Evelyn Ryan, Yourlifelifter
The primary pain that we experience from abuse is shame. Abuse is betrayal of intimate trust. Abuse is abandonment. Unlike guilt, which is the result of feeling bad about what you do in the external world, shame reflects feelings of failure inside, as a person.
Shame is experienced as self-blame. You perceive yourself as flawed, inferior, contemptible, no good. Shame is a normal unconscious human emotion that helps us “put on the brakes” by taking cues from our external environment.
The problem is that you may have too much of it which is the case for victims of abuse.
Shame can become a normal feeling for victims of abuse. We also give up most of our personal power and abandon our own selves.
Shame is the part of you that you can’t face because it is so intolerable. In the words of John Bradshaw, “toxic shame” is an “emotion that gets internalized as a state of being.”
Toxic shame becomes part of a what I refer to as the “Shame Triad” of self-blame, self-loathing, and self-sabotaging behaviors.
Too much shame can make us targets of toxic manipulators and keep us powerless to them and trigger anger at inappropriate times.
Shame can keep us trauma addicted to our abusers.
Tips for Dealing with Shame
- Turn your compassion and tolerance towards yourself to accept yourself, warts and all, as a valuable person.
- Forgive yourself first. Acknowledge your fallibility as a person and that you were a victim. This will help you release the self-blame and empower yourself to stop thinking falsely that you are weak, powerless, and defenseless.
- Be consistent and fair with sharing your compassion and tolerance with yourself as well as with others.
- Go first with your compassion! Learn to be tolerant of yourself first. Know when to quit, rest, say you’ve had enough, and to put yourself first. This is not selfish. This is self preservation and what emotionally healthy people do.
- Respect your OWN personal boundaries and protect your vulnerabilities. Demonstrate kindness and acceptance to yourself. Do not violate your own personal wishes, body, trust, time, privacy, feelings, and property.
- Do not let other people violate your personal boundaries. This includes learning how to not say yes when you mean no. It also includes not letting your boundaries down by sharing too much of your personal information with others too soon.
- Do not violate other people’s boundaries.
- Stop defending your feelings, preferences, trust, time and choices to abusers. Abusers use this as an opportunity to abuse and exploit you more and expose you to more trauma and shame. If you must respond to their sneaky insults or criticisms, just say, “That’s interesting. Let me think about it.” Then ignore them and turn them into a non-issue.
- Focus on gratitude for what you have. My mother told me if you have food, a roof over your head, your health and people who love you, you have everything. She was right.
- Avoid black and white thinking that focuses only on “good” or “bad” outcomes for yourself. Look at your track record.
- Refrain from complaining about what you disagree with or do not like in yourself. If you have nothing nice to say or think about yourself, don’t say or think it.
- Welcome and view disagreements from trusted individuals or differences not as criticism but as motivations for you to learn more, for you to become a person of integrity.
- Give yourself a break. Be careful to understand the difference between rejecting the “sin” and rejecting the “sinner.” Learn to say “who cares?” more.
- Do not judge a book by its cover. Do not rush to judgment. Refrain from developing an opinion, before you get all the facts. If in doubt, ask a wise trusted friend.
- Refrain from making yourself the brunt of jokes or laughter.
- Do not always stand in the back of the line. Allow yourself to go first sometimes.
- Educate yourself on shame and its debilitating effects.
- Learn to identify the feeling of shame as it occurs in your daily life and write in a journal about situations and relationships that trigger shame.
- Challenge your emotions. Ask yourself which ones result from lack of compassion and tolerance for yourself. Check the list above.
- Work on these areas as trigger points of shame and do what you can to avoid them or minimize their harmful effects.
- Get rid of toxic friends who habitually violate your trust.
- Take anger management classes. Shame triggers anger.
- Look at your track record from youth. Recall the people in your childhood who had something good to say about you…those who were kind to you. Teachers, clergy, neighbors, a surrogate parent or relative perhaps. What words did they use to describe your best qualities? How did you feel when you were around them? Revive these important people from your past by writing about them in a journal and exploring what their support meant to you, then and now.
- If you are religious or spiritual, turn to your Higher Power or Source to cleanse yourself of the shame and unworthiness that you feel so deeply. Religion and spiritual practice can be tremendous sources of inner sustenance and can provide an ideal vision to replace the negative role models and scenarios of the past.
- Get honest constructive unbiased feedback. Share your struggles with working this step on support blogs, meetings, a trusted wise friend, and Websites and Facebook pages like Yourlifelifter.
- Seek professional therapy if you are not progressing in your healing and recovery. You most likely are trauma addicted. Trauma bonding occurs when you rely on your abuser for your safety, happiness, or security. Here are a few examples:
- You long for and miss your abusers.
- You make excuses for them.
- You replay painful interactions with your abusers over and over again trying to figure out what you did wrong.
In addition, in order to resolve shame addictions, an ongoing reparative relationship with a qualified therapist can help you challenge your internal voice of shame and replace it with a healthier dialogue. A skilled therapist can be an important ally in helping you to transform the shame into self-acceptance.
Talk about your shame with him/her and share how you experienced shame in your childhood and in your life including in your therapy sessions. With your therapist’s help, identify the ways in which you keep yourself from feeling your shame by adopting a role or “false self” that you portray to others based on what you think it acceptable to them rather than yourself. Share this “false self” with your therapist and try to understand what the role gives you that you feel you lack inside. This can help home in on the shame triggers that you can work to acknowledge, challenge, and release and replace with new rational beliefs and emotions that support your emotional health and well being.