I write and my reasons for writing are selfish, but it’s the good kind of selfish. I want to know and understand myself better. As I dive into this long held desire to write, I am peeling away the thickened layers of beliefs that no longer serve me. Today, I’d like to write my thoughts on healing from shame.
Healing from shame can be like turning over that big rock you find in a field or when you’re hiking or maybe even in your own yard. You turn it over and all kinds of ugly bugs come racing out at lightning speed in all directions. They don’t know where they need to go – they just want to get out. That’s what writing is like for me – moving that rock of shame to get all those ugly bugs out of my head.
In my last post “Fears – the Unwanted Tenants in our Head” I refer to our fears as unwanted tenants. Today’s new analogy relates to these insects under the rock, because writing helps uncover things-things that can be ugly-things that have gotten away with “living under this heavy rock” for too long.
What’s under the rock of shame?
And bugs multiply so what started as maybe a small “bug” or some pain that you’ve tucked away, has now bred into a large colony of a lot of pains, small, medium and large and it’s not so easy to exterminate them.
One of the ugly insect colonies I’ll discuss today is shame. Shame is different from guilt – guilt is when you feel you did something wrong – maybe said something mean to somebody, you realize it, apologize and it’s over. Shame, however, is enduring. It’s when you feel something is intrinsically wrong with you and that you are at fault for whatever discomfort you perceive you committed. Shame is a learned behavior that was taught to you by a parent, relative, sibling, friend, teacher – anyone you had close and regular contact with.
Learning about shame
I”ve been chasing the shame colony all my life. I remember being constantly ridiculed first by my dad and later my siblings, which “multiplied” my shameful feelings. My dad used to tell me I was fat, ugly and stupid. I used to wear glasses and had braces and he called me “bracy-frames.” He used to also chant at me “guys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses,” and the more people that were around, the better it was for him because they all joined in and laughed at his “jokes.” My mom wasn’t much help either, because when I’d go to her crying about all the teasing she would say “he wouldn’t tease you if he didn’t love you.” Since the ridicule lasted from the time I was little well into high school, the impressions were tattooed in my brain.
It was hard for me to recover from the humiliation I felt having been branded with the labels of fat and ugly. When I look back at pictures of me I wasn’t. In fact I was skinny and pretty. But I had that vision of myself and I felt intense shame about who I was. I was also smart -getting mostly A’s and B’s. My grades did start to go a little south in high school and college, but I had almost a 4.0 when I finished my Master’s.
So as I started to navigate the teen years, I made questionable high school friends, and started drinking. I dated bad guys, who were first neglectful and then unfaithful and then both. I married an emotionally abusive man so the teasing that had crippled my self-esteem, led me down the road to an emotionally abusive relationship. In all fairness to my dad, I’m sure he didn’t mean for me to feel this badly and he definitely stopped completely when I was an adult.
Shame and abuse in my marriage
But being in a bad marriage, following my childhood taunting of being- fat, ugly and stupid, turned into taunts of extreme jealousy. My husband accused me of being promiscuous, said I laughed too much (which in his eyes was “flirting), looked at guys for too long, talked to guys for too long and I was a terrible wife and mother. Not only were his accusations false, they exacerbated my shame and sickened my soul. Whatever I tried to do for myself was fodder for criticism. I even developed post traumatic stress syndrome and I didn’t even know it until just recently.
I knew in my heart, deep down that all this humiliation was damaging me as a person and my kids, so I sought out therapy, retreats, journaled, and got a Masters in Spanish. I kept pushing for myself, with no external support, because there was that part of me that knew there was something much better inside me than what he was telling me. Being in that environment made it so hard to recover from the all humiliation. My vision was blurred.
After many years of being at home taking care of the kids, I found a three month job I wanted to apply for. My husband, abusively determined to make me miserable, threatened to quit his own job if I took the job. He did quit his job, and even though I was scared, I took the job. His behavior was yet one more testament that whenever my true self emerged, he quickly set out to extinguish it by his threats and manipulation. His objective was to keep me in fear and isolation, and it worked for a long time. However that little light inside me, no matter how dim it grew, never went out.
When I decided to go back to school and get my Master’s he threatened me again. I can’t remember what it was – probably that I’d be neglecting my motherly and housewifely duties, and I was a terrible person, blah, blah, blah. I went anyway. He made heroic efforts to never help me. He didn’t ever offer to take care of the kids, make dinner, clean, absolutely nothing. I had to do everything and the only time I could study was when the kids were taking naps, or after they went to bed. Sometimes I had to even pull all nighters.
He never asked me any questions about my classes-just to dig the dagger in a bit deeper. I can remember returning from a class one night – we were studying the adventures of Don Quixote and it had been one of those spiritually, uplifting classes. I remember walking to my car, pausing, looking up at the stars in the sky, and feeling awe and peace inside. I relished the feeling throughout the drive home. When I got there, he was on the living room couch, reading a book. He didn’t even look up to greet me. Complete neglect and no acknowledgement whatsoever of things that were important to me was the order of the day for decades.
Finally, the last year or so of my classes (it took five years) he started asking more questions, and he and the kids came to my graduation. But it was a long and rocky road to convince him. Maybe after awhile he realized he couldn’t do anything about it.
In my marriage, I wanted to leave for years, maybe even from the very beginning, but I stayed for my kids. They are the rock stars of my life- smart, funny, kind, supportive and I just love them sooooo much. The silver lining.
My husband was jealous, limiting, isolating, had no friends, and didn’t have much of a sense of humor. He wanted me in isolation, under his complete control to be his housekeeper, cook, and take care of the kids, nothing more – his version of what a wife and mother should be. He was an insatiable flirt -doing all the things he accused me of dong and he developed very “cozy “relationships with more then one of his employees. After 23 years I decided to leave him.
Meeting “my soulmate”
I did get the memo on not getting into another relationship immediately after leaving my emotionally abusive one, but I just thought my friend was going all moralistic on me so I ignored her advice. Why? Well because two months out of my marriage I met “Prince Charming, my soulmate, the love ❤️of my life.
He seemed to be the polar opposite of my ex-husband. He was Mr. All American – kind, outgoing, lots of friends, involved with his kids, funny, romantic, had integrity (seemingly), his own business, and was in recovery from alcohol and drugs…
The relationship seemed to be everything I’d ever wanted, however, after one or two years, unbeknownst to me, he went back to taking drugs. And there I was again, without realizing it, in another emotionally abusive and manipulative relationship.
His hidden drug use got very ugly and badly affected our relationship. It seemed we were constantly arguing. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what. I would get upset a lot, start arguments and didn’t even know why. I felt confused, anxious and bored. He was manipulative and blaming me for all our problems to cover up for the craziness caused by his drug use. He said I was angry, always started arguments and was jealous-some of the same things my ex-husband used to accuse me of.
After eight years of breaking up, making up and all the dysfunction in-between, he found a new girlfriend (he could also add “cheating” to his repertoire of his painful exploits). Of course I blamed myself–once again I wasn’t good enough and felt the sting of shame and humiliation once more.
He told me he found someone who let him be “himself” a practicing drug addict and the new girlfriend didn’t care about his drug use. Sadly, five years after we broke up, and five years into his new relationship, he was brutally murdered in some sort of drug deal gone bad. Not-so Mr. All American after all.
Although his death was a horrible tragedy for him, his family, kids and friends, I was truly grateful I didn’t have to endure all those extra years of his crazy addict behavior, which eventually took his life.
“We attract what we know,” a therapist told me after the breakup. She also said, that in the future, if I met someone I felt I’d known all my life, I should run in the other direction.
Life and healing after the breakups
I have chosen to stay out of the “dating” pool for the last five years. It was partly so I could really grow into myself, but also the shame of feeling no one would want to get involved with me. Fortunately I was able to spend time with my aging parents who lived in Sacramento during the winters. I spent the last few years mainly taking care of them as their health steadily declined. My mom passed away in April of 2018 and my dad passed away in August, 2019.
My shame kept me in two very abusive relationships. I believed all my actions were somehow because I was intrinsically bad. In these relationships, when I was blamed for all the problems, I really believed it was true. I see now how my vulnerabilities, instead of being nurtured, were thrown in my face, sharp rocks of shame, leaving a scar here and a scar there and another and another until I felt to my core that I was flawed, wrong, and horrible-like those ugly bugs hidden under the big rock.
My journey has been to lift that rock and get rid of those ugly insects, They are not allowed to hide under there anymore. The rock is lifted, I can start to grow a beautiful garden, that beautiful evolving me. I now work on being kind, nurturing, understanding, and patient with myself. I also practice unconditional love. I still have to spray those pesky bugs occasionally, but I do it on a regular basis-I don’t let those colonies of “shame insects” form anymore.
I’ve sought help through therapy, reading, support groups, retreats, friends and especially writing. I can think about my life, but writing it down gives me a deeper understanding of myself. I share my experiences with you in hopes that it will help you to realize that someone else has had this same struggle and there is light at the end of the tunnel. My healing tool is writing. It brings the darkness to light and the lies to truth. It is my detective, my angel, and my muse.
I miss my parents horribly. They were wonderful parents, made mistakes, but did the best they could with the parenting tools that were handed down to them. And as J.K. Rowling says (and I am paraphrasing this), at some point, we grow from children to adults, and have to take the wheel and drive our own car. And that’s what I’m doing – driving my own car to new life destinations.
As Tony Robbins says: “Life happens for you, not to you.” For me, writing about all the experiences in my life, wonderful, horrible and everything in between helps me grow, helps me heal. I’ll leave you with this quote on why I write:
“What is behind this crazy impulse (to write)? The wish to connect with others, on a deep level, about inward things.” Jane Kenyon
Thanks for reading! Please leave a comment below and share your story with me. You can also email me at: Kathy@requiredtoinspire.com
See you next week 🙂