Of all the painful emotions I know, shame is the most terrible one. At the same time it is also the most constant and consistent emotion that I feel and the one that is triggered the easiest.
When I am talking about shame I don’t mean a temporary feeling of having done wrong and feeling embarrassed about it. No, what I am talking about is a feeling of shame that refers to the very core of me. I feel ashamed of myself, just for existing and being whoever it is that I am. It’s like a core sense of shame where a sense of self should be.
Where does the shame come from?
My sense of shame has been honed and reinforced for many years. From the moment we are born we learn who we are from the feedback we receive about ourselves. In my case the feedback I received was that I shouldn’t be there, that I’m a bother, ugly and that I deserve whatever nastiness comes my way – that that’s what I want, even, because I ultimately know how worthless I am. I learned that I can earn a certain worth by being someone’s punching bag or sex toy as long as I behave like I’m supposed to, but that I otherwise I better not even breathe so as not to bother anyone. I meant so little to my mother that she surrendered me as soon as she got the chance and never even said goodbye.
In my post-family life I ended up getting diagnosed with a shitload of crap. I understood that to mean that now I was not only defective, but so defective that there words were necessary to describe the exact way and level of defectiveness. Soon thereafter adjectives like “difficult”, “demanding”, “untreatable”, “willful”, “manipulative” and “deceptive” spiced the diagnoses up so much that they figured the only way I was manageable was drugged up to the gills. (Hello benzodiazepine addiction.)
But even high as a kite I felt ashamed of myself. I self-harmed as a means to both punish myself and feel better, yet afterwards felt even more ashamed of myself for self-harming in the first place, especially when everyone expected I stopped as proof of being serious about therapy. Which meant I ended up self-harming even more to deal with the shame about not managing to stop. I always toyed with suicidal thoughts over it, too. At the same time I was too angry at everyone to do it. Maybe my anger protected me. Even when I felt like I didn’t deserve to live, I also felt like everyone constantly wronged me and they didn’t deserve to just get rid of me so easily for it. So maybe it’s good that my sense of shame was always accompanied by anger, even when I felt guilty about taking my anger out on others at the same time.
What about today?
Today shame is still eating at me daily. I am ashamed of being so needy and so hungry for attention. I’m ashamed of being a school drop-out without a diploma and who never had a job in her life. I’m ashamed of being unable to be alone. I’m ashamed of being nervous around people so much that I don’t have anything of social life outside of my family. I’m ashamed of my behavior in general. I’m ashamed of not doing better in anything I do. I’m also ashamed of forcing my mom to stay at home – even when she insists she does so because she wants to, because that is just who she is.
What helps against overwhelming feelings of shame?
Even when it makes me feel ashamed, that my mom is there for me helps against the shame, too. Well, not the fact that she is there in itself, but the way in which she is. I realize I talk about my mom a lot, but that’s because she is so meaningful to me. She is everything to me. Without her, I’d probably die. Or at least be very, totally, utterly, desperately miserable.
Now I’m sure that many people will say that depending so much on someone at my age is completely unhealthy. People my age shouldn’t be needing their mom so much, right?! Yep, that’s exactly what my sense of shame tells me, too.
My mom, on the other hand, says it’s only unhealthy if it’s unconscious and aims at being the solution in itself. That’s not what it is. Instead we call it my second growing up. She says she stayed at home with all three of her bio kids until they were well out of the woods of their toddlerhood, and wouldn’t have left them alone before they were able to handle it. So just the same she is staying at home with me now, until I am out of the Crazyland Woods.
So what does that have to do with my sense of shame?
For me, everything. Because my emotions are so unstabe and prone to get triggered by minor events, I feel like I am living on a platform that is constantly shifting it’s very narrow balancing point. With every step I take, I risk losing balance and sliding off into the intense shit that’s below. I am prone to failure with whatever I do and my sense of shame grows because I can’t even navigate on my own fucking platform. But when I allow my mom on the platform with me, she is good at moving in whatever direction is needed to keep it from toppling out of balance. She helps me to recognize what she does and why she does it and what I can do to do some stabilizing, too. For the first time I’m not just fucking up, but have some small successes. She helps me see them, too. For the first time I feel like maybe – just maybe – I am not totally, utterly bad and hopeless. She doesn’t think so either. Her mantra is “messing up is part of getting better”. When I feel ashamed, she is okay with it. But she also offers ways to put my feelings into different perspectives and is dang convincing in thinking I’m okay. So while I don’t really agree and still have big issues with feeling ashamed, I have moments when I feel better about myself, too. Which is a big improvement already.
If you have issues with feeling ashamed just for being who you are, what helps you to feel better?