I must nod to CelticCounseling on Youtube for providing much of the raw data and insights which brought up the thoughts I’m about to go into. She is a truly remarkable woman with some serious thoughts and ideas for consideration and nourishment. Go check her out, I implore you, particularly if you are a sufferer of PTSD, Narcissism, Borderline Personality, Codependency, Childhood trauma, and interested in humanistic psychology.
Shame, in particular Toxic Shame as the term goes, is a difficult emotion to bring out from the bowels of repression. By its very nature, it hides itself and it hides who you really are because, for whatever reason, at whatever point, with whatever person or group, you decided in that moment never to ever act the way you did up into that point and never want to even think about this having happened. It is something you simply cannot deal with in the moment it happens. Usually because you are a child and you just don’t know how or have the means to process it.
Then, as life goes on, you find yourself reacting in much the same way to anything even remotely resembling the root shame, because it is cumulative you see. That first one you never worked thru, way back when you were a young child in the foggy memory times or possibly a teenager, is still there. And now, you are throwing extra crap on top of it. It feels, and god knows I feel this, as though the world itself is against you. Like the world is intentionally trying to torture you. No. No no. Yes, it feels that way, and it is horrifying and leads to a less and less trusting nature and isolates you away from others and so on. But the truth is these things are being triggered, chronically, because some part of you (namely, the inner-child) is tired of being locked in a closet with all the skeletons only he or she fully remembers and knows and lives with every day, while you are complaining about how the world keeps reminding you of pain. The pain you always have. The pain you’ve always had. The pain that everyone has… right? This is normal, I’m not special, this is just what people deal with growing up and adjusting to life, right? No.
While many do experience these feelings, while many experience actual toxic shame and it cripples them more than it ever will you, all of that sure, fine, true. It is not the way you are supposed to be. And if all these masses are running around like that too, well that just means we have a significant social problem with abuse and shame, don’t we? Some part of you knows that. And the only way to change it is to take a good hard look at the next time you feel mortified, completely crushed into a self-destructive humility, and consider why you feel the way you do. What do you feel? What are you saying about yourself? Does that remind you of anybody? Hmm. Maybe you feel a deep flutter of doom in your stomach like you are falling and about to die? Or the classic blood draining from the face, sheet white, ready to vomit everything up (one way or another). Pay attention. Be courageous. You were then, way back when you were a tiny thing. Can you imagine, likely a young child, a toddler even, faced with some untold cruelty by the hands of someone you trust? You survived. You are breathing. You managed to continue existing. You were a strong little shit. Own that strength. It is yours.
And to hell with anyone who convinced you it wasn’t, right? Good.
If you do not face it, relentlessly as you can, whenever it comes up if at all possible, it builds cumulatively over time. The core incident (more likely a serialized series of chronic abuse sessions), the beginning of it all, takes up the biggest piece and will always be a part of you, but all these validators for your original plan of “Hide it shove it crush it forever” will come up in life which, frankly, sometimes will be too tempting to resist. So long as you remain aware and are routinely working at facing these outdated coping mechanisms, life will improve, I believe. However, if you don’t, all manner of hell can break loose and many will ultimately lose their grip on reality entirely and/or dive into suicidality. I can’t see any other path for this kind of malignant self-neglect.
Personally, I’ve leaned toward the losing grip on reality. It feels as though too much, one day, is going to hit me, and I will simply collapse and implode and become something entirely else, entirely out of my control. The child will be dead, finally, just another rotting skeleton in a closet I’ve just set fire to, and the remains left in this body will be a, likely, narcissistic and possibly psychotic empty husk. Soul=Gone. This fear, itself, is unfounded and paranoid when I read it superficially (analytically), but considering how I watched those around me fall into the complete control of their adolescent selves, acting like children while not acknowledging their child-self at all. I watched that decline into madness. It is not unfounded. It has been a reality for far longer than I have consciously been aware in those I have depended on.
One early memory occurred to me when pondering all this, and to this moment, I am truly unsure, I do not remember what lead up to it or exactly how it concluded. I do not remember what was said, how I was scolded or fawned over, anything. I remember swimming with my mother in this big olympic pool we had at the time. My earliest memory thus-far is of swimming underwater in this pool toward my mother. Within a year of this memory which is warm and feels safe, is a much more terrifying and foggy memory of nearly drowning. I couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4 at the time, and I remember thinking my mother was in the pool with me, so I felt brave! I tried swimming to the deep side, but at some point, far away from any side, I realized she was no longer there. And suddenly all ability to swim left me, I sank like a stone and thrashed like I’d never swam before. I remember the taste of the chlorine. I hate the taste and smell of chlorine. I remember the pain as water got sucked into my lungs. I hate that pain. And then, shouting for help around my gurgles and splashes and general panic, a little shift in my mind occurred and I almost accepted the fact I was going to die. I was terrified still but almost okay with it.
Then someone lifted me out. I recovered eventually though god help me, I don’t remember anything about it even now. But I was saved. I remember my parents saved me (not even which one!). “I was a big dope and swam into the deep end when I shouldn’t have and was told not to, but my good caring parents swooped in and saved me.”
I had just nearly died, because I was being unsupervised, a child in an olympic pool, but oh, thank god for the good, good parents who saved me. The only thing I can surmise is that my parents couldn’t handle the self-criticism and found ways to comfort themselves through my near death experience. Thus, I took on the lesson that whenever I am alone, whenever I am without supervision, no adventures. None of that. I can’t be trusted. I must have this vacant force available to come swoop in and save me. I must have that vacant force’s permission to explore. At that moment, I felt like my exploration of fun and adventure INCLUSIVELY with my parents, either one, came to an end. I blamed myself for what happened, but I also didn’t trust them like I had before. Something changed. And I hope someday I’ll unlock some of those memories surrounding that event and realize some simple truth.
Like where exactly were they during this? I never once, EVER, thought about that up until recently. Not once. Isn’t that odd in itself? I remember it clearly, it is the basis of a handful of things I have unpleasant associations with 27 years later, yet I never considered the chain of events? Where did my mother go? I swear she was in the pool just behind me. Where did she go as I swam toward the deep end? Did she think there was enough time to step inside to fill up her glass of wine? Step inside for the bathroom? Did she ask father to look after me and he was too distracted by some project to notice? Were they fighting and caught up in their own drama at the time like they so often were in the years beyond? Taking into context future behavior patterns I very much do remember, it is not difficult to extrapolate and realize that, in all actuality, innocent or not, I nearly died because they were not paying enough attention. This was never a sentiment I remember them saying to me. Never.
Of course later, there were countless big instances, and even more routine, mundane examples of how they were wrapped in their own “_____” and did not have the “_____” to see the kid that was, mostly, hiding and trying not to be a bother to them, and just going along with most of their whims, even when they felt wrong, because, I mean, they had been through all of this and all of that, and how amazing that I’m even HERE, they FOUGHT to keep me and “EVERYONE thought I should get an abortion because I was too old and father, oh, he was just so dedicated he sold a piano to pay the medical bills.” Astounding parents. Astonishing. Talented performers, smart, cool, eccentric, off-the-grid, homeschooled, with no friends, no life, nearly drowned twice (yes there was another occasion where I saved myself), developed an ulcer at the age of 8, had very little contact with human life and was largely reserved to referee their squabbles, but great parents, you know.
In other words, I was unplanned, they had to sacrifice a lot to have me, others I cared about (including my sister) never thought I should be born aside from my parents of course who “always wanted me for every second” which they spent drinking and tossing verbal and physical assaults at each other at least half of the time. Absolutely wanted me. Indeed. Yes. I was aware of the many problems, the dysfunctionality of it all, but it all goes back to that pool, doesn’t it? That is where I lost the trust somehow. That is where I felt unloved. Where I first felt “stupid”, where I first felt truly “unsafe” in recollectable memory. Clearly, whatever their response was, cruel or otherwise, it simply wasn’t good enough, and I knew it then, and I know it now. Everything that came after? Well I guess that’s just a nail in the bloody coffin, now, isn’t it?
That is not to say I hate my parents. I don’t. I love them. I can’t help that. I always have. Though I have often wanted to tie them up, gag them, and give a lengthy meander into all the things I never said. Is that likely to happen, no, and it’d be a wee bit psychotic to do so. I love them, I have forgiven them for many, many things. Most things I would even dare wager. But assuming I did forgive them for everything, will I ever, ever trust them? No. You can love someone and not trust them. You can forgive someone and not trust them. Hell, you can forgive someone and even still think the action was wrong. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting or excusing, that’s repression and shame. Forgiveness does not mean you have to love them either, if you really don’t. All forgiveness really is is saying, well that happened, it was a problem but I’m not going to actively hold it against you in day-to-day life anymore, and I’m not going to use it as ammo against you at some future date because it suits me, because doing so takes up so much of my time and energy anyway and what good is it doing anyone? Forgiveness is like saying: “I am not going to treat you in a narcissistic way.”
Hmm. So toxic shame, back to one more point, and to illustrate how it can affect you. I was so terrified of water, ashamed somehow of nearly drowning, that I completely forgot how to swim, or told myself I didn’t know how anymore to avoid swimming. I still liked water, it was still calming, but I would not go to the deep end. It took about 9 or 10 years for me to wade back into the deep end, and that was without supervision, utterly by myself. It felt like the safest time by the time I was 12. I had gone from not trusting myself, to only trusting myself in the absence of others, because absence is something I had learned to depend on for peace. The neglect became my friend. Suddenly, I found myself okay with this notion of being independent, of saving myself. Of course, I isolated myself off too much because it was hard to trust anyone at all already, and I still wasn’t able to be myself, not really, but gosh darnit, I taught myself how to swim again. I took that badge of honor. I wear it to this day.
Once you recover, even partially, even a little bit, from some toxic shame or traumatic experience, near-death included, you become more you than you were before, like a Saija-jin. You uncover a new and fresh layer of this infinite onion. That is assuming you work on yourself and have the awareness to untangle the knots as they come, otherwise the opposite spiral into doom and gloom is likely. But in working , in being this semi-shattered human, there is a strength. Yes, there is a strength to those who encounter trauma and chronic abuse or neglect. But while you may be stronger, you haven’t had nearly as great an opportunity to live, to thrive, to love, and to enjoy this beautiful planet we live on.
But… doesn’t mean we can’t make that opportunity for ourselves. And once we do, fashionably late though it may be, it will be quite the occasion. That is where peace, love, and justice will be found. Get there. Screw feeling bad about what happened, what could’ve been better, who did what to us, and through it all, see the strength that was always inside. Let it embrace the massive life experience you have accumulated and wisdom you have claimed and watch it ignite. When this happens in an individual, it is incredibly powerful. You are powerful. I am powerful. Ready or not world, here we come.
As always, feel free to share your thoughts and experiences. I am ever an open ear to the human plight. In the next part, I plan to examine how toxic shame can trigger hyper-sexuality.
~Image by Ayaka Ito saved from TrendHunter article~