Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Shame, Shame, it knows my name.


So we were visiting a friend. 

We were casually talking about various things and the conversation turned towards today's youth and all of the immoral opportunities that abound for them. The three of us all come from a similar time, being that we are all in our early to late 30's, we each were expressing what was readily available to us when we were in our teens. 

We all also had similar backgrounds, all of our homes had a strong biblical influence. Allowing for vague personal experience it became obvious that I was more sexualized as a young teen than the males present and it was presented in a question form as to why that was so. No one rudely looked at me and said, "MJ why in the world were you like that?" No, it was more of a, "Hmmm, I wonder why . . . with so many similarities, what would be the factor to that outcome? Was it a matter of society influence..."  

This is the moment of truth. This is the exact moment that each of us have found ourselves in. Perhaps not the specifics as I have outlined here, but each of us have ended up in a conversation that we either shamefully admit to not wanting to discuss the topic further. Which we know would add weight to the obvious answer. Or we skillfully turn the subject elsewhere, still abiding by the unspoken law to never speak of it. OR....

Answer the question posed. 

Simply answer it as a fact. No shame. No guilt. I didn't do this to myself, it was completely out of my control, what do I have to be shameful for? 

Nothing. I have nothing to be shameful for. Shame is not justified. Justified or not, shame creeps in. It oozes in bit by bit undetected. Anywhere from flashbacks, body memories, triggers, questions, observations; that shame sticks to a survivors very soul. 

DBT skills unstick that shame and, if done consistently over time, sets fire to it. 

We don't have to be victimized over and over again by the lingering shame. No doubt each and everyone of you have heard this before in the mountains and mountains of therapy, self-help books, talking etc that we have done over the years, but there is something so intriguing about the idea of a life without shame that it keeps bringing us back to the methods that will teach us to let go of our long-time, so-called friend. 

No, I am not shame free. Not by a long shot, but for the first time in my life I can see a life without it. In my minds eye I honestly can see the end of the tunnel, I can see myself in a time that I will not feel shameful when something triggers that particular aspect of what makes me, me. How do I know?

Because when I was sitting there with our friend and having this casual conversation I was able to answer honestly. Not until later did I realize I wasn't shameful about it. Not only that, but I was able to offer a complete answer in very few words. I simply stated, "My observation would be that due to childhood trauma I spent many years being far more sexualized than what was healthy or effective." Period.  No long drawn out sob story. It is sad sure and no doubt only a monster wouldn't feel empathetic towards my history, but in this setting explaining in detail and eliciting that empathy would not have been effective. 

It would have reinforced this stigma surrounding talking about childhood sex abuse. Have you ever noticed that more often than not a survivor will go one of two ways, to spew off into a sordid detailed account and the whole thing turns into an emotional release of secrets rather than a casual conversation among friends? Or its swing the other way, an abrupt, "I don't want to talk about it" - but it is written all over the survivors face that there is some deep dark secret. The 900 lb gorilla sits at the table with everyone for the evening. Both ways gives evidence that the person is anything but a survivor, obviously they are still the victim; in this case a victim of shame brought on by the original traumatic event.

Please don't misunderstand me, there is nothing wrong with growing to the point that you can talk more freely about it to friends and loved ones. Yet there is a time and a place, shame drives us to get diarrhea of the mouth at the most inappropriate times, it ends up looking a lot like attention seeking rather than growth.

You may ask how does DBT stave off shame? Well, granted DBT is not clinically used to combat the effects of trauma. Rather it is learned to help control the mood swings and erratic behavior that is associated with mental illness, which often times has trauma attached to it. So by relation yes it is used to treat trauma too, but more specifically mindfulness and emotion regulation are key components to chasing shame away. Helping you to become aware of when you are time traveling and learning how to live in the "now" will take the steam away from the guilt train that inevitably has shame as a passenger. 

Learning how to experience life without it peeling your skin off will help reduce your triggers, which then by default reduces the amount of time shame comes to pay you a visit. The fewer times shame is your companion the more foreign it will feel to you when it is there, the higher the chance you have of escorting it to the toilet for a flush. Check out the forum for specific mindfulness and emotion regulation techniques!

Life begins after shame. I am making it my mission for shame to forget my name.

MJ