Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change. ~Brene Brown,I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame
Shame is a soul eating emotion. ~Carl Gustav Jung
So often survivors have had their experiences denied, trivialized, or distorted. Writing is an important avenue for healing because it gives you the opportunity to define your own reality. You can say: This did happen to me. It was that bad. It was the fault & responsibility of the adult. I was—and am—innocent. ~Ellen Bass, The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse
One of the ironies of trauma, is that for those of us who have experienced it, particularly relational trauma, we feel shame. We, the victims, the survivors, the ones who were harmed, feel the shame of the experience. We carry the burden of being “tainted” or “damaged” or “broken.”
This shame often leads us to silencing ourselves, even if the perpetrator didn’t specifically tell us not to talk about what happened. We don’t tell when the abuse is happening or immediately after the assault occurred. We don’t tell the story because we are afraid of what people will think, what they will say, how they will respond.
We don’t tell because we somehow think what happened was our fault. That we somehow encouraged the other person to harm us, that if only we’d done x or hadn’t done y.
When we are living in shame, and unable to share our stories, we are also unable to deeply connect with others. We don’t allow ourselves to be truly
seen and so intimacy, deep emotional intimacy, isn’t possible.
Sometimes though, it’s not only others that we can’t share our stories with. Sometimes we can’t admit our own stories to ourselves. Or we can admit parts of them, but not others. Or we can acknowledge the stories but are unable to examine them, explore them, become curious about the ways these events from our lives are still impacting us today.
The events from our past do impact us in our present, and will continue to, until we are able to dig into our own unconscious and automatic reactions, including the stories we have about being too much and not enough.
Shame runs rampant in those stories. I think most of us can make a long list of all the ways we aren’t enough (not smart enough, not pretty enough, not vocal enough, not articulate enough, not successful enough…) as well as all the ways we are too much (too loud, too sexual, too smart, too large, too picky…). We are never “right;” there is always something “wrong” with us, something that needs to be “fixed.”
Trauma does this to us. Our culture does this to us. And often times, intentionally or now, our families of origin do this to us. Unearthing, unraveling, examining these stories is no easy feat. And doing it while remaining present in our bodies can be even more complex.
Shame comes with trauma. Releasing the shame takes intention, time, practice and requires us to come into our bodies, examining our histories and our stories and seeing how they impacted us, and how that isn’t our fault.
Because what was done to us, what happened to us was not, and is not, our fault.
Changing patterns, cycles, and harmful behaviors we have because of these experiences is our responsibility so we do not continue to pass trauma on to future generations.
This essay was originally published to my weekly(ish) newsletter on January 14, 2019. It has been revised and edited for publication here. To receive my most recent essays you can subscribe to my newsletter here.
We will be exploring our stories of being too much, not enough, and the shame that comes with all that in the seven week program Embodied Writing :: Too Much, Not Enough, & Shame. We begin on Monday, January 27, 2020. There is a sliding scale fee. Learn more and register here.