The subject of shame has long been a topic in my therapy. In fact I would go so far as to say that my therapist brings up the words ‘feelings of shame and embarrassment’ almost weekly. This isn’t the first time I have written about shame on this blog. Over the summer I came across a fantastic book by Patricia A. DeYoung on shame which saw me nodding my head in agreement as I read page after page and I ended up posting something then. I don’t really know what there is to add to the subject now, today, other than to say I seem to be in another of those deep pits of shame and I need to let it out before it eats me alive.
For me, one of the worst things about these horrid soul destroying feelings of shame (and shame is the absolute pits) is that they seem inextricably linked to feelings of love. How very inconvenient! It’s a total nightmare in fact. As Brene Brown suggests ‘shame is the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love’.
True. But. Ouch!
For as long as I can remember I have always felt ‘not quite good enough’ and by extension ‘unlovable’. I am a product of an upbringing that was pretty barren in terms of nurturing love from my mother: #motherwound. She was absent for a lot of the time (Sunday through to Friday when I was 5-11 years old) and then when she was around I felt like I was in the way, too much, a burden…it wasn’t ideal.
I loved my mum in the blind way that young children do. For the longest time I missed her, wanted to be close to her, wanted her to be there, to be kept safe by her, and was incredibly loyal to her. No matter how distant or absent or neglectful she was I kept coming back for more, desperately hoping that having been a good girl all week that she’d want to be with me, spend time with me, learn about me and who I was.
For years I was that well-behaved little girl, then older girl, then young woman. I was a model student, no trouble at home, I never asked for anything and just got on with it. Whilst my friends were acting out and being normal teenagers I watched and wondered how their parents hadn’t killed them yet knowing that I barely had to look at my mum ‘in the wrong way’ and would get either verbal or physical abuse for it! …
And yet, despite all my ‘good girl’ behaviour, it never made an ounce of difference. I could not make me mum love me. I mean I know she does love me, in her own way, but there wasn’t the kind of demonstration of love and care that I needed as a kid, she still doesn’t touch me (at thirteen I reached out to hold her hand crossing the road and she said ‘don’t do that, people will think we’re lesbians’…and there we are…baby dyke was crushed and never reached for her again). After a while I stopped hoping for what I needed and learnt to be self-reliant.
My feelings of love got buried; I shut down. I learnt to not have needs – or at least not to show them. Need and love were bad and dangerous. They just led to heartache. It’s a bloody lonely existence not letting anyone in. It’s the ultimate defence though, if you keep people out they can’t hurt you can they? And my mum really hurt me.
On the outside no one would ever have known there was anything amiss. I have managed over the years to succeed at pretty much whatever I have put my mind to, I have this kind of dogged determination to succeed -but it has come at a cost. I wrote recently about how I now see how damaging the perfectionist streak I have is. It’s done untold damage to me over the years. The stress and the anxiety that surrounds the fear of failure is exhausting. The eating disorder that reared its head when I was sixteen is another product of all that too. Utter. Freaking. Nightmare.
But I’m not here to rehash the stuff from the past. I want to talk about the feelings of shame I am experiencing in the present – undoubtedly this shame is informed by past relationships but it is very real in the here and now.
We all know where this is going don’t we?
I am struggling with shame in my therapy. I’m struggling with love too. Or rather, because I feel love I feel shame.
For the longest time I refused to let myself be seen by my therapist. I used my intellect to deflect anything emotional… in fact I was so out of touch with my emotions it was scary. But, eventually the cracks in my armour appeared and feelings started to come up – attachment/love, call it what you will was suddenly there. And I felt it towards Em. This should have been positive. It should have felt good finally allowing myself to feel. But of course it didn’t work that way because hot on the heels of the loving feelings came the intense and crushing feelings of shame.
I should not have these feelings towards my therapist.
I am pathetic.
Blah blah blah.
And, because this is a therapeutic relationship and there are boundaries to the relationship, every time I smash into one, i.e the no touch boundary, or the no outside contact one, it provides a kind of evidence to that self-hating, critical part that feels that I am ultimately unlovable. That part is angry and sad. It thinks that if she cared about me she would hug me. If I mattered to her she would respond to my messages. If this was actually not just a 50 minute time slot to her then she’d work harder with me on how to make breaks feel better, might consider trying some middle ground like the dots text…or anything really!
The rational adult self can see that the therapeutic framework is what it is and why it is how it is (most of the time!) but that young part that has been so starved of love and care can only see rejection and that I must be too much. That part that is so vulnerable and feels so much love walks into therapy and immediately feels stupid, embarrassed, and ashamed.
I look forward to seeing Em all week and hope that being in the room will somehow make things better, that the part that needs attention and healing will be seen and helped and that the awful feelings that creep in during the week about being unlovable and unimportant will be confirmed to be unfounded. The moment I arrive, though, it hits me so hard that I can’t have any of what I want from her and the fact that I need my therapist in the way that I do fills me with shame and the shame makes it very hard to open up or connect. I want to, but somehow I get convinced that she doesn’t like me and that I am a burden…
Hmmm, familiar pattern??!!
I know she’s not my mum but the maternal transference is massive…and given what I have said about my mum it’s not easy. It feels repeatedly as though I am reexperiencing the feelings of absence, of disconnection, of lack of care… of basically just not really mattering… and it’s really horrible. I don’t really know how much longer I can do it to myself. I understand the need to grieve what I didn’t have as a child, but until I feel safer in therapy, more connected, contained.. I can’t see how I can go there. It doesn’t feel healing or reparative it just feels retraumatising.
I try to bring this stuff up but, oh my god, it’s so hard. Sometimes I make inroads and then something happens and I go into hiding. This last few weeks has been dire, really. I need right brain connection and yet I have been running from Em because part of me still doesn’t trust her. The shame has got so big that I can’t seem to let her in because I am so scared that she will, not shame me exactly (she doesn’t do that), but confirm why I feel ashamed. Like I will tell her how I feel and her response will somehow prove that she doesn’t care. And I can’t cope with that.
It’s really difficult.
I have been in therapy long enough now to know that the only way things get unstuck and shift is to be brave and leap into the hard stuff. But shame, oh god, it’s so suffocating. It’s so hard to find a way out of it. It is so hard to take chances and trust that someone you care for won’t hurt you and reject you because shame is such a horrendous feeling in the first place. To run the risk of more shame being lumped on, or, ultimately to have the feeling that you are unlovable verified by the person that you love…it feels unsurvivable.
The thing is, it is survivable isn’t it? It must be. Because we survived it as children. The mother wound has not killed us….so it seems unlikely that it could do so now. There’s no denying it is painful going through this because it is reliving the pain we experienced as kids again in the therapeutic relationship. The memories and the feelings that are in our bodies are as fresh now as they were then…or rather maybe they are being felt now for the first time because they were too much back then and had to be supressed in order to survive.
I am hopeful that the more I am able to verbalise these feelings of both love and shame something will eventually shift in me. I want my emotional self to catch up with my rational self and to, at a gut level, know that it is ok to feel how I feel and that these feelings won’t annihilate me….
It’s a damn slow process though isn’t it?!