Today during therapy, I used the word “shame” out loud. I’ve internalized that word for so long and have always felt terribly embarrassed to even utter the word “shame” because it makes me feel sick, bad, and disgusted all at once. The effect that the word “shame” has on me is similar to the effect the word “moist” has on some people.
S seemed impressed that I had used that word. He said, “I don’t think you’ve ever used that word before”
I nodded and said to him, “Yeah. I hate that word. I can’t even say it without feeling really bad. I hate how it makes me feel and I hate how disgusting I am when I think about it. I’ve always just preferred to use the word ’embarrassed'”.
“Well, that word does seem more benign…” S agreed.
It definitely is. Somehow, just saying the word “shame” makes me feel like a bad person – like a bad child who needs to be scolded, and punished. It brings up horrible memories of all kinds of unresolved negative situations and traumas. The worst part about all that is how vivid these bad memories are.
So, instead of learning to deal with embarrassing and shameful situations, I’ve replaced any kind of shameful feelings with anger. Any time I feel threatened, I flare up in anger. The annoying thing about this anger is how no one ever sees it but Hubster so it makes him think that I’m always angry at him even though it’s not true. I am angry at myself. I have so much self-loathing that I can’t deal with; so it projects out as anger towards my loving and kind husband.
I told S that I don’t think anyone else has really seen my anger. “In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever even showed my anger towards you. I mean, I’ve never gotten angry while I’m here with you despite the fact that I trust you…”
“Yeah, you have never shown me that side of you before,” S had agreed.
As I continued talking, I realized that my anger is just a way for me to escape having to feel anything real. I know I have talked about my anger before. In fact, in our first session ever, when S had asked me what brought me to therapy, I had told him that I don’t know why I’m so angry all the time and one of the goals for therapy is to fix that. We’ve dealt with my anger and rage issues off and on since then. It’s the underlying problem in my daily struggle for the most part. I know I’ve talked about it a lot here on my blog but I don’t think I’ve ever really gotten very far with this topic.
Today though, as I kept talking (I usually somehow stumble on my answers as I just ramble – it’s like when I’m in therapy, my unconscious has control of my mouth), I started to realize that the anger not only triggers a sharp dip in my overall mood and sends me into a downward spiral of negativity, it also triggers my “I give up” mechanism. My anger causes me to punish myself repeatedly and vivid memories of incompetence, negligence, or plain ignorance on my part haunt me. They make me relive all of my failures and embarrassing life moments. I theorized with S that it must be because of a childhood trauma that I had experienced that had started all of this.
“I’m disgusting,” I said to S. It just occurred to me that this is the first time I’ve ever said that aloud. I’ve never told myself that before but I realize that that feeling has been a part of me for a very long time. I have some memories of a happy childhood before that trauma but after it? I can’t say I remember any good memories. Almost all of the memories I have since then (I don’t remember how old I was but it was below 5 years of age), have just been ones related to shame.
“You feel like somehow what you’ve done is related to who you are. That because you didn’t do something right that it makes you a bad person.” S iterated. He likes to do that – I think it’s so that he can understand my perspective better and perhaps a part of it too is to make me realize things that I have said. Sometimes, while I’m in the thick of the session, I can’t always remember what I’ve said because I was just rambling in the middle of all the ramblings were clues and important hidden truths.
He told me then that when people can’t deal with shame, it’s often because they feel like somehow what they’ve done or not done is somehow related to who they really are even though that is a false belief.
“So I think we’ve come to an important point this week. Shame. This week, it’s something you should focus on. That every time you feel it, to name it. That ‘I feel shame’. This is how I feel,” S said, as we wrapped up.
I felt a shudder go down my spine as he said that. It was by far, the hardest homework he’s ever assigned me.
“When you said that, the first thought that came up was ‘That sounds painful’. It’s painful to even think about it…”
“It is painful, isn’t it?”
“Yes, I don’t think I can say that “I feel shame” so easily. I mean, I can say it easily now with no feelings. But if I were to really feel it, then I don’t think I can make it through those 3 words. I mean, I could say it just now but I wasn’t feeling anything…” Inexplicably, tears sprung to my eyes as I said that. I think it was a reaction to the pain I would feel if I acknowledged my feelings of shame.
I told S that I feel like I never do anything good – that any time I do a good thing, it’s always because I want to feel good. I told him that I feel like a selfish person. Someone who only does something good for someone else just to get something back.
He also told me that he understands better now why I so desperately need validation from others and how self-validation always makes me feel worse.
I can’t believe that I’m not doing something nice just for the sake of it because I have thoughts that say otherwise. ‘Oh, you’re just there for her so that you can have a friend’, ‘Oh, you bought him a birthday cake just so you could get recognition for what you did…’, ‘Ugh. Look at you being all prideful about your work. You’re so arrogant’, ‘You try to uplift people during group therapy so that they can acknowledge what a brave and nice person you are. Wow, you’re so desperate for attention’ – are some of the things I hear in my head whenever I do something nice or good. How much of that is true? Is it selfish to want someone to do something nice for me without me asking them to? S said that that was a good question and I knew that he probably said that because we were nearing the end of our session.
I hate how it takes me at least half an hour to get to a point where my thoughts and emotions are flowing and I then only have about 10-15 minutes to really has those important thoughts before we’re done for the day. Then when I try to keep the things we talked about in mind for the next session so we could pick up where we’ve left off, other things usually happen throughout my week to replace the progress and so we end up talking about those things instead of the important things that I had brought up the week before. I wish I had more time in therapy. Maybe I’m just being impatient but I want to get things figured out. (At the same time, I don’t because on the other hand, I want to stay in therapy as long as I can – yes, I know it’s messed up)
I complained about how much I hate that I don’t have enough time to really work out my issues in therapy. S looked sympathetic on that. He didn’t have a response and repeated, “Yeah” empathetically. “That’s the reality, huh?” he eventually said. I nodded.
“It definitely is…” I replied, bleakly.
“Well, I think it might be a good place to end. Good work today.”
I barely heard his praise and in fact, I didn’t even think about it until now that I’m writing this. Perhaps it was his way of validating me or helping me realize how I’ve done good work but thinking about those three words now makes me feel good. And at the same time, it makes me feel bad too. My self-loathing needs to stop. I know that.
I also know that the rest of this week is going to be a difficult one. I had a relatively easy-going week last week but I can already feel the beginnings of a very emotionally heavy week. Still, despite that, I am still thankful that I am beginning to venture into the darker territories of my mind and hopefully this means that I’m now more ready to face the demons that come out of that dark territory. I know at the very least, I have a partner I can rely on to help me fight it.