In the non-traumatic reltionship I had managed to get in, I was sure that if my partner found out about the Internet porn she would leave. She did find out...I finally told her when I thought I was going crazy. It really hurt her, but she immediately saw the connection with trauma that I couldn't and basically stayed with me, even as my mental health went completely to hell. That was a real lesson...she could see things in me that I could not and thought I was worth sticking around for. I figured I had better start to see some of those things in myself too, and I am slowly learning. Releasing myself from the shame and secrecy also undid the hold the compulsive acting out had on me. I started to deal with what had actually happened instead of my shame-distorted views of a whole series of traumatic events that stretched back to childhood.
Trauma shame tends to make some people overcompensate with unrealistic goals followed by more shame at failure in a classic binge/purge cycle. For people with ptsd, all experiences are tend to be processed by the brain as extremes, all black or white, with no grey. The loss of "the ability to operate in a balanced way...further adds to shameful feelings." Shame based people also have a tendency to re-create childhood traumas in adulthood. This was certainly my pattern anyway.
Trauma shame can result in obsessive self-hatred, worse than feeling unlovable or depressed, which can lead to self-destructive, even suicidal thinking and behavior. I made an attempt, but failed, and ended up in a loony bin for three weeks. Never got near addressing any of the causal issues and left basically promising myself not to make another attempt -- I had had my chance -- but still feeling suicidal. I felt suicidal for the next nine years, obsessively self hating and managing to stuff all my feelings, and the memory of traumatic events until everything just fell apart.
In the paragraph that follows, my comments are in parentheses, the rest is quoted from Carnes. Some signs of shame, according to Carnes, are: "feeling ashamed because you believe trauma experiences were your fault; loneliness and estrangement from others because of trauma experiences; self mutilating behaviors such as cutting or burning (when things were at their worst for me, I would literally rip chunks of flesh out of my stomach, the backs of my hands, and other places, I still have problems with self harm sometimess but not as bad); self destructive behaviors, enduring physical or emotional pain that most people would not accept, avoiding mistakes at any cost; feeling that you should be punished for the trauma event and being unable to forgive yourself (I experienced this as the result of cult abuse, where they ripped apart my life and then blamed me for it); feeling bad when something good happens (good things happening still make me anxious); having suicidal thoughts, threats, and attempts; possessing no ability to experience normal emotions such as sadness, anger, love and happiness (one thing I learned was not to trust anything. I couldn't feel anything but a ripping feeling in my stomach and a lump in my throat for a long time, then rage as I realized what had really happened. Slowly I've gotten some of my emotions back, but I have difficulty trusting happiness or anything good, even today -- its just asnother setup, I think); having a deep fear of depending on people (my partner said I tested her all the time, trying to figure out if she was dependable); feeling unworthy, unlovable, immoral, or sinful because of trauma experiences; perceiving others always as better, happier, and more competent (I saw this as a problem with envy. My abusers got off scot free with ripping up my life, and even seemed to benefit from it and it drove me mad for a while); having a dim outlook on the future; avoiding experiences that feel good, have no risk and that are self-nurturing. "
I would have never made the connection between trauma and shame without help, including Carnes' book. I had basically repressed memories of the traumatic events and just thought I was a crazy, no good mixed up, broken person, even as my life on the outside appeared to be very successful. Learning the connection between trauma and shame was a real life-saver for me, making sense of something that seemed utterly senseless to me.
Another thing I learned along the way is that there is a healthy role for shame. When someone does something bad, shame is an appropriate response. What happens in trauma bond situations is -- and let me just shift to first person here -- I took on my abusers' shame. They are the ones that should have felt shame, but in a trauma bond situation, perpetrators shuck it off onto their victims, compunding the abuse. Learning that this shame was somebody's, but not mine, was healing.
- A little more on trauma shame is here.
All the quotations and information not otherwise attributed above comes from Patrick J. Carnes, The Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships (Deerfield Beach, Fla.: Health Communications Inc., 1997), 21-24.