Tag Archive | shame

Shame based way of living…..

When we have lived a shamed-based way of living for so long, letting go of this way of living and thinking is scary. It leaves us feeling vulnerable and wondering who we really are. Eventually, parents’ “you are” statements to children become internalized as “I am” identity concepts. This, along with abuse, causes such self-shaming that it becomes who we are….and this painful cycle of shame continues, gaining momentum with each passing day.

When we begin our journey of healing we often feel that we will never escape from its destructive pattern. It has become so much a part of us that we feel lost and vulnerable without it…we question then who we are. I remember so well the feelings of “who am I”? Who was I then if I wasn’t who I had lived my life believing I was? It’s a scary place to be. I remember one time when it came to picking a paint color for my bedroom, something that should have been so simple, caused me to come undone….I had no idea what my favorite color even was!! I didn’t know myself, who I really was…I was so used to being who and what every one else thought I should be….praise God I am no longer there….but it took time, it took days ,months even years of floundering in this recovering process.

It is hard, humbling work. It can be a slow, difficult and often painful process….but we are not alone, with the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 40:31) we will soar on the wings of eagles…run and not grow weary….[or at least] walk and not faint. I can honestly say that there are fewer “fainting” days and more “running” and “soaring” days than there used to be.

And I have learned that living in the recovering process means traveling a new path and following a new map….who you truly are emerges over time….it doesn’t happen over night….as I began the journey of  healing there were many floundering days…yet, over time as I continued to heal who I really am began to emerge… As children we were taught to turn away from truth and evade it…but recovering from binding shame begins when we turn toward truth and embrace it….the truth about our families and truth about ourselves.

Psalm 34

1 I will praise the Lord at all times.
      I will constantly speak his praises.
 2 I will boast only in the Lord;
      let all who are helpless take heart.
 3 Come, let us tell of the Lord’s greatness;
      let us exalt his name together. 

 4 I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me.
      He freed me from all my fears.
 5 Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy;
      no shadow of shame will darken their faces.
 6 In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened;
      he saved me from all my troubles.
 7 For the angel of the Lord is a guard;
      he surrounds and defends all who fear him.

 8 Taste and see that the Lord is good.
      Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!

The Man With No Face

I am small in my bed.  I must be five or six.  I am on the bottom bunk.  I look up at the wooden slats supporting the mattress above me.  The glow-in-the-dark stars are there so I won’t be afraid.  There’s an amazing mural painted on the wall.  The Cat in the Hat balancing on a ball.  My mom painted it.  My mom is the best artist I know.  Two squares of light appear in the corner and move slowly across the wall, then disappear into the closet.  After a minute they appear again, this time starting from the closet and moving in the opposite direction.  The fading whine and rumble was louder that time.  Must have been a truck.

There is someone in my room.  It’s a man.  His hair is black.  He is over me.  I am being squished.  I am being pushed.  I can’t breathe right.  His hand is over my mouth.  His hand is on my mouth and I can’t scream.  My hips are being pushed down, down deep into the bed.  I struggle to get free, but I can’t.  I can’t move.  I am too small.  The man is too big.  Pain washes over me.  Waves of pain.  Wave after wave of unbearable, unimaginable pain.  Oh God, make it stop.  Please make it stop!  I am being punished.  I am being vivisected.  I am … BAD!

   In my memory, there is something strange about the man’s face.  It’s all gray.  It’s missing.  Somehow I took a giant pink eraser and rubbed it out from the picture.  The man’s identity was something I refused to see.  It was the truth I refused to know.

The Blame Game

When I write down my stories and read them back to myself, they sound bad. If a different person somewhere in the world had stories exactly like mine and one day told her stories to me, I would feel sorry for her. I would understand if that person were sad or angry or had problems dealing with her life. But I don’t feel that way about myself. When I think of something that happened to me, something that still hurts and affects me, I tell myself impatiently, “it wasn’t that bad.”

My parents had a bad fight when I was nine. My brother and I snuck in to watch. They were in the living room. She was lying on the floor. He was sitting on her. His hands were around her neck, pushing down hard. The memory is fuzzy right after that. Maybe my dad noticed we were watching and decided to let her go. My mom got up and ran out. It was dark. It was raining. It was muddy outside. I felt guilty for being warm and dry when my mom was cold and wet, so I grabbed her coat and ran to her. I walked around in the rain for a long time trying to find her. When I found her, I gave her the coat and walked away. Taking her a coat was all I could do to fix it.

My mom and I had a bad fight years later. Before I knew what was happening, I was lying on the floor. She was sitting on me. Her hands were moving toward my neck and I thought back to that rainy night. This is what that must have felt like, I thought. She put her hands not around my neck, but a few inches higher. Her hands went around my chin and pushed down hard. My dad had given her something she didn’t know what to do with. She couldn’t keep it forever and she didn’t know how to get rid of it, so she tried to give it to me. The look in her eyes and the fury in her screams told me that more than anything at that moment; she wished she could kill me. If she could kill me she could be better; she could be happy and free. I felt guilty for being happy and free when my mom was burdened with so much pain. I didn’t want to die, but at that moment I wished the consequences would be removed from her so she could do it. So I took her pain and wrapped it up. I pushed it down deep inside myself and kept it for her. I still have it. Taking her pain was all I could do to fix it.

When you start keeping pain that belongs to other people, it’s hard to stop. When something goes wrong, I take the blame. It’s the game I play. I’ve gotten so used to it, that the pain almost feels good. At least it feels familiar. Blame feels like a burning on the skin of my arms and chest. It feels like a punch in the stomach. Not taking the blame feels scary and unpredictable. Taking the blame feels safe.

Now God wants me to stop playing the Blame game. He is asking too much of me. I don’t know how, and to be honest I’m not sure I want to. I don’t believe I can do it. It’s more than I have to give. I’m terrified of the pain inside of me. I want it safely wrapped away; pushed down where it can’t hurt anyone but me. I can handle it. I’m used to it. It’s no big deal. It’s not that bad.

Guilt and self-esteem

 Almost all victims feel guilty but there are two types of guilt; real and false. Real guilt is a fact, whether one feels guilty or not is irrelevant.

False guilt is a feeling of guilt when one is not factually guilty- when one has no responsibility for wrong doing.

Perpetrators work very hard to deny their own guilt and heap guilt onto their victims. As a sexual abuse victim I was very good at assuming guilt even though I was not guilty.

I read this story years ago and its always stuck with me. I feel its worth sharing. Author is unknown.

Once upon a time there was a pretty little girl. She lived in the country and loved to go for long walks in the open fields. She always wore a pretty white dress and loved to stop and pick wildflowers. She  had lovely, long golden hair.

One day while she was picking wildflowers an evil man came upon her and carried her off through the woods. He dragged her through thorny bushes and a stinky swamp. He tore her pretty white dress. Her face and arms were cut badly, but he didn’t care. Her beautiful hair was disheveled and torn. He took her to his dirty cave and abused her.

Terrified, weeping, she was finally able to break away from him, running blindly, wildly. Although her cuts stopped bleeding and the bloodstains dried, she kept running. She ran until the moisture from the swamp and mud had dried. She was free of him, but her dress was torn and filthy, her face and arms were badly cut, and her hair was matted with mud and twigs.

The next day she found a cape and wrapped it tightly around herself to hide the mud, bloodstains, and scars. She used the cape’s hood to cover most of her face. She never removed the cape; to do so would have meant exposing the filth and the wounds.

Years passed. One day she met a mystic who could mend her dress, cleanse it pure white again, and erase the scars from her arms and face. She asked for help and was given all she asked for: Yet she found the change difficult to accept, for she had lived long with the torn dress, mud, dried blood, scars and protective cape.

She found that her soul was more scarred than her arms and face had been. Her spirit was more torn and muddied than her dress. As she walked away from the mystic he called after her; “You must now let go of the cape, for it will only remind you of the past. You must now smile at the sun, or you will forever fear the darkness of the cave. You must now comb your hair and wash your face, or you will forever think of yourself as being ugly.”

That to me is a good description of our torn, stained and bruised self-esteem from the result of sexual abuse. We deal with false guilt and these feelings of false guilt are the logs that fuel the fire of low self-esteem.

It was like the perpetrator used the axe of sin to cut the logs of guilt then heaped them upon the fire of your self-abasement. His hand may have lit the match….but our hand must pour on the water of forgiveness, self-love and kindness.

Abused women frequently feel guilty about almost everything…..I was like this and I am still working on it……I have often asked myself why I am so quick to feel guilt or shame…….with the Lord’s help I am a lot further than I used to be in processing false guilt but I know I still have a ways to go…… but I know that even in this, one step at a time my heavenly Father walks this road with me.

Who do you think you are?

Finally after much begging on my part I owned my very own pony. She was a beautiful jet black Welsh pony that stood about 13 hands high. She came with the name Stormy but I often called her Black Storm. She had a white blaze on her face and two white socks, and I loved her.  I spent all my free time with her, grooming her, feeding her, riding her and loving her.

Maybe she wasn’t the fastest or even the most elegant but to me she was special. I took pride in her and each day together was an adventure. Each outing an opportunity to explore and to escape. Some days we helped with the herding of the cattle, or we had to watch the cattle while they grazed along our 1/2 mile driveway making sure they didn’t venture out onto the highway, and some days were just for pleasure riding.

I rode this little mare bareback and sometimes we would go into the vegetable garden and raid the carrot patch. I would grab enough carrots for us both and then head out to our favorite spot where we would just relax in the warm sunshine. Often I would lie down on her back while she grazed and I would munch on my carrots watching the clouds float by dreaming of a different life. Storm would sometimes turn her head and that was my clue to give her a bite of my carrot. She loved carrots.

 Storm also loved running through the creek getting us both soaked.Time spent with Stormy was probably some of the happiest days of my childhood. 

Except for one day, a day I’ve tried to forget so many times but a day that haunted me for years. A day when a lie formed in my mind. A lie I believed and lived, words spoken that shaped so many of my decisions and desires in the years to come.

I had just come in from a leisurely ride and had to go through the yard and pass by the house in order to get to the barn. I did what any normal child does- I looked to the house to see if there was anyone home. I didn’t look to see if anyone was necessarily watching me, I simply looked to see who was at home.

But just as I looked at the kitchen window my uncle looked outside too. We made brief eye contact. And the next thing I knew he was outside in a rage.To this day I can’t remember all the exact details but I can recall the hurtful, wounding words spoken. In an explosive rage once again he was in my face. Shouting and cursing. And what he said would be forever imbedded in my mind.

“Who do you think you are?”

After those six words that he shouted at me, I can’t recall exactly word for word all he said but he was basically saying I was a nobody, that nobody wants to watch me or see me ride by. Why did I have to look to see who was home? On and on he went until his rage was spent. And my heart once more shattered.

I led my pony to the barn, shoulders hunched, head down and tears once again silently streaming down my face. I groomed, watered and fed Stormy and I wept into her mane. As I stood there hugging her neck, my face nestled into her mane, she seemed to understand and stood quietly while I wept. Once in awhile she would give a soft whinny and turn her head towards me nuzzling me softly.

I made an agreement that day that I was a nobody. No one wanted me, let alone to ever look at me. I wasn’t worth being noticed, being seen.

It was better to be invisible. I was too much and yet so often not enough.Who did I think I was? I would spend much of my life hiding from people, never wanting to be noticed or recognized. Compliments were scary and threatening. 

That day my uncle left me a powerful, shaming legacy- the belief that any attention to yourself is wrong or sinful.That’s why it took me so many years to risk looking back at my past….but I needed to in order to provide a context for change. We can’t be free if we don’t see it. My shame-bound self-concept affected me and my relationship with God and with others.

Years ago in counseling I asked God to give me “wisdom in the hidden parts” of my self-concept so that I could recognize the negative effects of believing that others were perfect and I wasn’t. The negative effects that had me believing I was worthless while everyone else was worthy.

I risked asking God to help me to learn to see myself as He sees me…..realizing that He does see…..that He desires to see me….that I am worth seeing…..He is different than my uncle who was a father figure to me….God longs to see me to see us.As His child He delights in me…..in who I am and what I do…..He does not shame me or tell me I am too much or not enough…..He does not question me asking me who do I think I am…..He knows who I am and loves me…..He loves me!

And He continues to teach me to live in the freedom of grace and truth…..breaking the bondage of my past, of the lies, and leads me into a future where I am increasingly released from shame.

The Fire

Outside.  Running down the hill in my bare feet.  Cool grass between my chubby toes.  Warm sun on my round face.  I was a good girl.  I was a smart girl.  I was a pretty girl.  They all said so. 

Inside.  The special room.  Straight even lines on the carpet.  Clear plastic on the couch.  Glass shelf.  Shiny things.  They were for looking not for touching.  One was round and clear and sparkly.  I wanted to hold it.  I imagined picking it up and feeling its weight in my hands. Oops.  Warm heavy feeling in the back of my pants.  Accident.  Other things on the shelves.  One looked like a deer.  It looked very pointy but I wouldn’t touch.  I would just pretend.  Grown ups talking.  They liked to do that.  That child is old enough to sit on the toilet like everyone else.  If that were my kid I’d rub her nose in it.

My arm pulled HARD.  We walked FAST to the bathroom.  The door slammed SHUT.  Her face was RED.  Her voice was LOUD.  Her hands were SHAKY.  Her words came FAST.  My pants came off rough.  Her hands held me down.  Bad smell.  Warm smelly poop on my nose, my cheeks, my forehead.  Final raging words:  “IF YOU ACT LIKE A DOG I’M GONNA TREAT YOU LIKE A DOG!”

At that moment a new sensation burned in my heart that I had never felt before.  It started as a spark, then grew to a small flame, and finally became a raging wildfire.  Before I knew it the forest of joy, love, and optimism that grew there became an empty, smoking landscape.  The hungry fire consumed every inch.  Although good feelings would take root and sprout again, they were mere shoots, not the tall glorious trees that once grew.  And the fire’s name was Shame.