My Core of Shame


Greetings gentle readers,

I have been doing very intense work lately in therapy, mainly centered around shame. A deep, excoriating shame provoked when I go anywhere near talking about my body or my weight. In the midst of attempting to engage with the shame (which has been a slow, disjointed process because I just DO NOT WANT TO GO THERE), a situation occurred in my life that has triggered a massive amount of shame to be kicked up. One of those “coincidences” in therapy that neither BN or I believe in.

I have been back to weekly sessions (as schedules have permitted) and the last five or six months  have been brutal. For a time, I was even dealing with flashbacks and dissociation, which happens very rarely these days and have found myself literally unable to remember what happened in sessions when I am in between them. The issues I have been dealing with, of my body, my weight, my overeating and my sexuality are kicking up a sense of  shame that is agonizing to say the least. I have not really been talking about what has been going on, because it’s felt so raw and exposing that speaking of it to BN, in the utter safety of his office, has felt close to impossible, let alone talking about it anywhere else. The recent situation involves other people whose privacy I wish to protect and has been woven throughout most of my sessions for the last five months which has made it difficult to discuss therapy. Add this all up and the result is that I have been having a difficult time trying to write for the blog.

A while back during a couple’s session, BN made the very powerful connection between dieting and shame. That the instant I went anywhere near trying to discuss my body or weight, an enormous shame would erupt causing me to shy away. This insight helped me to understand why trying to eat right or exercise would so quickly derail. Trying to eat right or exercise would bring my body to my attention, but I am so ashamed of having a body, that it is too painful to concentrate on it for any length of time. As I have attempted to start tackling these topics in therapy, it has been quite astounding how unconsciously I shy away or change the subject or sometimes just…. stop. Totally forget what I was even trying to say.  So I have been going in, having very intense sessions, then walking out and forgetting about them. I remember at one point approaching an upcoming session and was thinking back on the last session to figure out where I wanted to pick up and drew a complete blank. I had to think long and hard before I could remember the last session and was shocked to realize that it had been an intense session with important work; not the kind of thing you usually forget.

Shame has been, far and away, the hardest emotion I have attempted to regulate. First and foremost, because it feels like a state of being. “Being in a state of shithood” as BN so memorably, and accurately described it. 🙂 Shame doesn’t feel like a feeling; it just feels like the truth. And not a small truth, but a consuming truth, a truth that overshadows everything else you know. I have wrestled for years to gain a sense of my self-worth and would even say that I have made a huge amount of progress in being able to hang on to a sense of my own worth for longer and longer periods of time. So I have not been unaware that I carried shame with me. But I don’t think that I truly recognized the depth and intensity of the shame until I started to confront it.

BN has been doing a lot of reading about shame lately (go figure, another of those coincidences I don’t believe in! 😀 ) which has positioned him nicely to explain it to me. All human beings experience misattunements as children. When attunement is broken, we automatically assume we have done something wrong and a sense of shame arises. It is an emotion, but an intense one that affects us physiologically. So deeply that it interferes with our attachment mechanisms. So we turn away, trying not to be seen, because we feel unworthy and fear being sent away (a death sentence). If a child has “good enough” parents, their caregiver quickly moves to re-establish attunement, and restore relationship. The child is not left alone with their shame nor do they have to endure it for a long time. For that is the answer to shame: to be seen and have the other reflect that despite you feeling worthless, you matter to them and they can see and reflect your worth. When this happens consistently, a child experiences a background of being worthy, occasionally punctuated with moments of shame. They experience shame as something that doesn’t last, as a feeling they can turn to another to get help with.

On the other hand, a child who experiences neglect or abuse, has frequent experiences of missattunement and hence, shame. And because their caregiver is not focused on their needs, through inability or seeing the child as something to be used, misattunements are not noticed and repaired and the shame can go on for a long time. So they turn away from relationship, only to have no one come after them, which reinforces the feeling that they are not worthy nor do they matter. They have failed to measure up and are cast out. For the child with insecure attachment, this sense of shame, of defectiveness, of not being worthy, is taken in on the same deep level and integrated into their sense of self, in the same way that the child with secure attachment integrates their sense of worth.

It is this core sense of shame, this deep-seated belief that I am worthless, that I must turn away, that I will be outcast, that I have been confronting (well, ok whimpering in the face of, running away, freezing, occasionally taking tentative steps towards BN). I have learned a number of very important things by doing this, not the least of which is just how profoundly deep my sense of trust is with BN. Everything in me is screaming not to be seen, not to express this, to turn away. I have spent weeks at a time bereft of the sense of connection I worked so hard to earn, because my shame interfered with my sense of attachment. But the second thing I have learned is that the only way to break a sense of shame is to be seen, to connect, to allow another person to show you that when you look up, you do not see what you dread: confirmation of your worthlessness and rejection. You see acceptance and compassion. I am blessed in that when I can force myself to look up, I see BN, who has radiating compassion and acceptance down to a fine art. But the terror is there each time. So automatic and so unconscious, that often I turned away without making any conscious decision to do so. BN has spent a lot of time in the last five months watching me grope for words, any words, to express the feelings inside. He’s also spent a lot of time looking at the back of my hands, covering my face.

I remember one session discussing my sense of worthlessness. I truly believe, on a very deep level, that there is fundamentally something wrong with me. I think there has been a sense of dread in every significant relationship in my life, that it was only a matter of time until the person realized this and left me. So always I have hid myself, in dread of this truth being revealed. BN was telling me that my sense of shame was an emotion, a feeling that reflected  lie I had learned to believe through repetition. I burst out in agony and asked him “But what if my feelings are right? How can you know it’s not true?” and he very calmly told me “Because it’s impossible for it to be true. You are worthwhile.” I literally rocked back in my chair, utterly stunned.

Shame is an emotion. It feels like a state of being, but it’s a feeling. This seems obvious in retrospect, but the first time BN said it to me (1st of 5,672 times at last count 🙂 ) it was like a lightning bolt struck. Realizing that shame is a feeling finally helped me to start to get a grip on it. For if shame is a feeling, then I can learn to regulate and integrate it. And that realization in turn gave me hope, because I can remember coming to terms with other feelings in the past and learning to tolerate them.

Feeling ashamed is part of me and it is safe to own that. Like all feelings, when you stop fighting it and allow yourself to feel it, it moves through you. Odd paradox that, the longer you fight a feeling in an attempt to not have it, the longer it sticks around. I often can feel ashamed of feeling ashamed and during one session expressed, quite vehemently, that I hated that I felt this way, that I reacted with shame, instead of calmly being able to own my stuff. And BN said something priceless to me. He told me I had to stop hating that part of myself. There were good reasons that I felt this way and I needed to stop cutting off that part of myself and instead treat it with compassion. And that is when I realized that this is just another stepping stone on the path of integration.

I am making slow progress. These days I am running parallel tracks. In one channel runs the excoriating shame and deep sense of my worthlessness. But alongside it runs a tender shoot of acceptance and compassion, of the realization that it’s ok to acknowledge when I mess up without having to believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with me. It is safe to recognize my humanity, without turning it into monstrosity. That my sense of wrongness is a lie I to which I no longer need to listen. I have hope that, eventually, after BN explains it to me 8,456 more times, the neuronal network carrying that belief will grow up and grow strong and be able to pulverize my sense of shame in shorter and shorter intervals of time.

On a side note, this has led to an interesting shift in my attitude about my weight and my body (OK, not so much a shift as a work in progress; I’m faking it until I make it right now). I started this by saying that attempting to lose weight and exercise reminded me of my body, which made me feel ashamed, which made me want to stop those activities. In reflecting on this, I realized that I was so ashamed of my body that it felt like I needed to be punished by not eating, that I was not worthwhile nor could I matter, until I reached an “acceptable” weight. BN has made it very clear, over and over, that my weight has nothing to do with my worth or acceptance with him. And you know, he really means it. I am truly ok with him just as I am. So I am trying to approach this a different way, which is that I am truly worthwhile and acceptable right now, at the weight I am. But it would be healthier and I would feel better if I was able to lose some weight and get in better shape. So not eating as much, and exercising, stop being punishments for my transgressions and shame, but instead are acts of love towards my body, which is me, the place I dwell, that deserves to be taken care of. While there is a strong need to turn away from shame being called up, there is no need to turn away from an act of love.

It’s scary to say the above, as I am just venturing out into changing my behavior and I have a long history of failing to stick with it behind me. But then I realize that is the old way of thinking, that failing to carry through will prove I am not acceptable and therefore will be scorned and rejected. The truth is that if I “succeed” or “fail” I am worthwhile and matter. So it’s ok to talk about these struggles.

Thanks for reading, it feels good to at last find my “voice” on this subject.

  1. March 6, 2014 at 12:43 am

    thank you for sharing your struggle. I still can’t believe shame is just a feeling but I like hearing about other people who have moved from it being the truth about them.

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    • March 6, 2014 at 11:23 am

      Hi Attached,
      Right?! The first time BN told me shame was a feeling, my reaction was “you have got to be ******* kidding me!” It’s only as I have struggled to learn to regulate it that I have actually realized it’s true. But I do not want to underestimate just how powerful and pervasive it is. I honestly think this is some of the hardest work I’ve ever done, I understand why it has taken me SO long to get to it. But no matter how true it feels, it just isn’t. But I now it’s a tough lesson to learn. It starts by allowing yourself to just consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe, the shame is not the truth. Then hold that crack open with all your might. xx AG

      Like

  2. NextInLine
    March 6, 2014 at 2:09 am

    Funny, I subscribe to many blogs, but you are the only one to which I respond (I am the social anxiety fly on the wall). You are amazingly fearless, the way you write about your struggle and the intense work you do with BN. I find myself moved to tears by your words and your emotions. I wish I could delve that deeply with my own therapist, but am stifled by my own inhibitions and yes, shame. So to read your words gives me hope that I can break through somewhere. you are truly an inspiration to me. Your honesty is astonishing and vital and thank you. From someone out in the virtual world, you always reach me.

    Like

    • March 6, 2014 at 11:26 am

      NextinLine,
      Thank you! What an incredible compliment. I am so glad that my writing can move and help you. But I want to repeat something I said in the comments on the Words of Wisdom post: I can be so vulnerable and open here, because my readers, like you, meet me with affirmation, compassion and reassurance. You all serve to make this the next safe place I come after I have managed to speak to BN. Please be gentle with yourself, it literally took me decades of work to get to the point where I was strong enough and had built the trust in BN in order to face this. xx AG

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  3. Marijke
    March 6, 2014 at 5:10 am

    Dearest (((AG))),

    Thank you, again, for nailing it down so perfectly, and connecting with us about this very difficult issue. You have told me in the past, as did my T, that healing takes place when we connect, when we reach out. Doing so while feeling such deep shame, is tremendously powerful.

    I have been struggling with an eating disorder since I was seven. I’m 44 now and have been in a stable, intense and growing relationship with my wife for 17 years. Can you believe I only owned up to her about having an eating disorder last week? I took both her and T by surprise telling them I wanted to have a session with my wife present to talk about my eating behavior. That’s how deep the shame runs. And, as you so clearly stated, it probably found its origins much earlier, in profound missatunement during infancy – and even earlier…

    I go through life as a head floating in the air, denying my body as much as I possibly can, stuffing it to fill the void, numb its pain and stifle all the difficult feelings it generates. When I told my T this a while ago she laughed in recognition, admitting to once have felt similarly.
    There’s this strange paradox in crumpling into a ball of shame at the idea of being ‘seen’ and overeating for decades which gets you so big, you can’t avoid being seen. I dread the idea of being ‘seen’. My T knows this and from time to time, at some crucial moment in a session, may say: “I see you”, in the most gentle, loving way and a small element of healing trickles down through layers of shame to feed my slowly growing sense of worth. But it still feels rrreeeaaalllly scary.

    I am deeply convinced that by avoiding, denying my body, I cannot truly heal. It holds all the pain and sorrow and deserves attention and care so I can heal as a whole person. Your description of shame as THE inhibiting factor to to just that, explains it perfectly. It often really feels like being defective at the core.

    That said, I was met with compassion and non-judgment by both wife and T and breaking out of my self-imposed isolation about this does make me feel a lot lighter :). But when it comes to understanding, non sufferers don’t – can’t even – comprehend completely. So I connected with a friend whom I suspect of struggling with the same problems and we’re seeing each other next week to start an embryonic self help group.

    You reached out, AG, and that is so incredibly crucial. You are the one who keeps telling us that human beings are wired to reach out. You connected with us about such a painful issue and I salute you for it. It is, again, a huge step toward healing. And we’ll be there to honor the connection and support you, like you do with us.

    Keep taking good care of yourself – ((((great big hug))))

    Marijke

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    • March 6, 2014 at 11:30 am

      (((Marijke))) I was going to pull a quote from what you wrote, then realized I wanted to pull the whole thing. The feelings you are describing about being in your head, and overeating for decades until you are too big NOT to be seen, and how we need to consider our bodies, I could have written it all. Thank you so much for the gift of your understanding and compassion. It truly helps to know that other people understand this struggle and have felt this way. We’re both going to heal! I am glad that we get to walk together while doing so. 🙂 – love, AG

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      • Marijke
        March 14, 2014 at 11:41 am

        Yes, we are dearest AG. You know, somewhere, in the back of my mind, I’ve never even doubted that – maybe because the other option would be unbearable…
        We ARE going to heal. And thanks to you, with all the insight you provided me with about attachment gone awry and feeling the way I do in all significant relationships in my life, today I talked about this with my wife and told her how I can feel awfully disconnected when we fight. I ‘float’ in outer space until we make up and will go through any lengths to restore harmony– not to good for my dignity that. AND I sent an e-mail to my T about the intensity of my feelings for her and how I really long to feel connected between sessions. I had this, “what the heck”-attitude, if AG was able to talk about all that with BN, and remembering how each and every time I let myself be vulnerable with T, I was met with understanding, compassion and love, then I’ll risk it (IT being rejection, judgment, deepest shame, …). And the body… trying not to overeat/binge is the sole objective for now. Not even to lose weight but as an act of love, as you put it so well. And pay some attention to it… don’t laugh, I’ve even bought a book about tantric sex for the wife and me! On T’s advice, haha!
        Big hug,

        Marijke

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        • March 15, 2014 at 11:35 am

          Marijke,
          You are on a serious roll my dear!! Glad to provide some inspiration, but major kudos for wading into so many scary areas. And it really does help to think back over what’s happened in the past. I don’t think there is one time that BN has reacted the way I fear, which is the only thing that makes it possible to move through the terror and still speak 😀 I hope you get a great response to all of your reaching out and daring to make yourself vulnerable. And hope things go well with the book (although probably don’t want any details on that. LOL). love, AG

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  4. Still Waters Run Deep
    March 6, 2014 at 8:05 am

    AG, you brought me to tears. And I don’t mean a few just trickling down my cheek. I was sobbing; gut wrenching sobs. You put into words so eloquently what I have been feeling (but have been convinced it is who and what I am) for so many many years. You essentially saw me. I don’t know how you did that from cyber space but you did.
    As I am processing my session with my T from yesterday where I think she doesn’t see me at all, doesn’t get me, doesn’t hear me, and I am trying to figure out my next move (essentially she said my husband is just not that into me and that I should find something else to do with my time like cooking or starting a book club or something) your post hit a nerve so deep. And it made me feel alive. And acknowledged. And validated. And physically present. Thank you. I am sorry for all the pain you are experiencing. However the fire you are walking thru will bring such beautiful new growth. Things that would never see the light of day if it wasn’t for the flames that brought them forth. Like a forest that springs to new life and intense green-ness only after the raging fire that brought it to its knees.
    There is a tribe in northern Natel in South Africa that has an expression : “sawu bona”; literally meaning “I see you.” A member of the tribe responds by saying “sikohna” which means “I am here”. The order in which the exchange occurs is significant. Meaning until you see me, I do not exist; and when you do see me you bring me into existence with all my gifts and potential.
    And so to you AG, I say -Sawu bona!! Sawu bona!!

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    • March 6, 2014 at 11:37 am

      SWRD,
      Thank you, reading what you said left me breathless and in tears. I am so grateful that my work with BN and the healing I have been blessed with have reached out and brought life to you. What a gift this was to me. Sikohna, Still Waters, Sikonna. I am just humbled and so moved by everyone’s response to this.

      And I loved what you said about the fire. My family visited Yellowstone national part about 15 years ago and while walking through a display on forest fires (they recognized that they needed to not stop them, as they are part of the natural life cycle and preventing them just eventually led to gigantic, unstoppable fires) they talked about an evergreen whose seed only opened and germinated if exposed to some freakishly high temperature. A temperature it would only endure in the midst of a fire. I always loved that so what you said resonated deeply with me.

      There is just not an adequate response to what you wrote, thank you again. xx – AG

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  5. S.G
    March 6, 2014 at 8:33 am

    Really loved reading this, ty for your honesty and for sharing your journey.

    Like

    • March 6, 2014 at 11:40 am

      Hi SG,
      Welcome to my blog and thank you for commenting. I so appreciate you taking the time to say this! ~ AG

      Like

  6. Mrs. Sharkey
    March 6, 2014 at 10:04 am

    How incredibly brave you were to write all of this. I missed your writing, but I’m glad you took time for yourself to do this hard work.

    I relate to so much of this – the shame of having a body, how sickening it is to feel shame. Like you, I fear being seem, and yet I also crave it. And because I crave it, I fear not getting it. I feel that that pain of not getting it would be unbearable, so it’s just better for me not to have it, look for it or expect it.

    God, this stuff is all just so hard and I continued to be awed by your courage in working through it and sharing that journey with us.

    Like

    • March 6, 2014 at 11:45 am

      Mrs, Sharkey!!,
      Lovely to hear from you! I missed being able to write, this really was a relief to be able to express. I got so worried about not writing I actually brought it up with BN. He told me to be patient. He has an annoying habit of being right. 😀

      That deep longing to be known, natural and healthy for a human being, set against that terrible shame which screams at you not to be known really is a horrible crossfire in which to be caught. This is hard stuff. But not insurmountable. I have been stunned at the depth of gratitude I have felt for BN’s acceptance. There have been times where my tears have been tears of relief at finding something so long looked for. xx AG

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  7. Ann
    March 6, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    AG! I wish every woman in the world could read your post! I think you have described so honestly what a lot of women live with. I want to respond with more later, but first I want to sit and experience the knowledge that I am not alone and not an emotional freak. No one but my T knows the depth of my physical loathing. I suspect their are many women who live with this daily, but you have the balls to actually open the door to this subject. Thank you! I am sure this topic will touch a lot of us. Cheers to the bravest woman I have encountered. Love and xoxo Ann

    Like

    • March 6, 2014 at 1:09 pm

      Ann,
      You are most definitely not alone and not a freak; just read the other comments. I am amazed at how deeply this has resonated with so many people. I am glad that it has brought you comfort. But may I confess that I prefer to believe I had the ovaries? 😀 much love, AG

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      • Still Waters Run Deep
        March 6, 2014 at 4:35 pm

        Ha!! I love that!! You’ve got ovaries!! Way to go!

        Like

  8. Lisa Anderson
    March 6, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    Hi AG! Struggle with shame myself! Have you read any of Brene’ Brown’s books? She’s kind of a shame expert and a very easy read considering she is a researcher! I’m a story person and she uses stories to explain what shame is, that everyone has it to some degree and what it does to us. I found her second book very comforting and then had to order her first and third (I never seem to do things in the order that they’re supposed to be done…) Her first book it titled “I thought it was just me”…isn’t that the truth when it comes to shame?

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    • March 7, 2014 at 11:34 am

      Hi Lisa,
      Welcome to my blog and thanks for coming. I am familiar with Brene Brown. First found her in a very impressive TED talk and went on to read a couple of her books and found them helpful. And yes “I thought it was just me” does describe it perfectly. It’s such an isolating feeling but being alone with it is so terrible. As scary as it can be, the solution really is becoming vulnerable, allowing ourselves to be seen and connecting which I think Brene Brown does a good job of laying out. ~ AG

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  9. March 6, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    (((AG)))

    I wish I had the words to express how thankful I am to have found you and your blog, it has literally been life changing to my own therapy and healing. You never fail to impress me with how courageous, intelligent and strong you are in this journey, and add to that the selfless way you share your findings with others. You make me feel like the experience I’ve known my whole childhood of being alone, afraid, ashamed, is validated and now I feel much less alone. I feel a small bit of my own shame lifting in reading your words. Thank you so much for sharing this love, AH

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    • March 7, 2014 at 11:36 am

      (((AH))) Thank you so much for what you’ve said about me, but I think you need to give yourself more credit! You have been very strong and courageous in seeking out your healing. I am glad to know that you draw strength and feel less alone from reading about my journey. My prayer for you is that you will continue to feel that shame lift. love, AG

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  10. LB
    March 6, 2014 at 7:18 pm

    AG,
    This is so coincidental that you wrote this, because I was just in session a couple weeks ago and my T commented that not only did I NOT want to be seen, but I make little eye contact with him and I come in every session and sit there with my coat zipped up all the way–wondering what was up with that. God, I never even thought about it. I also have horrible body image and had weight loss surgery last October and have dropped around 60 pounds…he wondered if the whole winter coat served as some sort of “protective armor” or something…he just came out with “I think you feel ashamed. Does that fit for you?” I think I’m just beginning with guilt and shame over my past trauma. I haven’t even acknowledged this yet. So many more mountains to climb. I’m just glad to read about others who have gone through it and can at least see the other side. Thank you for your posts. They mean so much to so many of us!!!
    Peace, LB

    Like

    • March 7, 2014 at 11:40 am

      LB,
      You know, oddly enough, considering everything I have told BN and where I have gone with him, I have a LOT of difficulty with eye contact. BN just brought it up recently. So I understand the need for “armor.” I found it a bit of shock when I realized that it wasn’t being overweight I was ashamed of, it was having a body. Be as patient and compassionate with yourself as you can, this is slow, hard work. I am glad that reading here provides you with hope! xx AG

      Like

  11. little blond girl
    March 7, 2014 at 9:13 am

    (((AG))) thank you for continuing to be courageous and brave. You remind us all it’s important and okay to not only connect but to WANT to connect.

    Like

    • March 7, 2014 at 11:45 am

      (((LBG))) Thank you!! You pointed out something very important I forgot to talk about in the post, which is the shame we experience about wanting to connect. I think we first develop that shame in an attempt to “protect” ourselves from moving closer in relationship where we were getting hurt. But that was a distortion of healthy, normal, human needs. Human beings are constructed to need other people, we only thrive with connection. It is nothing to be ashamed of, but many of us feel so deeply ashamed of wanting it. It is a good thing to want to be seen, to want to be known, to want to be loved. But on my bad days, I’d rather be tortured than admit it! xx AG

      Like

      • Still Waters Run Deep
        March 7, 2014 at 2:31 pm

        THIS is what I have been trying to tell my therapist!! I want connection with my husband. I want connection with SOMEBODY, anybody who can see me!! Who can confirm that I am NOT invisible. That I DO exist!! I WANT to connect because I am human. And just the desire to connect is scary as hell because it means I need another person who can reject me at their will. Who can see all my bad stuff and walk away. Or strike out in harm. Acknowledging that desire and NEED feels so sickening. So shameful. And when my therapist yesterday brushed over it, diminished it and essentially told me to give it up, I felt just as unloved and UNLOVABLE as I ever have. Because if the person who is supposed to help people overcome and HEAL from this garbage instead reinforces it, and adds another nail to the coffin, what hope is there?

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        • March 10, 2014 at 9:17 pm

          Still Waters,
          I believe it is your therapist’s job to provide that connection initially so you can learn to move closer to other people and get your needs met. Not be told that it’s not possible. You may need to go looking for new people capable of seeing you, but wanting to be seen, wanting to be known? It stands at the heart of being human. Ever listen to young children in a playground? “Look at me, mommy, look at me!” I once spoke disparagingly about myself seeking attention and BN said something priceless to me. He told me of course people want attention because what is that but a desire to be attended to? We all want that and in a healthy connection we are both attended to and attend to the other. Please don’t give up looking for what you need. xx AG

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  12. Gel
    March 7, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    Thank you.
    Reading this has helped me so much.
    I don’t have any more words right now. just wanted to thank you and continue mulling this over.

    xxoo

    Like

    • March 10, 2014 at 9:18 pm

      Hi Gel,
      It’s always lovely to hear from you, thanks for commenting. After you’d had a chance to mull it over, I would love to hear your thoughts. xx AG

      Like

  13. happylou
    March 7, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    AG – Thank you again for your courage in sharing your difficult journey with us. I am sorry the past several months have been so intense and painful for you. May you continue to find the resilience and self-compassion you need each day as you work through this.

    I am also attempting to deal with shame and body issues with my T. He has been so kind and patient as I bumble my way through it. I am afraid we have only scratched the surface of a lifelong issue and worry about what we might find as we unpack it all. I have lost 100+lbs over the past couple years and, while I thought this would make me feel better about myself, it didn’t. I too think that it is actually my body that I hate (this thing I call me)–not my weight. My body has been abused in the past by people who saw me only as a body, not for all that I am. Now I find myself stuck between wanting to be seen as desirable and hating it when that is how I am seen. Uggh…what a tough set of stuff to sort through!

    Like

    • March 10, 2014 at 9:25 pm

      happylou,
      I have felt all the things you are describing. One of the things that has really helped me is that I have a very close friend who is also in therapy for childhood abuse and struggles with Eating Disorders. She shares a lot of the same feelings of shame and self-judgement and we can discuss our body and eating issues on a deep level even though we come from opposite ends of the spectrum. ‘Cause here’s the kicker. She’s gorgeous. (She would vehemently deny that, btw. 🙂 ) She meets the almost impossible standards of beauty in our culture (as in I’d kill to look like that). But I know in my head, its always felt like if I lost the weight, then everything would be perfect. But there she was, as thin as I longed to be, but dealing with the same problems. That is when i realized that I am not ashamed that I am so fat, I am so fat because I am ashamed. I am happy for you for losing the weight as I know it is probably better for your health, but I really understand why you are still struggling. If you haven’t read her yet, I would highly recommend Geneen Roth. Her book “When Food is Love” provided me with a lot of insight. Thanks for talking about this. xx AG

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  14. Dahlia
    March 8, 2014 at 8:05 am

    I am so impressed with your insight into your process and your ability to talk about the very difficult subjects. I do not know anything harder to approach and look at than my own shame. I take tentative steps in my therapy, circling the edges of it, seeing if there is a way that it can word something so that it is more “acceptable” to say, but then I become all the more aware of the load of images and thoughts flooding me the that I am NOT talking about. I ask myself, what it is about these things that makes them off limits and shameful. And that pulls me further into the shame. There is a feeling of helplessness that goes with it. It brings to mind an image of a small child, cold and wet and curled up in a ball in the bathtub, alone. And it also brings up the thought of how repulsive and disgusting I feel every time I have the notion of sexual arousal or desire.

    In my efforts to work with the shame, I realized how incredibly angry I am at myself. It is me, after all, that is the one telling myself that I am worthless, repulsive, and a sorry excuse for a human. In thinking such hurtful things about myself, it’s like there is this part of me that presumes I should have known better, done better, stepped up, behaved in a different way. If only I could be more perfect, I would not have to berate myself and cower under my shame as a result. I never saw the anger behind shame before now. And if I am so angry, I wonder if there is a way I can forgive myself.

    Like

    • March 10, 2014 at 9:33 pm

      Hi Dahlia,
      That is such a lonely, desperate image of a child abandoned (for me its the corner of a closet, curled up into a ball. Something I did as a child). I don’t know your history but I wonder if you are remembering what it felt like as a child. As for your anger at yourself, that is misplaced. If we grow up enduring abuse or neglect, in an effort to gain some control over an untenable situation, we decide it must be our fault, so we can believe that we can fix it. So we make every effort to try to be “good enough” to make the abuse stop and/or get the love we crave. As we do this, we form what is called an introject of our parent’s; the voice telling us to do it better, faster, etc so that we will be acceptable. You didn’t decide one day to believe that, you were taught it step by painful step. You do deserve compassion, but not forgiveness, the fault is not yours. It lies with the caretakers who failed to give you what you needed. Your anger should not be directed inward on yourself, it should be directed outward to the people whose responsibility it really was. Children do not need to earn being worthwhile, no one does. Part of the package. ~ AG

      Like

  15. Louise
    March 9, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    Hi AG – have you thought about recording your sessions? I do on my phone with an app called QuickVoice. You can hit ‘Record’ and drop your phone back in your purse (microphone end up) and it picks up everything. I’ve found this to be invaluable and I go back and listen to the session during the week, even transcribing the parts that I don’t want to forget. I often hear things that I missed the first time around when I was too busy being in my head. Sometimes to act of transcribing, taking the message from sound to the keyboard helps it all to sink it. And if nothing, it’s a transitional object that gets me from session to session. And I don’t worry about catching it all in session because I know I can go back later and listen and process and absorb when I’m ready. Just an idea…

    Lou

    Like

    • March 10, 2014 at 9:46 pm

      Hi Louise,
      Welcome to my blog and thanks for commenting! My apologies for how long it took for your comment to show up. I thought I had approved it not long after you wrote it, but just noticed it sitting in my pending queue.

      I usually do not have a difficult time remembering my sessions and have long been in the habit of journaling about them to keep a record. But I have gotten out of the habit after taking a break from therapy. I am not sure whether BN would allow me to record our sessions, we’ve never discussed it. But I am not sure for me if it’s a good idea. So much of the really deep work we do is about what is going on in the room between us that I prefer to take away my “gestalt” sense of the session, rather than have a blow by blow of what happened. I completely understand why someone would find it really helpful, as you obviously do. But for me, I’d end up listening to it and convincing myself that I imagined the non-verbals. I do appreciate the suggestion, though, and if the problem returns will certainly consider that as a solution. Thank you, it was very kind of you to write and suggest it. ~ AG

      Like

  16. liz
    March 10, 2014 at 7:50 pm

    Another one of your coincidental posts that come exactly when I need to read them (and I, unlike you and BN, do believe in coincidences a lot :-D).
    It was, as usual, very inspirational to read this; I have finally decided, after almost seven months of postponing and obsessing over it, to get back to therapy (I still don’t know for how long, though), and I have been happily drowning in shame ever since: I thought I was done dealing with a lot of stuff (concerning shame, fear, and being overwhelmed by emotions to the point of losing control completely) and still I have had to face at least a couple of very hard situations in the past few months that brought it all up again. It feels like a big failure to go back to therapy to face this for the 10000th time, but there is obviously still some work to do. I will try to say to myself (over and over) that I am worthwhile and I matter whatever happens.
    Thanks again for your words.

    (I also apologize for the suddenly bad english and the overabundance of subordinates, but I just finished a 250 pages long dissertation in french that took me almost three months to write and it was very hard for me to get to the end of this comment without using any accent or any twisted verbal tense)

    Like

    • March 10, 2014 at 9:39 pm

      Liz!! Wonderful to hear from you, I missed you!! And you are so scary woman, a dissertation in French? Just how many languages do you speak? You totally crack me up, apologizing for an “overabundance of subordinates” when most native English speakers wouldn’t know what a subordinate is! 😀 Seriously, you need to stop apologizing for your English.

      As for returning to therapy and that terrible feeling of being a big failure, I am about to tell you what BN has told me, which I don’t believe about myself, but know with absolute certainty is true about you. 🙂 This is not going backwards, growth is both outward and inward. As we live more fully and risk more, we often can discover pockets of woundedness that need to be dealt with, to continue being able to grow and stretch and expand our life. Oh and you ARE worthwhile and matter whatever happens. Come back in, the water is fine. 😉

      love, AG

      Like

      • liz
        March 12, 2014 at 6:44 pm

        I am flattered, but sadly not scary at all: I do know some languages, but only the easiest ones; and I’ve been studying translation and (by the way, wait for the usual wave of shame that comes up every time I mention this to somebody) comparative literatures (horror! tragedy! waste of time!) for the past three years, so it would be bad if I didn’t.

        Anyway, I have written down that outward-inward thing in my therapy journal 🙂 I’ll try very hard to convince myself it’s true.
        And THANK YOU.

        (but the truth is, your comment mostly made me realize I keep forgetting English needs a capital E :-D)

        Like

  17. March 11, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    Wow, thank you for sharing. You put it so well, especially about it feeling like a state of being. I get that. I am sorry this is such a difficult time for you. Shame is an awful emotion. I wish you well.

    Like

    • March 11, 2014 at 9:08 pm

      Hi Shedding Light,
      Welcome to my blog and thanks for commenting. I love your username. 🙂 Really glad that this resonated with you. And it really is an awful emotion. I am really grateful that BN seems to have a deep understanding of just how horrible it feels and treats it with a commensurate respect. I also wish you well on your journey. ~ AG

      Like

  18. XXX
    March 11, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    AG

    You are so smart about your motivations for overeating. I’m not over weight, but I am still struggling with the same things you do. I am deeply ashamed I exist at all, and could not please the one person who I desperately needed to love me. The lies that are in my heart are monsters eating me from the inside out. It helps not to be alone! I’m sorry for what you have been thru!! It was hell on earth, and now its over, and I am trying to find the meaning, and have energy for my life to have purpose. This takes a lot of courage and faith!! Thanks for helping me find some of mine by showing me how strong you are.

    Like

    • March 11, 2014 at 9:13 pm

      XXX,
      Now if that understanding would just lead to me stopping. 🙂

      The lies that are in my heart are monsters eating me from the inside out.

      What a perfect and evocative description of what it is like. I am glad you feel less alone and I want to encourage you that the realization that this is/was about getting that one person’s approval and recognizing that what you are hearing is lies is the tougher part of the work I think. The shame is not yours, how you were treated tells you a lot about your caregivers but nothing about the person you were. xx AG

      Like

  19. Gel
    March 13, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    Dear AG,
    I’m back with some thoughts after mulling over your writings. I’ve also been inspired to write about it at my blog. So I’ll be linking to this post. But here are some of my thoughts.

    I think shame is a state of being with many parts. It is a feeling – yes. The feelings are the most palpable aspect. Shame is excruciating. When I observe shame…in myself, I see a set of beliefs in addition to the feelings – beliefs that I do not agree with – but beliefs that are in me and which shape my behaviors and feelings and thoughts. I’ve discovered that a lot of the shame that I carry is not mine. It is my father’s and my mother’s and it is generational shame that was passed on to me.

    Shame is complicated because, while the beginnings of shame were bestowed upon me, I have done things in my life that I feel ashamed of too. In other words, I have behaved in ways that go against my values. These behaviors have fed and perpetuate the shame state.

    While I’ve been aware of shame for a long time, I’m just now starting to confront it too.

    Thank you SO MUCH for writing this. It looks like a lot of other people have also been profoundly, positively impacted by what you have written.

    I am also amazed and grateful for how you reply so fully to each and every person who comments. You seem to relate directly to each person like you have a special friendship with them, even the person who writes for the first time. It’s really amazing. You are such a dear dear lady.

    Like

    • March 13, 2014 at 10:58 pm

      Gel,
      I am so glad you came back to share. I always appreciate hearing your thought as you reflect so deeply and often help me to see things from another angle, and this is no exception. I very much agree with your description of shame, especially recognizing that we carry beliefs that shape our behavior even though when we pull them out and examine them, we do not agree with them. I also think it was important that you mentioned our own shame; what is even more complex is that we have all felt shame we should not have (the passed down shame) but, being human, have also done things for which we are ashamed (our own shame). But in either case, we need to treat ourselves with compassion. Appropriate guilt serves to alert us to behavior we would not wish to repeat, but to dwell in shame only hurts us. I am trying to learn that being human I am going to mess up, but the appropriate response is not to say “see I am a monster” but to say “I am human and stand in need of Grace” and continue trying to be the person i think I should be, all the while knowing, we never quite get there. It is one thing to aim for perfection, knowing that is a good target, but another to demand perfection because it’s impossible.

      And thank you for what you said about my replies, that means so much to me to hear. I have received so much compassion and understanding along my way, and is good to know that I may have learned to treat other people that way. You are such an encouragement to me. I pray you do well confronting the shame, I know it is a very difficult battle but know that you have so much courage when it comes to your healing. xx AG

      Like

  20. Jenny
    March 14, 2014 at 10:29 am

    AG, I had a hard time reading this one. First, I left it up in an open tab in my browser for a couple of days before I could read it. Then, I could only read a paragraph or two at a time. It all cuts too close to the bone for me to be a comfortable read.

    But, comfy or not, this is powerful stuff. And I thank you for having the courage and generosity to share it.

    I’ve also been dealing with much of what you describe. I’ve been struggling to define it, describe it, frame it, name it, even talk about it for months. My therapist is awesome, but he’s having trouble getting it. It’s become a source of real frustration for both of us. For now, we’ve moved on to other things in an attempt to let this topic simmer in the background in the hopes that something will click or we can at least revisit it later with fresh eyes.

    I think some of how you’ve described it fits perfectly for me, too. Shame feeling like a truth and a state of being is particularly apt. It’s just part of who I am. It’s not that I’ve done anything to be ashamed of, it’s that I exist. I think those descriptions may help my therapist understand better just how deep this goes. Thank you for putting into words what was, for me, nearly unspeakable.

    Like

    • March 15, 2014 at 11:29 am

      ((Jenny)) I certainly understand why this made for difficult reading, but am impressed both with your persistence and and with your self-care in reading at a pace that you could process. I also deeply understand the frustration. I have spent a lot of time in sessions waving my hands because there have been no words to articulate what this feels like (and I am someone who writes explanations for a living!) I may have mentioned it an earlier comment, but I actually expressed my fears to BN at one point that I felt so totally blocked and couldn’t write about this and he told me I would be able to eventually. This really is the most difficult work I have done and part of that is it so overwhelms us that it can be hard to get enough space between you and the feelings to be able to understand and process. I am glad this helped and hope it helps your therapist also; that it can at least provide a jumping off point. Go gently with yourself as you grapple with this. x AG

      Like

  21. yakusoku
    March 14, 2014 at 7:30 pm

    I keep meaning to post here, as I read it days ago, but I keep getting distracted away from it. Sound like avoidance, much? I just wanted to say I know how it feels when it seems like shame is something that you are. My T and I have been working on this more and more. And, like many others, it is painful to be aware of physically existing, especially in proximity to another person, an attachment figure, who seems to be able to see me and somehow tolerate my existence. T has said, “This is coming up a lot for you lately,” which means that it was not coming up before. I know it has always been there before, deep down. So, I’m trying to take this as good news. It’s coming out “into the light” as T says. I’m feeling safe enough there to slowly let it be seen, to verbalize it a little bit, to talk about the deep-seated beliefs about the worth(lessness) of my soul. It’s slow, excruciating work…but I guess being ready to do it, even a little bit, means something… I know it’s difficult work to be doing, but I think you and BN are on the right track.

    Today, in the waiting room, a song we did in church a long time ago, called, “More,” came on. The part of the chorus that hit me was:
    “I love you more…
    than the sun and the stars
    that I taught how to shine.
    You are mine
    and you shine for me too.”
    I started crying (anyone who knows me knows I do so very easily from empathy, but almost not at all for myself). I collected myself before T came out to get me, but it took me until the end of my session to bring the song up with my T. He instantly understood how much pain and confusion the words brought me, because they were exactly the opposite of what I experienced and learned to believe about myself to make that experience make sense, to make it tolerable and not be filled with furious grief for the injustice of it. In fact, “unjust” is the word T uses about ME all the time, because of how I am treating me by embracing those beliefs, as opposed to my generosity to others, even the ones who are the source of some of these wounds. Anyway, I heard the song and felt…I don’t know how to belong to someone, or feel like I bring them joy. Rather, I can’t feel I am something (much less someone) to protect, cherish, comfort, carry, love. But, T reminds me that worth is there, whether or not I learned to see it.

    Last week, my T spontaneously read, “You Are Special” by Max Lucado to me, out loud, because he had made a reference to “dots and stars” and saw the blank look on my face, having never heard the story. It is terrifying, confusing, soul-rending, to face these depictions of love and worth and see someone applying them (and carefully) to me. I wonder if I will ever really be able to learn to tolerate the idea, much less really embrace it. Despite the deep pain of existential shame, there are parts of me that are so attached to it, because if those beliefs are true, everything that happened somehow slightly less awful…I wonder if I’ll ever be able to let that go.

    Like

    • March 15, 2014 at 11:41 am

      ((Yaku)) Really glad to hear from you! I have been wondering how you were. I know that you have been working through this for a while. When we carry this kind of deep beliefs, it is a long hard struggle to learn to believe something else. I would highly recommend reading Gentle Perserverence’s post on the same topic (the link is further up in the comments), I think it will really resonate with you. I especially liked her understanding that our core is not shame, our core is our true self that this pervasive shame gets in the way of perceiving. So I do believe that in some ways, we will always have a propensity to get triggered into feeling a misplaced shame, but as we uncover and get to know our true selves, we will spend less time listening to the shame. I am very glad that you have a compassionate therapist to reflect a clearer picture of who you are then you can carry at this time. xx AG

      Like

  22. erica
    March 22, 2014 at 9:04 am

    AG- wow. This has been very timely for me to read. I am struggling with shame. I have been struggling with it for many, many months. I’m ashamed of my neediness to my T. I’ve had to shut off that part when I was young due to family circumstances (chronically ill sibling). And my neediness has been brought to the surface in therapy. And the associated shame is just is so unbelievably uncomfortable. It freezes me. I can’t find words. I can’t look at my T. Through this, my T has been very accepting and tries to get me to find some compassion for, or at least space from, the shame. Being seen is excruciating. I survived my overwhelming emotions by not being seen and suppressing them/somaticizing them. I have felt and continue to feel stuck in this area of shame.

    You are so right in that shame feels like a state of being, not merely a feeling state. Thank you for reminding me that it is a feeling. And we can work with feelings, digest them, integrate them in more adaptive ways. Your writing is beautiful and so helpful. I am so sorry for what you went through. The hard work you are doing to overcome your adversity is admirable, impressive, and inspiring. You have taught me a lot.

    Like

    • March 24, 2014 at 11:10 pm

      Erica,
      I could have written every word you wrote. Shame is the most exquisitely uncomfortable thing to experience and I have also felt all those things. It has been a real gift that BN gets how deep this goes. But have hope, I felt stuck for a very long time and was convinced I was getting nowhere, then hit a breakthrough and have seen real improvement (not that there’s still not room for improvement). I am presently dealing with a situation in which it is vital to manage some very deep shame that is being triggered and it’s actually proving possible because of the work done in this area. And you’re absolutely right, we can work with feelings, digest them, and integrate them. Shame moves through us quicker by embracing that it is what we are feeling. Odd that. I am very glad that this was timely, but sorry you understand so well, thank you for the encouragement, I appreciate you taking the time to write. xx AG

      Like

  23. muff
    March 27, 2014 at 7:22 pm

    I recently had a vivid image of being an infant, looking up at my mother, and seeing no love in her face. I immediately recoiled away from that look and felt intense shame. My world, my mother would never accept me as I was, and neither could I. No love from infancy cuts deep AG.
    This image was followed by another, it was of an adult me asking my mother to give me the baby (me) My mother didn’t hesitate in handing baby me over which validated my feelings of her no love. She walked away forever. That image resulted in me feeling the intense feelings of the hopelessness of no love, and simultaneous rage towards her.

    Core rage towards ones own mother is a little hard to handle but when put in the right context and at the right time it can feel liberating when expressed.

    Like

    • April 16, 2014 at 3:56 pm

      Muff,
      Really sorry not to respond to this sooner, I must have overlooked it! And yeah, that core rage can be a real bugger, but I totally agree that it is incredibly liberating to recognize and express. We carry that rage inside us until we can acknowledge it and it’s much better on the outside where it belongs. That was extremely powerful imagery of seeing yourself handed off from your mother to yourself. I am struggling with that reality myself and know how painful, but necessary, it is to face it. xx AG

      Like

  24. April 15, 2014 at 9:52 am

    Hi AG,

    I wish I could respond more to all the posts you written recently but my life is still crazy with a capital “CRAZY”! The reason I wanted to remark on this post, in particular, is because I have been focusing on shame in my therapy process right now and had a question for you.

    ***TRIGGER WARNING***. I describe intense feelings here:

    My experience of shame from my childhood is a physical/emotional reaction. It is a sensation of pain in my chest and stomach like a fist is tightening there, combined with a deep and terrible fear that I will be annihilated. This fear causes me to stop breathing. I feel as small and worthless as a rock under my shoe and cannot inhale or exhale.

    ***END OF TRIGGER***

    I was wondering if this felt at all similar to your feelings or how yours felt? These feelings have quite taken me by surprise because I now know where they have always come from. I know this was my day-to-day existence when I was a child; feeling this way. I know that as a child this is how I felt in the face of the abuse I suffered but it is literally breathtaking to be conscious of it now.

    Thanks so much, as always, for your bravery and honesty. It is breathtaking – in a GOOD way!!

    XOXO,
    DpBluSee

    Like

  25. April 16, 2014 at 4:50 pm

    ((DBS)) Sorry to hear you’re focusing on shame. 🙂 The feeling you are describing sounds very close to what I go through. I feel like something is stabbing me through the center of my chest and rest of my body is trying to curl around it, and also experience a deep terror and fear of annihilation. BN and I were discussing it and I was talking about how hard it was to articulate the feelings and he told me that intense shame is incredibly disorganizing and it interferes with our attachment mechanisms. And it hit me, that I go so blank, because when the shame was so intense, it was also so disorganizing that it felt like there was no “me” there. In a sense, the annihilation I feared was actually already happening. It was a weird kind of relief to realize why it was so hard to form any coherent thoughts when the feeling was really intense.

    The other thing that has helped is that BN keeps stressing that my shame is a part of me, but when I am feeling it, it feels like the whole of who I am, so how do I hang onto understanding it is only a part? So I am trying to learn to hang onto remembering that there is a whole “I” who transcends and is more than the shame and is therefore capable of encompassing the shame without being destroyed by it. But its slow work, because those truths feel anything but true when in the middle of the intensity.

    And I am with you on how breathtaking the realization of the real source can be. No one, let alone an innocent defenseless child, should feel that. Let alone for long enough to integrate it into how they see and define themselves. Hang in there, it is truly monumental work but I do think it does eventually start to help. xx AG

    Like

  1. March 14, 2014 at 11:16 am

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