Shame

I’m taking Brene’ Brown’s class on Living Brave.  This week’s lesson is on shame.  According to Brene’, shame can not live in the light of day, so if we talk about it it goes away.  I’ve talked about how I’m filled with shame from my childhood on a few occasions here so I thought maybe I’d delve deeper into that topic.  My shame is mostly around two things: my gender presentation and my sexuality.  I think many of you can probably relate to that.  But I also carry shame from not taking better care of myself and my weight, having an anxiety disorder, not being a better partner, not making more money, not being more confident in myself and a multitude of other things.  Every where I turn I feel shame.  Every time I look in the mirror I feel it.  Too fat.  Too short.  Ugly boobs.  How am I ever going to pass as male in the men’s room without facial hair and these huge boobs?  Going out in public is a shame filled experience now.  Perhaps it always has been but it’s just more obvious to me now.

My mother constantly harped on me looking and acting more feminine.  I was never feminine enough for her.  She was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find a boyfriend/husband.  And then when I was outed came out as lesbian I was shamed and disowned because of it.  My mother waged emotional warfare on me to get me to stop being gay.  She threatened to have me institutionalized, to put something in the newspaper about my sordid lifestyle, to call my college and have them kick me out for being lesbian, call my professors, out me if I ever joined the military or decided to be a teacher (both life ambitions at the time which I never dared to do).  In short, she threatened to ruin my life.  She even went as far as to drive around my college campus on weekends looking for me so she could roll the window down and shout nasty things at me when I walked by with my friends.  She came to a jazz band concert I was performing in and before we started stood in front of the band and called me a “finger f@*%er”.  She made my life a living hell.  I have PTSD from the things she did to me.  All in the name of making me turn straight and act like a nice young lady.  So, yeah, I deal with shame a lot.  And anxiety and depression too.

And on top of all that, I’m ashamed that I never stood up to her or told her where to go.  I’m ashamed because I’m weak and let her terrorize me and destroy my self confidence.  It set me up quite nicely to let others treat me just as awful.  I didn’t feel like I deserved respect.  Its’ sickening how much shame resides inside my being.  It’s a wonder I’ve been able to accomplish anything in life at all.  Somehow I just found work-arounds.  Instead of becoming a teacher, I pieced together a living teaching private lessons and doing other odd jobs, always settling for whatever I could get.  I’ve never made much money.  Guess why?  I don’t feel like I deserve it.  I don’t think I have much worth.  Even as a business owner now, I’m very susceptible to the complaint that my prices are too high and always worry that I’m charging too much, when in reality, I probably charge too little.  Shame and self esteem, for me, go hand in hand.

And now that I am finally feeling strong enough to try and live life on my terms I find myself bucking up against the same old shame gremlins I’ve dealt with since I was a child.  I hear my mother telling me I look like a man (in that tone of voice and disgusted look on her face) every time I leave the house wearing the clothes I like to wear.  Every time I get my hair cut I see my mother’s face scowling at me for how boyish I look.  It’s hard to enjoy any of the things that I’m getting to do now.  But I plod through and keep going.  Some days are easier than others.  I tell myself I deserve to live how I want, that no one has the power to shame me like my mother used to do.  I’m stronger now.  I would never allow anyone to say or do the things she did when I was 20.  But the damage is still there and all I can do is support myself and tell myself that it’s all going to be ok.  I got through this 30 years ago and I can get through it now.

I just shared some of my darkest memories with all of you.  I’m ashamed of them.  I’m ashamed that my mother was so awful and that she hated who I was so much.  But I can’t change any of that now.  It’s over and she’s dead.  The past is the past.  But I shared it because I want to shed light on it.  I want it to go away, but I know it won’t ever completely go away.  The scars will always be there.  My mother didn’t love me.  She hated me.  That’s a pretty bitter pill to swallow.  And, no, I’m not proud of that.

 

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21 thoughts on “Shame

  1. Thank you for sharing. I hope that stuff doesn’t seem so scary in the light; we all have things we are ashamed about and you are not broken for having them. I hope this helps heal old wounds. 🙂

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  2. I’m sorry to hear that you are having a difficult time, Shawn. I hope opening up here to the clan has helped and that Brené Brown’s course will help even more. I am tempted to enroll myself, just need to find time. My problem is not so much shame, but being shy and vulnerable, but maybe it is merely shame in a different disguise. I keep on reminding myself that those who mind, do not matter and those who matter, do not mind, but the black and white norms of society keep in impinging. Losing a friend I confided in to the black pit of silence, has not helped either. But I battle on and I hope you do too. Chin up and take care.

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    • Shame and vulnerability are all connected Kris. Being shy is just a byproduct of it. The course is offered once a year starting in January so if you want to take it next year you can. It’s closed now to new people unfortunately. I’m not really having a hard time actually, just working through some things through the course, which is helpful. I’m sorry your friend isn’t talking to you and you feel like you lost them. I have a couple of those too but I’m just letting them be to figure it out on their own. If they stay that’s cool, if not, oh well. It’s their loss, I think. Keep battling on my friend. 🙂

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  3. That was supposed to be “keep on impinging”. Dammit WordPress, when can we edit our own comments?!

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  4. “My mother didn’t love me. She hated me”. Might I suggest that maybe your mother hated herself too as she gave birth to a child that didn’t turn out to meet the hopes and fantasies that she had for it. And that’s her problem, not yours. It’s painful that she dumped her anger on you.

    Life’s tough and deals some rotten hands particularly to those of us trans. Our challenge is to take what we have and use it the best way we can.

    I am not sure if it would be realistic to encourage you to enjoy the class as i am sure it will be a painful experience. But these things make us strong. I hope it helped writing your piece, you show great courage. I wish you well. Take care.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you Michele for your comment. Yes, she probably did hate herself too but she was so holier than thou that you would never know it. Neither of her kids turned out to be what she had dreamed of so I’m sure that would make a person bitter if they let it.

      I actually am enjoying the class quite a bit. It makes us think about some tough stuff and it can be a hard emotional ride but very worth it in the end I hope. Dissecting all of these negative emotions help us move through them and heal or at least learn to deal and transcend our circumstances.

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  5. I’m ashamed of what happened to you – not that you “allowed” it but for your mother who treated her child, a fellow human being, like that. It’s not acceptable!
    At the same time I know how it is to internalize your parents criticism, you really hear what they would say in any given moment.
    My mother’s voice has toned down dramatically over the last few years after I decided that I no longer want to put energy into listening to what other people want me to do/be/act/think/believe etc. I decided that I would just do the things I wanted to do, for my own sake (including “being nice to others” since it’s important for me in order to feel good), and only put energy on that. I also had to learn how to tune out my mother’s voice. Whenever it popped up, I basically said “thank you for your input, but I’ll take it from here now” and made sure my final choice wasn’t influenced by her.
    Good luck to you, I hope the course will make you feel liberated!

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    • Thanks Fredric! Yes, it is her crap. She is the one who should have been ashamed. I didn’t say it in the post, but I was ashamed of her because of what a hateful person I knew her to be. I’m glad you’ve been able to tone down your mother’s voice in your head. Mine has calmed down a lot too but recently the whole thing about me being too boyish has triggered a big flare up and made it tough to feel good about myself. I’m working through it and will be stronger in the long run for dealing with it. My therapist told me to envision a big red STOP sign in my head when her critical voice started and to tell her to Stop! or Shut Up! Whatever works, right? I like your polite “thank you for your input…” response. You’re a better man than me for choosing kindness. Sounds like a healthy way to deal with it.

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      • Well, I’m not sure I’m “a better man”, I just have a mother who’s not so hateful. And the “thank you” is much more sarcastic in my head than it looks like in writing… My mother just want what’s best for me (read her) so her “input” (aka degrading comments) is well meant from her side. I just happen to think otherwise. That’s why I “thank” her. She’s full of wisdom too, but I have to keep in my mind that just because she thinks one way of being is the right one, and just because it makes sense or seems like a good way to be it doesn’t automatically means that it’s right for ME. I’m not my mother so I have to allow myself to make other choices than her.

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  6. I do know a single person who would not have internalized the shame your mom slammed on you. Wow. While there may be carry over I doubt you are the same scared 20 yr old that u were back then. You have survived 30 more years. That’s courage not cowardess. And it’s courage to do what you are doing to shed light on the shame. Maybe in so doing you can realize it is not yours to own and carry; rather that it is your moms shame which you internalized. And that truly you can bury it with her.

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    • I like the image of giving the shame back to her and burying it with her. Maybe a trip to the grave site is in order. Hmmmm…

      I agree, no one would have come through that time unscathed I don’t think. I handled it the best I could but I was ill prepared for what she dished out and it nearly sent me to a mental breakdown. I’m surprised it didn’t, really.

      Thank you for your encouraging thoughts. They mean a lot to me.

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      • Not that I am suggesting anything as … So many different words to describe – but I know someone who found incredible healing to drive cross country to her fathers grave and bury a literal bag of shit there with some inner ceremonial process of all the figurative shit she was releasing in so doing. I hope you find your way to turn t back over to your mom as it is no longer yours to carry. Never was really but what do we know as kids? And as adults it’s a difficult lesson to learn how to unlearn all the unhealthy shit taught to us. I am glad you have loving and supportive people in ur life today as u deserve that!!

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      • Interesting story you shared about your friend. I’m not sure I want to literally go to the grave and bury something but I’m thinking that I can maybe hand the shame back to her through meditation and see if that helps. I really struggle with the shame around being seen as a man in public, especially around people I used to know a long time ago or those I’ve known a long time. I need to do something though because it’s really crippling me in moving forward.

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  7. My mother and your mother had a lot in common! My mother has been dead for maybe 5 years? and I didn’t see her except on state occaisions for 30 years, and I still can’t get her to shut the f* up.

    The worst damage is being unable to have empathy for myself either as a child or as an adult – I feel that shame burn through me all the time.

    I hope the Brene Brown course helps you – I’ve watched her TED talks and read the book, and am curious if the course work allows you to exorcise the shame. Sometimes it feels to me like it will take the rest of my life to recover from the damage.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I actually think about you occasionally when I’m working on a lesson. Empathy is a big subject for Brene’ as well as vulnerability, as you probably know. I think the course is a starting place to give us tools to work on bigger issues. She recommends not picking our biggest battle to work on in the class but I did anyway. I really only have one thing I need to work on but it bleeds into a lot of other areas of my life.

      I know I have been my biggest and harshest critic over the years. My mother’s voice is minor to how hard I am on myself. Learning to self nurture and feel empathy for ourselves is a huge step in recovering from the trauma of the past. We really were innocent children just being ourselves. We didn’t deserve the hurt, pain and shame that was inflicted on us for being our own unique selves. Your mother was wrong as was mine and so many others who are blinded by their own egos and pride. Sometimes I look at pictures of myself as a kid and I can see the hurt and disappointment in my eyes and I want to cry and reach out for that little innocent child that I was. Our mothers were wicked and evil. We are victims of their sickness. You’re a good person and always have been. I want you to really know that to the bone.

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  8. Ohhhh Shawn, it’s hard to read that. Who knows why your mother couldn’t love the extraordinary, creative brave child that you must have been? I feel quite sick reading how she treated you: no one ever deserves that – I want to just hug the young you & tell you that it’s marvellous to be gay & to be non binary – what a magnificent young person you must have been & how sad that she couldn’t see that, let alone celebrate it. But what Sky said: you’re strong & you’re still here. And it’s such a pleasure to read about your journey here – all power to you xxx

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    • Thank you Curious (Mother). I’m not surprised this was hard for you to read and I’m sorry I had to subject you to it. I appreciate your sweet sentiments and kind words. This is why it makes me so happy to know there are great moms out there like you raising their kids with love and understanding and compassion. I don’t want any kid to experience not feeling loved by their parents because I know how awful it feels and the damage it can do. Maybe it’s just me being hopeful but I actually think my mom could have understood me being trans easier than me being gay as she told me several times I should have been born a boy. Even though, it was a different time and being trans was just not something anyone knew about. I’m grateful that that has changed and people are getting educated. Thanks again!

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  9. Thank you for sharing this. I know it was not easy in any way. I see too many parents who are similar to your mother in the respect that they take it out on the child when that child is not who they wanted them to be. I have never understood this mentality and find it to be very harmful. I hope that you are able to let those things go but I also know how much they linger. You are so much more than one person’s opinion.

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    • Thanks Kat! I’m working hard at letting all that go but it’s programmed so deep in my subconscious that it’s pretty tough to do. Parents that put that stuff on their kids are causing real damage to their kids. It’s abusive through and through.

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