Power of shame

I live a shame based existence… the shame that I carry impacts on every aspect of my life.  I say that I “carry” shame, but that’s not quite right… I don’t carry the shame, it walks beside me… crowds my thoughts and actions… looms over me… drives my actions… fills my being… it is me… I am it.

I’ve always had difficulty understanding what shame is… All I knew was that I hated myself; but I thought that was because of my shyness, and low self-esteem.  In some ways, it’s about my perception regarding acceptability of the terms… in some sort of odd way, I thought it was “better” to hate myself, than to feel ashamed.  All you have to do is look at the talk surrounding shame, in order to get the idea that it’s not a positive thing… The Wikipedia entry on Shame mentions words like dishonour, embarrassment, humiliation, chagrin, etc; while the types of shame listed include “secret shame” and “toxic shame”…  Who wants to be part of anything that sounds so negative and dramatic?  Whereas self-hatred, and low self-esteem sound pretty bad; but, for some reason, I didn’t link them with so much negativity… possibly, I didn’t link them with the abuse that I have experienced, and considered them part of my personality, which would have been present, whether there was abuse, or not.

What I didn’t realise, is how closely shame is linked to the shyness and self-hatred.  In reality, they are just another manifestation of shame.  The self-hatred acts as a shameful check on my behaviour, while the shyness tries to hide the shame and self-hatred from the rest of the world… So, it’s all interlinked, and has become a pattern of being that’s developed over time.  It can both be incredibly logical; and yet, totally illogical.  In my moments of functional clarity, I wonder what I’m ashamed of… I didn’t do anything wrong, did I?  But then, the denial slips, and the shame hits like a tidal-wave.  I’m not sure that I can really describe how the shame “feels”; but, I can describe a recent example of how it caused a dysfunctional reaction that was off the scale in reaction to a situation…

As a warning, this mentions Halloween.

In New Zealand we’ve slowly adopted some of the American events such a Halloween.  They’re not big, but there’s usually decorations in the stores, and trick or treaters who roam the neighbourhood on the night.  In the 10 years that I’ve lived in my current accommodation, there have probably been less that five visits from trick or treaters… so, not a big deal.  This year, for some reason, I became excited at the idea of possibility of handing out sweets… I think as part of my current eating disordered behaviour – I can hand out the sweets, but not eat any of them. I had them in the house for days leading up to Halloween as a type of  punishment, and taunt.

On the night, I was both scared and a young kind of excited… I wanted to see the children having fun, and smiling… I wanted acceptance within the community…

But, no trick or treaters knocked on my door.  As the night wore on, the internal voices of self-hatred and shame, amplified… the main message was that everyone in the world knew how crazy I was, and therefore didn’t want their children to take lollies from the “crazy woman in that house”.

As the internal talk of hatred became more intense, there was a drive to punish myself for being so crazy that no one wanted to go anywhere near me…  The method of punishment? Well, that was easy…  There was this nice big bowl of food that I’d been punishing myself with for the last week… why not make the most of it?

So I did…

I had never understood how violent, and self-abusive eating disorders were, until now.  I look back on what happened with a stunned, rather hollow feeling.  Did I really say those things to/about myself?  Did I really do those actions?  It all seems so surreal now.  But, I know it happened…

Another layer of shame…

Shame… such a simple looking word, yet it is so very powerful.  It can destroy you… totally and utterly destroy you.  It comes from within, so knows which buttons to push to play with your head and emotions.  Once it starts, it’s almost impossible to reality check back into any sort of reasonable context.

Last night, it reared its head again… I found I’d been unfriended on a social network by someone I thought was a friend; and found out through a public forum something that in the past the person involved would have talked with me about, but didn’t…  That was enough for the messages about the world seeing my craziness to kick in again.  I went for a hard, fast, punishing walk as a result… but encountered so many people, that I was constantly panicking.

When I returned home, I had to comfort my mother, who had lost a good friend earlier in the day… always those demands to care for others… make sure that others are ok… make sure they see the socially acceptable me, rather than the well of darkness, evil and shame that I truly am…

I described some of this to a shocked Alison on Monday… she had no idea how extreme my self-hatred was.  She asked me to do something interesting… to put aside the shame, and self-hatred for a second to see what would happen… I tried, and memories and images came flooding through…  So, it seems as if my shame and self-hatred has a protective element to it.  They help keep me “safe” from the overwhelming aspects of my past… I honestly don’t know which is worse.

—————-
Now playing: Seether – Remedy

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