the two approaches I need to take:

The Wisdom of Resistance

My resistance to success keeps me safe from becoming a monster. In my mind, a monster abandons the people he loves, hurts others, and flaunts his perfection. If I succeed, I feel like I’m doing all those things. That’s what I’m terrified of becoming most.

I can navigate these feelings if I understand what they are protecting me from. I won’t just charge forward and keep feeling guilty every time I succeed. With this knowledge, I can work toward feeling gratitude for my accomplishments and for myself.

Honestly, what I need most is some self-love. Feeling like you deserve to be happy is the most important prerequisite to feeling happy. I need to embrace my shadow and integrate him into my life. I need to be selfish in the most righteous way and believe that my success will inspire others, not embarrass them. On that note…

The Wisdom of a Middle Finger

I’ve internalized everyone else’s disgusting insecurity and punished myself out of “empathy.” I need to be angry on my own behalf. I need to be on my own side. How about this:

Anyone who doesn’t want you to be happy doesn’t deserve your kindness.

I’ve put myself in someone’s emotional cage. I did it because of things people said to me years ago that they probably don’t even remember. My self-sacrifice serves no one and helps nothing.

I need to look my ghosts in the eye say, “It’s not my fault that you don’t succeed. It’s not my fault that all you do is complain. It’s not my fault you’re a fucking loser. I’m done protecting your feelings.”

I’m going to do the things I set out to do. And my goal isn’t just to do them; it’s to feel proud and excited about doing them.

Don’t let any ghosts turn you against yourself. You have needs and dreams, and you need to consider yourself as much as you consider others. Empathic people struggle with this, but it’s exactly what they’re missing. Trust me.

So fuck this. Fuck the ghosts. Rebel. Go out and reach insane heights. Make em' watch. Hope it hurts.