Shame – How to Tame It and Release Emotional Baggage
Sharing Trauma and How Our Bodies Keep the Score was humiliating. I felt as though I paraded my naked body through the town square. In my mind, I could hear chants of “Shame, shame, shame…” Instead, you showed up. You shared your painful stories with me. By sharing our trauma with each other, my humiliation waned and the swelter of disgrace lifted.
HOW TO RELEASE SHAME
When Cadillac married her second of four husbands, we moved an hour away from my grandparents. I was eleven. I lost control of my life and became anxious and depressed. I now had two stepsisters and a stepbrother. The eldest step-sister ran away. The stepbrother lived with his mother and never visited. And the second step-sister was possessive of her dad, not wanting anyone to be near him. It was a lousy existence.
Cadillac was not a particularly clean person. But, when we moved into the stepfather’s house, she became fixated on keeping things spic and span. I became the designated housekeeper.
The stepfather’s master bathroom had a large mirror with a gilded frame over the sink. Splattered toothpaste covered its crevices. Cadillac gave me a new toothbrush and a container of Comet and instructed me to scrub the frame. Miserable with life, I rolled my eyes. And with that, Cadillac death-gripped the base of my skull. She shoved my face into the mirror, causing it to distort. With clenched teeth and a tone of insanity she spewed, “Look at you. You look like his twin.“
I resemble both my parents. Those who know Cadillac say I’m her spitting image. Those who know my dad, say I look like him. If you couldn’t tell, Cadillac believes the latter. “You could have accomplished so much more in life if you’d only gotten that nose job,” she’d torment. It’s valid to note, she’d gotten two.
When your parent judges you in disdain as a child, it’s humiliating. You realize the person who should protect you is not on your side. Unbeknownst to you, this charts future relationships. When society judges you as an adult, you feel painted into a self-preserving corner. You approach vulnerability and connection with extreme caution.
Guilt and Shame
Most survivors of trauma lose reference of what normal means. We assume normal must equal perfection and anything less is unacceptable. We’re guilty about everything. If we show any level of self-care? Guilt. If someone trips over their own foot? Guilt. Our guilt and shame is on overdrive, pointing out how unworthy we are. Adding an extra layer to our loathing internal dialogue, we project our shame onto others. “They see I’m damaged. They recognize I don’t fit in. They think I’m a loser. Screw them.”
I never realized the intense weight of distrust I carried because of my own shame. I prided myself as hyper-intuitive when decoding another person’s character. I was unable to distinguish between intuition guiding me and trauma misleading me. I’ve misread so many behaviors, robbing myself of much deeper connections.
Most of us feel alone in our struggles. We form friendships at superficial depths. Few know us on a rough-hewn level. We scroll through filtered social media posts, thinking others’ lives are perfect.
Sometimes I try to conceptualize an unmasked culture bathed in vulnerability. Muting the pretentious noise sounds refreshing. Validating how much we actually mirror one other’s flawed humanness would feel liberating.
My most cherished friendships developed with reciprocal vulnerability. Revealing our scars and imperfections creates a safe space to be ourselves. I know this in my bones, but I sometimes find myself struggling to trust. It’s not my best look. It’s a hardwired challenge to trust a woman when the one woman I was born to trust ripped out my heart.
I have to remind myself that there is nothing wrong with me. I have wounds to heal, patterns to unlearn and new behaviors to embody. But, there is nothing wrong with who I am at my core. Each day, I try to release more shame and gather more love.
It no longer matters what Cadillac thinks of me within her warped reality. Her venom has neutralized since I’ve chosen to share my truth. And the compassion, trust and grace within the messages you wrote helps nurse the wounds, too. In hopes of connecting with more injured souls, I’m sharing a few below. Out of respect for privacy, I removed identifiable details.
“I’m at a loss for words. I’m blessed to have crossed paths with you. Your blog touched my soul. I never thought I would meet anyone who could know what I’ve been through and who would understand it. I’m connected to you and your words. Thank you for being open and sharing your journey.”
“I cried as I read your story. Your truth. Tears for what you went through and because it resonated with me. I’ve never had the courage to write about mine. I suffer from chronic back and neck pain, chronic fatigue, and fibromyalgia. My trauma led to depression, suicidal thoughts, and a ten year battle with bulimia. Thank you for sharing and connecting the dots.”
“I married a malignant narcissist. I still suffer from PTSD. Compassion is key. We’re all starving for it. Your timing couldn’t have been better to show what that looks like. Thank you for your strength, compassion, and generous service.”
“I hope you have the will to write a book. We could spend weeks talking about all the things we were hiding [as kids]. You hid this with perfection. And I’m sorry for that. We were far more alike than we realized.”
“Your post was an incredible tour de force! It was inspiring and empowering. Even those who didn’t have that sort of trauma and abuse. We love you for writing it and we support you!”
So, there it is. Vulnerability cultivates the trust, fellowship and respect necessary for us to release shame. It’s ours for the taking. Some of us may be late to the vulnerability party, but we’re here. And this is one party we should allow ourselves to be the life of.
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