When we think of someone having a chip on their shoulder we mean they have an idea that they are always being treated unfairly. They have a sense of being treated as though they are inferior. Someone might have a chip on their shoulder because they feel inferior for never having gone to university.
We develop our emotional and psychological selves through our early family relationships and attachments. If these things go badly they can leave a lasting sense of unhappiness and personal resentment.
A chip on your shoulder, a wish to settle a score
From The Iliad to Hamlet to The Count of Monte Cristo, revenge is an ancient human theme. You might get even like Edmund Dantes (The Count of Monte Cristo), but you might not. And you might waste a lot of time and energy trying to do so.
In some circumstances having a chip on your shoulder may help. But for a lot of us, it just makes life harder.
It becomes hard to have perspective on yourself, your talents, and your capability. When we are motivated by a desire to get even, we can lose sight of what’s best for us or other people.
We don’t forget when we have been wronged, and we become very sensitive to any sign that it is happening again. It sets up a kind of feedback loop within us. We continually go over our sense of injustice. Over time this can become very destructive and be very bad for our psyche, for our mental health. The problem isn’t just the sense of injustice, it’s the way it occupies our minds and impedes our capacity to adapt and develop. It can lead to us becoming stuck.
In our systems, the levels of hormones identified with stress; adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine increase. This puts you under tremendous stress. It might feel normal to you right now. But maybe it can be changed?
Who put that chip on your shoulder?
We all develop our emotional and psychological selves through our early family relationships and attachments. When these things don’t go well it can leave a lasting sense of dissatisfaction.
Some families pass chips from one generation to the next
If your parents favoured your sibling over you, if your parents failed to show genuine interest in you, these experiences can leave a lasting sense of unhappiness, resentment, and inadequacy. They cast a shadow over your life. We are not lizards, we don’t live well under shadows.
“I was very hurt about the way I felt I had been treated. I think for a long time that preoccupied me and drove me to want to get even, get my own back. Even doing a simple task like cleaning a pan in the kitchen I would have my father’s voice in my head criticising me, I could hear my sister sniping away.
Maybe, in the end, I did get my own back. But now I think it may have just been a rather distracting way of living. I think it used up a lot of my energy. I don’t like to think about how much.”anonymous client
This is not an unusual story
From these kinds of backgrounds and positions, people commonly get caught in destructive cycles of wanting to prove other people wrong.
Perhaps for some people that works. But for most of us, it doesn’t. We just end up more aware and preoccupied with the injustice. Left untreated it can eat up huge amounts of your life. It can become the basis of other difficult emotions and feelings like; jealousy and suspicion. It can be the basis of ongoing anxiety and depression.
Be careful about that chip on your shoulder
You may resent the way you have been treated by people in the past and nurture a desire to get your own back. The fact is, that carrying a chip on your shoulder probably does you no good at all. It can make you more aggressive, touchy, and reactive than you want to be. You will probably end up alienating people and ultimately just causing yourself more problems.
Can you identify your chip?
- What does it give you?
- Would it help to get rid of it?
There was a time when men actually did place chips of wood on their shoulders and then dared someone to knock them off. Thus instigating a fight. Imagine if we could see the chips that people carry on their shoulders today. Sometimes it feels like you can. Sometimes we think we can see the look in someone’s eye when a specific subject comes into the conversation.
How do we find a way to break out of this destructive loop?
If we let these patterns take root they will change us, be bad for us, and make it hard for us to live creatively.
We have to try to find a way out of the stressful cycle. We need to find ways of developing new and better habits and ways of living. Good habits, as Jordan Peterson might say, are better for us. They help us regulate and manage ourselves better.
What would a good habit be?
- become better at noticing the ‘critical chip on the shoulder voice’ without reacting to it
- become clearer about the things that have happened to us that have put the chip there, and use our improved knowledge about ourselves to live better, to create better options for ourselves.
Like in the example above with the washing up, you might be able to hear the critical voice without being consumed by it.
In this way you might start to create new options, you might start getting the energy back to do something you want to do.
You don’t have to be a hero like Edmund Dantes, but you might not have to live in a prison like he did either.
Can we break our bad habits?
- Can you find a way to take that chip off your shoulder and start to live a more meaningful and satisfying life?
When we have been dominated by one powerful set of feelings for a long time we forget what other options and possibilities might be open to us. But when we change, when we see more about how we are living. When we find a way out of the self-imposed restrictions then other things become possible.
You might be someone who has long had a sense of a chip on your shoulder. You may have thought that nothing can be done about it. What if that’s not true?
Circumstances change, and so can you.
I have twenty years of experience of working with people, many of whom may not have found a way to stop repeating old destructive ways of living and relating to themselves or to others.
Giving yourself the chance to speak in a confidential setting is helpful, it may be the beginning of starting to work out more about how you are living, about what works to influence and possibly undermine your relationships with other people.
It may give you the chance to develop new and important insights into yourself. This, in turn, may help you to develop greater confidence and emotional stability. It might be the beginning of doing things differently.
Contact me to arrange a free telephone consultation to discuss how my approach might help you.