Sometimes I get these humorous little moments that allow me to laugh at how insane I am. Like last night, when I was in bed reading my book about chronic shame and using a tray of Lorazepam as a book mark. Sometimes I just pause for a minute and laugh at myself. Which certainly adds something to the eccentricity already inherent in these situations.
The book on shame is quite compelling. Perhaps this is because I feel at times like the author is speaking directly to me. It’s called ‘Understanding and treating chronic shame’, by Patricia A. DeYoung. I’ve only got a small way into it, but it is already fascinating. I think I’m quite self-obsessed, and I am definitely obsessed with trying to understand what is wrong with me. So when I find a book that speaks to me like this one, I quickly get engrossed.
In the first few chapters, DeYoung sets out various scholarly definitions of shame, and then puts hers forward. She says:
“Shame is the experience of one’s felt sense of self disintegrating in relation to a dysregulating other. Chronic shame develops when many repetitions of such shame experience form a person’s lifelong patterns of self-awareness and response to others.”
She goes on to describe case studies of clients she has treated that she believes suffer with chronic shame. She uses this to typify individuals with this experience and to identify some common traits and themes. This really resonated with me, particularly her link between shame and addiction. I have often used alcohol as a numbing agent. She describes how:
“When a person can’t afford to be at home with his or her own anxious self-loathing, a mind-numbing activity or substance can be seen as a reliable refuge.”
The other point I found really interesting is her link between shame and performance. She explains how people with chronic shame will ‘perform’ in order to make up that gap, to find what is missing. This was poignant for me, as I can see how my patterns of behaviour link with the shame of my childhood abuse, and how my parents responded to it. She puts it perfectly:
“On the one hand, what they have missed, and continue to miss is genuine connection with somebody who understands and accepts who they are and what they feel. On the other hand, it can be a very dangerous enterprise to try and get that connection while feeling so vulnerable to exposure, so sensitive to slight, so damaged and defective, or so extraordinarily misunderstood and angry.”
I felt like that paragraph summarised how confused and trapped I feel. She eloquently put into one paragraph what I think I’ve been trying to say for years.
Image from Creative Commons, courtesy of Georgie Pauwels