Thursday, December 08, 2005

betrayal bonds: more on trauma shame

ReallyNotImportant has made another comment that made me make a reply that made me think things through a little more so that I am going to make it its own post instead of a comment. Got all that? Nevermind. Just think of this as part two of the trauma shame post in the series about betrayal bonds.

Really said:
I'm very conscious that you have been through a lot and I don't want to make matters worse.
I guess from reading this stuff, I have been through a lot, but don't worry, as long as people are respectful and talking about their own experience, its fine. I didn't put this stuff up for sympathy or advice so much as to wonder if other people have been through the same sorts of things with their ptsd.

I've worked through a good deal of the shame issues I talk about in the post, very much along the lines you map out. One other thing I learned was that taking on other people's shame is a way of trying to gain control of the traumatic events. If its me, I have an explanation, and maybe even a solution: If its my fault, it might be under my control to change it somehow.

Of course, this is an illusion, one that gets reinforced by 12-step work, which encourages people to always look within for the source of our troubles: The only way it makes sense is if I am just somehow utterly broken goods towards whom such behavior is natural. This was reinforced by my abusers big time (who were, not coincidentally, all associated in one way or another with 12-step forms of recovery), and opting out of that illusion has been key to getting better. It is very tempting to revert to it though, in order to have a reason for things other than that people who I trusted and believed in were malicious and untrustworthy. Its a perverse sort of way of maintaining my old view of the world and denying the betrayals that took place.

When this self-shaming takes place now, I am usually aware enough to take a step back, separate myself from my abusers, and recognize that I am trying to make sense of things in a self-destructive way. The betrayals and abuses were real, and they are not mine. As you say, that then leaves me more freedom to deal with the strong emotions connected with the events, which though they may not be pleasant, they are at least somewhat healing.

I guess sometimes I still shy away from dealing with these emotions because when they all came out at once, it was totally overwhelming and destabilizing, so I need to have support and stability to let go of the shame. While it may be a dysfunctional and ultimately self-destructive way of coping, I needed to recognize that coping is what it was about, not some defect on my part, which of course would only reinforce the shame.


  1. AnonymousMay 08, 2010

    I really appreciate your insight. I disagree somewhat with the idea that shame is transferred from the abuser, or that feelings of shame cover over feelings of anger - I think anger, in fact, is often a cover for shame, as is depression - and that much grief really does relate to the intensity of shame one feels when they are demeaned and degraded. I'm speaking from my own experience, of course, but I do know that when I sat with those feelings long enough, and really felt them, my grief and shame were intense and I sobbed and sobbed. There is something horrible, truly, about being violated by another person, degraded by them. I think those feelings of shame are very natural and very painful. I guess what I'm saying is - we should not feel "shame" about feeling our shame! Shame is not always what you feel when you have done something wrong. It is the feeling you are left with when your vulnerability and humanity is exposed - or you are used in a way that causes you to feel less than human because you have been treated as less than human. I see shame, in this case, as being on a continum with embarassment, which is a milder form of shame, but can be very painful nonetheless. Shame hurts, and I think its very, very difficult to accept as an emotion because we feel so powerless as a consequence, and indeed it is bound up in the experience and memory of being powerless and helpless. What does happen when one embraces and validates their shame, however, is a shift that makes you aware of the difference between being in the past, and being in the present. I know myself, that I felt so much more compassion for myself, when I allowed the truth of how ashamed I really was of how I had been treated. This is not say to say that I thought it was my fault - I didn't. But I think being a victim does leave a person feeling ashamed about how they were treated, on account of the terrible experience of being violated and exposed in that way.


  2. I agree with the OP that much of 12-step culture (and mainstream culture) seem to be grounded in theories of false (self) empowerment, but that changed for me when I found a group that really worked for me (CoDA); for some reason what had felt like self-blame up to then all of a sudden became liberating and supportive (so maybe it's a question of finding the group, although for people I imagine that the right group doesn't exist yet and needs to be created).

  3. I think 12-step groups do involve some inherent form of false self-empowerment but that stopped for me when I found a group which felt more "right" for me (CoDA); perhaps the OP just hasn't right found the right fellowship (or more likely, it does not exist and needs to be created).