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Hanging frames around shame, neglect, and more..

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Shame as an equalizer

When you have the kind of life story that can silence a room you learn very quickly that not just anyone will be open to really knowing you or equipped to care about you. More than one former friend ran for the hills shortly after hearing my truth. It is a strange thing to get used to, being rejected for something that happened to you, not something you did.

You learn to test the boundaries and limitations of nearly every relationship that begins to form. The more you hide a big story, the crazier and more ridiculous you look for making choices such as no longer speaking to your parents. People too often subscribe to imprisoning ideologies that one should never ever end ties with family. We should always accept people for who they are.

But listen to me, when family tells you, "Obviously the therapy you received didn't help and was probably wasted time and money," you begin to question what people mean when they start throwing the word 'family' around.

"There are two types of people, those who blame everything in their life on others and those who accept that life is full of bad things and choose to move forward." Now, ignoring the false dichotomy posed here, as well as the pervasively negative viewpoint that life is all bad so get ready for bad on top of bad on top of bad, this is abusive language. 

"Life is bad, nothing about it is good or fair.  If you are trying to create a perfect world, it won't happen."

It is quite convenient to minimize the pain and trauma another experiences if to deal with that pain and trauma seems highly inconvenient. Shame becomes relevant here. In those distasteful phrases is a scent of self-judgement for feeling inadequate in the face of a major inconvenience.  Such as one of your children seriously harming another one of your children while you devote your life to protecting them both. The shame of parental inadequacy must be a weight far too heavy for any one person to carry alone. The vast ocean of shame must appear never ending. Which helps me understand this statement better,

"I asked the family about what they knew of any abuse and nobody could recall any unusual problems with you and *my abuser*"  

and this one,

"You see, it doesn't matter what I do or don't do, you will judge and play the victim in your own way."

and the contradiction here,

"I have never denied that *he* abused you.  He abused all of this family in one way or another, even himself."

and finally,

"Spoken like a true Liberal!"

I do not share these statements for their potential humor or from a place of spite. See, to speak to me directly would be to accept my person-hood. It is much easier to treat an object (in this case I am a 'liberal' object) very poorly than it is to acknowledge you are treating another human being horribly. I do the very same thing in response to the objectification placed on me when I call my parents abusers, neglectors, and more. I am not convinced any of it is justified. It's just the more I acknowledge that a person can so poorly handle the abuse of a precious little girl, I do start to believe that "Life is bad."

What has taken me this far along in my healing process is knowing that no matter where you think you stand in the hierarchy of morality, shame blurs all the lines. We all do shameful things because we feel ashamed, and then we feel further shame for creating more shame when all we wanted was to stop feeling it to begin with.

Maybe in speaking so publicly about my shame it will lose its power to induce unfortunate and objectifying labels. Before I was a sexual abuse victim I was a person. Now I am a survivor..but what I want more than anything is to just be a person again.


  1. Mary,

    I tried commenting on these most recent posts from my account. I feel sure the message got lost or perhaps held for moderation. Please accept this message as well.

    Shame and guilt are very deep and complex emotions and I appreciate the way in which you unravel them. What I understand is that you have helped to develop a behavioural actuation technique, triggered by feeling of shame. Then you have been able to apply meta-cognitive analysis retrospectively to the social context that caused discomfort, leading to balance and confidence. This has enabled you to endure repeated exposure to society. To people who most often turn their heads rather than looking you straight in the eye. These people fail you with their inability to remain silent and extend quite warmth unto you.

    Using your terminology; the victim or survivor overcomes feelings of shame applying meta-cognitive analysis, then letting go of the past, taking control of the present and nurturing compassion. I imagine this to be important in creating an environment for “self-healing”.

    However, the perpetrator or abuser needs to overcome feelings of guilt for “other-healing”.

    Firstly, I think the perpetrator needs to understand the impact of bad behaviour, own that behaviour, resolve to change it and remove it (In a Christian context; sin, repentance and then change). FORGIVENESS from your side would I guess still be a thorny issue?

    Your motivation and clarity of mind seems to be a vast credit to you. Your resilience, fortitude, and indomitable spirit transform into a focused career helping others and teaching the very techniques that would have helped you. Verbal communication and persuasive speech is so important. Do you also teach non-verbal communication?

    Although a wrong can never equal a right, as an outsider, I see you have transfigured what was extremely bad into a positive. You have brought forth significant good. I can feel and see the healing process in your writing’s. Do you feel the healing, how does it manifest itself to you?

    I the last year I have been through tribulation, incomparable with your abuse, but nevertheless I felt the pain and bereavement, loss of trust in the one I love and separation from my two young children whom I dearly love. I feel the healing, but I see it as a lifelong journey. That is to say a short journey on account of my current age.

    When two years younger than you, I fell into a coma in West Africa with Fulminant Hepatitis “A”. Written in books at that time my survival rate was less than a 1% medical statistic. Mind over matter and a miracle allowed me to be a survivor, and I believe you have tons more mind-matter than me. I urge you most strongly to acknowledge the power of your survival instincts and as you are doing keep training that part of the mind that deals with the rigours of the modern world.

    If I have missed anything out then please stand me correction, otherwise know that the universe and your creator have given you permission to live life on your terms now, open up to trust, joy and love.

    Blessings and Peace,

    Peter Alldis

    1. Peter, your response is so very thoughtful, providing synthesis of my shared thoughts, and connecting with your own experiences. It is ever fascinating how all over the world, in varied circumstances, the human condition can be found familiar in form. Mind over matter indeed. Survival instincts are not necessarily for the fittest but maybe more-so for the well intentioned!