Why don’t I belong?

by | 14 March 2019 | 16 comments

‘I don’t fit in,’ I complain, earnestly, full of pain. ‘I don’t belong. I don’t belong anywhere.’

The therapist looks at me steadily, brimming with compassion for me and probably a little stuck about how to respond. If she contradicts me, she’ll risk being misattuned. If she agrees with me, she’ll reinforce my misery. So she sits and waits and eventually she says, ‘When did you first feel like this?’

I look at her, puzzled, like she’s being really stupid. ‘I’ve always felt like this. I can’t remember a time when I haven’t.’

‘Tell me about some specific times when you’ve felt it in particular,’ she insists.

I want to wave her away with a dismissive, ‘Oh, but there are so many times …’ but actually I can’t. Because, at least in this moment, I’m finding it difficult to pinpoint specifics. The feeling of not belonging is so general, so intrinsic to how I experience the world, that individual episodes don’t leap to mind.

‘I don’t know,’ I say at last, lamely.


Find the complete article in Carolyn’s new book, ‘Unshame: healing trauma-based shame through psychotherapy’, available now!

A word of explanation

I had therapy mainly between 2006 and 2015. These blog posts are not verbatim accounts of sessions, but rather the client equivalent of ‘case studies’ – amalgamations of various sessions, ‘narratively true’ rather than ‘historically true’. Although often written for stylistic purposes in the present tense, they are very much from a past period of my life. Ideally they should be read within the wider context of other blog posts, articles and my book, to give a more integrated and rounded sense of where I was at, where I’m at now, and the process that took place between those two points. I have been on a journey of recovery, and the difference in me from when I was in therapy (especially at the beginning) to now is testament to the brain’s ability to recover from even the most appalling suffering.

My primary work now is writing, followed closely by training therapists, counsellors and other professionals to support survivors of trauma. Regrettably I cannot provide one-to-one support but our charity framework PODS (Positive Outcomes for Dissociative Survivors) provides a helpline and a range of other services: please go to www.pods-online.org.uk for more information, and https://support.pods-online.org.uk/start-here if you are looking for support.

For training, please see our range of live courses at www.carolynspring.com/live-training, and our online courses at www.carolynspring.com/online-training. We also publish a range of resources to support recovery from trauma, which you can see at www.carolynspring.com/shop. My first book, Recovery is my best revenge, is available to buy at https://www.carolynspring.com/shop/recovery-is-my-best-revenge-paperback/




  1. SharonJayne

    Always so, so helpful and reassuring to read. This ties in with my own thoughts for today, in a meant synchronicity. Thank you once again, Carolyn.

  2. Merry

    This was so helpful thank you. I joke that I am responsible for Global Warming….it’s not a funny joke….it is shame. You have given me a lot to digest here, thank you!

  3. Caroline

    This is just what I needed to read. I have been very lonely this week in my shame and self loathing and it is reassuring to know others out there are also feeling the same. I was wary of reading it in case it triggered me but it really helped.

  4. Tara

    This post took a while to read. It’s so painfully on point with where I am right now. Shame rules me and shame wanted me to reject the ideas you offer for moving forward.

    I don’t share my pain in therapy. I sit (un)comfortably in a space where my professional mind, as a therapist, knows what you’ve said, what my therapist says and other wisdom on emotions. But that sits completely removed from client me. The “real” me. I’m too ashamed of the real me to let it out. Still. I still believe that if my therapist of 4 years knew the real me then he wouldn’t like me, wouldn’t want to work with me..and maybe..believe I deserved what I got. Of course people don’t like me; I’m unlovable and needy and asking for too much. That being me, fundamentally hurts people.

    When I’m honest, I always get extra shame like being embarrassed for someone who is behaving in embarrassing way. I hear how hurt and damaged I sound and that extra shame piles on. I guess shame is abusive. It’s not only making me feel less than but it’s suffocating any attempt to talk about it. Another secret for me to keep.

    Thank you. Your blog is very well written and today helped me to articulate something that I’ve been circling around.

  5. Tracey

    This made me cry because this is Me.

  6. Annie

    Thank you Carolyn, this is such a powerful insight to the inner shame that sits within our clients. As a therapist, working with shame is one of the most challenging difficulties, I’m afraid to say the wrong thing that may be received as judgement. Hearing how your therapist worked in this moment and how you responded, gives me encouragement that there is hope.

  7. Jean

    I had a rather different experience: I achieved a sense of belonging because I found a place where I *did* belong.

    I figured out I was a ritual abuse survivor and then I met other ritual abuse survivors.

    We understood each other. We believed each other – maybe not all the details, but the overall fact of unrelenting torture throughout childhood. We finished each others’ sentences and had the same kind of dark humor. Race, class, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, didn’t matter. We were kin and always would be.

    Of course, some survivors rejected me or were mean to me or tried to get me to go back or had vastly different belief systems. But they were still kin. And that was okay.

    Slowly, over the years, I was able to feel accepted and loved by non-kin as well. And now, I feel I belong in the world as much as anybody. I am so very grateful.

  8. Judith Franklin

    As always, beautifully written with heartbreaking honesty. I hope that any client going through a similar process, will take heart from this blog and know that they can get to the other side.

  9. Jenny

    This combines so many thoughts, ideas and insights from different theoretical standpoints but at the heart of it is personal experience, and that’s why it reaches so deep. Whenever I begin work with clients who are in these painful places, I am reminded how my own therapy took me through some of the experiences you describe; I feel joy that maybe I can help people move through the stages of learning to love themselves, and while I know this is a long and difficult process, I cannot think of anything more important. I am enjoying your blogs and training because these crystallise so clearly some of the pivotal moments of understanding for both client and therapist that enable movement and growth.

  10. C

    I am quite excited by this. It suggests to me I am on the right track now…..
    Last week I had a massive overdose of shame, which took me to the edge, to crisis.
    I was immensely grateful that the crisis team did not shame me more ( as I feared they would) but just let me be in my pain and reassured me it was normal ( for someone like me). And after it what I realised was that, actually, I do have people in my life who love and accept me but shame blocks my access to accepting and experiencing that. And I had a huge internal battle with myself about whether I could ignore/ disempower the shame and allow myself to feel accepted by these people ( husband and children) and there was massive resistance…wailing children…but i did it…i felt the shift….and everything calmed down and it was like ‘ wow, it’s ok…’
    It comes and goes, it’s a new skill I guess, but I think it’s the first time I’ve been conscious of actively making/ understanding the shift, thanks to your timely blog and all the other stuff I am learning from you.
    So yes, today I am proud of myself.

  11. Laura

    Reading this has helped me to calm down a bit. I’m waiting for a therapist to tell me whether they can be my therapist, and I’m having similar problems, always expecting everyone to abandon me and that I can never be “in”. I’ve also always felt like I never belonged, but I didn’t connect it to shame yet. Thank you for sharing this, I always feel understood when I read these blog posts.

  12. Frances

    Oh Carolyn, you have no idea how your book, blogs and the two workshops I have attended have helped me not only as a counsellor but as a client to work towards discovering myself more and to recognise who I really am, instead of living and moving aimlessy wondering how to be. It has been a long and difficult journey and still is at times, but only today I wrote in my journal that even the destructive and negative thoughts that plague me daily are not as loud. May I also say thank you to the others who have commented. It’s so wonderful to be recovering alongside such wonderful people.

  13. Maggie Pollard

    Thank you Carolyn, I have never, ever read words that so closely match my own experience. I am a therapist and have been alongside others. I SO wish i’d been able to find a therapist who could hold me in this way.

  14. Claire

    Well done Carolyn, thank you. As a sufferer of shame I looked for a while before I found books that described my internal experiences of being unwell and connected them to traumatic life experiences. In 2011 I discovered Judith Herman and then Bessel van der Kolk in 2015. I’d had some unsuitable therapists over the years but eventually I found a good one with whom I practised CAT and schema therapy to help unpick possible roots of my susceptibilities to further trauma and the difficulties I seem to be ‘stuck with’ in my life with complex-PTSD. I’m really glad to find that you’re writing about these topics in such a clear and accurate way. So many people still feel confused and alone in this type of suffering but your work seems to be helping a lot of people.

  15. Karmen

    So much much of what you write resonates deeply within me. An excerpt from my letters to my therapist back in 2012. Back long before I had a name for my insides and how I am internally. I still don’t have a diagnosis. I just have a name that feels right (dissociative disorder) as alone as this can feel I am learning, always learning that we are never truly alone…

    I was ready to give up. I was ready to wave my white flag and quit trying. I didn’t deserve friends. I hurt people. I don’t know how to be helpful. I don’t know how to be “normal”. I mess up and hurt people and I could not take it. I am so tired of hurting people. (Side note: you want to know what this emotion feels like? It feels like someone just punched me in the back of the throat. The space between my eyes twinges and the room begins to fade to dark. And I am angry. And the anger is mine, at me, and I want to claw at my face with anger; long deep scratches that peel back the skin and the mask that hides what I know and what I see. And it is anger because I don’t understand what it is that I do and how I can be so blind. Anger that I am somehow the joke, because I don’t know how to fit in. Anger. ANGER. ANGER!And it is ALL mine and I have to eat it. I have to stuff each piece of it back down into my throat along with the sad and the hurt and the confusion because there is nowhere for it to go. And I can’t scratch at my face, and I can’t understand, and I can’t learn, and I can’t know, and I can’t figure out the joke, and I don’t want to be the punch line, and I keep fulfilling others needs without ever really being needed or fulfilled, so I just keep stuffing it down. I want to close my eyes and turn it off because if I don’t it will all come spilling out, so that is what it feels like.) I didn’t call. I almost did, but I didn’t, because there is no space for messy here in this world, my world that I live in. My messy has to reside in 45 minute blocks once every week and I have to be careful what mess to show and what mess to pick out or else it could all come out. I also know that soon I won’t have the option to call; I will have to figure out my own messes in my real world that I live in.

    I have been doing more reading online. Desperately I am trying to figure out how to let this little girl out all while keeping her in and in check. I don’t feel safe opening those floodgates. My environment is not a safe one. Not safe for her, not safe for me to be emotional. I don’t know how to lock and unlock that door in a way that keeps us both safe. I am trying to figure it out. Here is what I do know: I know that whatever happened made this world a frightening place for me. It makes living in this world difficult. Coping is not easy for me. I am tough on the outside. I can take it, but internally the world makes no sense. It is much too hard. I have heard it said that suicide is the most selfish thing a person can do. Maybe it is. The people that think that though, I don’t know, maybe they are better able to cope with things. I look at the world and I don’t understand why anyone chooses to fight to live. The logical thing to do would be to willingly lie down and die. That makes sense to me. Stop fighting so hard for something that will always be a struggle. Life is too hard. There are too many unknowns, too many possibilities to plan for. There is too much suffering to be had.


    Still figuring it all out. But, I am not alone even when it feels as though I am. Thank you for being a city light in the darkness that keeps on reminding us that we are never really alone.

  16. Imani

    Shame is the biggest and most compulsive liar out there! When shame is present, nothing good is capable of sticking, and it’s impossible to believe that anything good will ever happen and any good person out there can genuinely care for you. I’m so glad that you’ve worked through so much of this shame stuff, especially to reach the milestone of presenting that shame course In Huntingdon to a room full of people (inc me) where you bared so much of yourself for people to potentially pick at and critique. I really admire you for that, and for putting yourself in the arena week in week out, not necessarily getting all praise for it. I hope to defeat my own shame gremlins given time, though know it will be a gradual process. My therapist said yesterday that I looked visibly less ashamed, which was nice! Amazing that people can see it and feel it in you, without you ever needing to explicitly say that ‘shame’ is the corrosive thing which in many ways defines your core identity (or certain dissociative parts of your identity).


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What if I start crying and I can’t stop?

‘If I start crying, I’ll never stop.’ I hadn’t even realised that I believed this. It sounds silly once I say it out loud, but so much of my behaviour, so many of the ways that I approach each and every situation in life, have revolved around this silent, odourless belief: that feelings are overwhelming and that feelings are out of my control.

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Doh. Yes. Of course.

But I don’t say this, because it feels too vulnerable to admit to feeling vulnerable. Instead, I pull my armour tighter and try to figure out how to distract her.

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Years ago, when I first started therapy, I was invited to imagine a safe place. I didn’t understand the concept at all. First off, I didn’t understand how powerful positive visualisations can be. Secondly, I didn’t know how to feel safe. And thirdly, I didn’t have anywhere that I could summon to mind and feel positive about. Bummer.