It’s A Shame About Shame.

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Shame has a crushing feel to it. I think to those that have felt or continue to feel shame, it’s suddenly having a spot light aimed on you. It’s the turning of your stomach, like a cement truck, endlessly twisting what’s inside. Shame is that instant jerk of my head, so as not to force another person to have to look me in the eyes. It’s the belief that I am damaged goods, and everyone knows it.

Shame is a burden I have carried most of my life. It seems to come with the territory of being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. It wasn’t something I identified as a consequence of the abuse. Growing up, I didn’t know life without it. I felt like I walked around with a neon, flashing light on my forehead that said, “Don’t look, I’m gross.”

Shame is still present in my life. It doesn’t consume me, but becomes an occasional reckoning force. Nothing turns that spotlight on as bright as talking about being a mother suffering with depression and suicidal ideations.

When people talk about suicide, it often lacks an empathetic tone. I don’t fault people for this. It’s not my wish that anyone should feel a pit so deep in their soul, that they crave to feel nothing at all instead.

I’ve been in many conversations where the word “selfish” has been used to describe someone’s decision to attempt and/or succeed at suicide. People say things like, “He has a good life – why can’t he just see that?” Believe me, he can. That’s what makes the coat of shame so thick. In spite of everything he may have –  family, money, love – his brain will win every time.

I used to immediately slouch my shoulders and look away from others when the topic of mental illness or sexual abuse would come up. I would feel as if I was burdening others to know they were talking about me. The secret that I am that tainted person, may upset them, so best to just sink in to the pavement.

Shame makes you feel like it is not your choice whether or not you can openly talk about what was done to you, or what was etched in to your DNA. I never felt like I was allowed to let anyone know that I genuinely have felt like suicide was an option. I didn’t know how to not put someone else’s comfort level above my own.

I’ve learned though, that drawing attention to the fact that I can empathetically talk about the subject of depression and abuse actually heals me. Discussing it, has become one of the most effective tools I own. I can help control the conversation when I use the unfortunate knowledge I have, and steer it in a productive way.

It doesn’t come without a strong pull on my chin to look at the ground when I actually do join a conversation. I try my best to fight it. Ridding myself of shame has been like strengthening a muscle inside me. Every time I refuse to look at the ground, instead keeping eye contact, as I confidently discuss a first hand knowledge of something our society sees as taboo, that muscle strengthens.

People talk about fighting stigma but go about combatting it in a processed, packaged way. The stigma exists because of the shame. Lets start accepting that to be worrisome or embarrassed over what you can control, is to be ashamed. Feeling shamed, is what happens when something is done to you. One is always without choice. Understanding the difference is critical and can in fact save lives.

**Originally featured on Crazy Good Parent

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50 thoughts on “It’s A Shame About Shame.

  1. Another great post about a tough thing no girl should ever have to go through. It amazes me the awesome woman you have become and the amazing girl I met so many years ago

  2. Shame that we feel shame for something others should feel. I once wrote in Croatian something like that, in a form of a poem. My poems are the brutal honest truth about me and I don’t think they will see a daylight anytime soon. I feel to vurnerable to show them let alone post them… But I do not trow them away, I think that maybe some day… I will share them. I will share my truth.

    Now I am trying to broke stigma in my head first. Because all those reasons you mentioned, it is us. We also feel like that. We were raised to think like that. That there is “us” – to whom nothing as bad and horrible as abuse and mental illness can happen and “them” – those who have it tough. But, when we become “them” it is sooooo hard not to reject our own being as being unworthy. Although I haven’t been sexually abused which I think adds ten times more layers of shame… What a shame…

    • Thank you Ivyon. Keep those poems close by…they may need to see the light someday. It can change you but you have to believe that it is for the sake of YOU and not others. … I was so fearful when I initially posted about my struggles with surviving abuse and muddling through depression, but I just feel differently about it now. Exposing it all was what did it for me…in part.

      Becoming “them” doesn’t make you unworthy, only authentic to who you are. That’s all that really matters.

      Thanks for checking out this piece and offering your insightful thoughts.

      • I know it doesn’t make me unworthy, but it feels like that so many times. Like I’m constanly escaping something, some label that defines me and make people feel sorry for me when in fact I want to be looked as normal and everything I am. It’s ironical really, because my experiences have made me who I am… I just really dislike labeling myself, if that makes sense…

    • Thanks Don. I never thought of it that way but you’re right. I can honestly say that since I first started writing about all this, I feel waaaay less uncomfortable talking about it. Thanks for checking out this post.

  3. This is a very courageous post. Thank you for sharing your personal history and your process. I found a lot of truth in the following lines: “I’ve learned though, that drawing attention to the fact that I can empathetically talk about the subject of depression and abuse, actually heals me. Discussing it, has become one of the most effective tools I own.” Thanks again. Karen.

  4. Thank you for sharing your words and your story. Something clicked for me in this post — it made me want to immediately call my spouse, a wonderful person who has bipolar and is living on the depression arc of his cycle right now, and tell him I didn’t think his thoughts were selfish. Thank you.

  5. Wow. This resonates with me. Every word of it. By speaking about it, by looking people in the eye, it manages to take away the shame, but take that step is so painfully difficult . The fact that you have done that in this post is amazing.

    • Thank you and it is difficult. I know that –my heart is about to explode in my chest– feeling when the topic comes up. Talking through that isn’t easy. But it amazes me how often someone else will pipe in after I’ve put myself out there. Before you know it, you’re in a room full of mentally unstable, products of dysfunction! … that was my attempt to laugh at all this. I suppose it’s never really funny.

  6. wow. this is my first time here at your place, I believe, and i’m so very grateful to be here. with a voice like yours, you can move mountains. believe that. thank you so very much for sharing this incredibly moving, deep, raw, and honest post.

  7. I’ve told you before that I love your posts. This one certainly didn’t disappoint. It’s so good to read that talking helps all that you have been through. I’m sure by you doing so, it also helps others to be able to open up and share that they have gone through something similar. ❤

  8. This was your best yet, Dawn. I loved every bit of it. Not only can I relate on those levels, but you just wrote it so damn well. Plus, the focus of shame is such a huge part.

    I’m so missing Yeah Write….both grids. Hopefully I can come back soon. 😦

    • You think? Thank you Deanna. I was asked to write this piece about a month and a half ago by Janice at Crazy Good Parenting. I thought it would be “easy”…it wasn’t. I procrastinated so bad because every time I sat down to write it, it forced me to delve into things that are so difficult for me. I had to find the right time and the right space to write this. I’m glad I did and have received some great support. Yours is always appreciated. Thanks again.

  9. Thank you for bringing more awareness to mental illness through your blogging. These things need to be said, and many people suffer silently, too “ashamed” to bring light to their situations. I personally appreciate it. Excellent post.

    • Thanks, Martha. It’s not an easy thing to do to draw attention to something our society sees as taboo, but I’m pretty determined to keep doing it. Thanks again.

  10. Like you, I lived with shame for many years. It’s tough to overcome, and sometimes, when we’re sure we’ve finally moved past it, it can still rear its ugly head. Thanks for sharing. I’m certain it will bless many who have suffered as you and I have.

    God bless you,
    Cheryl

  11. I always love your posts, especially the ones which resonate so deeply with me and make me feel connected. You know, “There are others out there like me.” This is why we have to come out and talk about these feelings, to truly break the stigma of mental illness. I did not suffer sexual abuse (not that I know of) but as you know, there are many types of emotional abuse. As one of the other commenters said above, the shame should be felt by the perpetrators of abuse, not by their victims. Whenever I’ve had suicidal thoughts, the shame I feel when seeking help almost keeps me from seeking that help I so desperately need. {{{Hugs to you}}}

    • The shame prevented me for asking for help too…for a looooong time. Plus, I worked in the field of mental health, which I think made it more difficult. Sometimes, unfortunately, the people that are supposed to be there to help you (ER employees, MHU employees, social workers) can even enforce the shame, whether they know it or not. It’s something that most definitely needs to be talked about over and over and over again. Thank you for reading and I’m glad (and not) that it resonated with you. ~Dawn

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  13. Gah, this. There is so little discussion on the topic of shame.
    I had to read a book about this very topic before I could identify so much of what was happening in my brain and manifesting in my behavior. Great piece, Dawn. Will be sharing.

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