Fear, Obligation, and Guilt (FOG) are the triad of emotional abuse. These three feelings can cause an overwhelming amount of self-doubt, anxiety, and unhappiness.
Survivors are taught to believe that nothing they do is good enough, that they are inherently bad, and that standing up for yourself will be met with hostility. FOG tears down healthy boundaries and undermines your self-worth. It also lands you in situations where you’re constantly having to do stuff you don’t want to do, taking on an unfair burden of the emotional issues of others.
The first step toward breaking free of this is to notice what’s happening. When we’re “in the FOG”, we’re incapable of seeing the people-pleasing and avoidant behaviors that comprise it. When you stand up for yourself, you may feel afraid of retaliation or dismissal. You may feel guilty, because some part of you believes the feelings of others are more important than your own. You may feel obligated to remain in a dynamic that doesn’t suit you, because this person was nice to you at one point.
Behind all of these self-doubts is usually the underlying belief that you do not matter. That your needs and feelings aren’t real. That you are bad or evil for noticing something you don’t like. When we see all this happening, it’s sort of horrifying at first. But with time and non-judgmental mindfulness, we can start to make a change. We see that we are deeply struggling, and that no human being is meant to live this way.
We’re able to start offering ourselves love and kindness, even when feelings of fear or guilt come up. Instead of internalizing those negative feelings or getting mad at ourselves, we just say “Ah, interesting. Guilt again! Why is that?” – In your head, you may hear the harsh analytical response of “You feel guilty because you’re wrong!” Instead of entertaining that voice, we just say “Ah, interesting. Self-doubt again!” Because I can assure you with 100% certainty that this voice is not the truth. This is the voice of old lies that sit around your heart, guarding you from the love inside.
The more you watch these voices, the more you will notice these are literally the voices from your abuser. Your feelings are bad. You’re wrong. You’re crazy. You’re needy, jealous, insane. You’re 100% replaceable. Everyone else is better than you. These old beliefs are wrapped tight around your heart, and they do not belong there.
The more we meet these feelings with kindness and patience, the more they naturally start to subside. Paradoxically, hating or judging them only worsens them. So do not be discouraged when these things pop back up after months of hard work. Just keep up your practice each time, every day strengthening the way you relate to yourself and your thoughts. Eventually, this loving / self-compassionate side of you will become stronger than those old voices. You start to notice what’s going on and smile, refusing to give into these old mind tricks. With time, enforcing a boundary will bring up feelings of pride, rather than guilt.
We start to understand the truth that we are deserving only of love and joy. Anything else that passes through is just noise, and starts being banished faster and faster. FOG blocks us from the truth, but the moment we start to notice it, that is our ticket home.