Thursday, October 4, 2012

Feeling Shame for Telling The Truth - Childhood Fears

**A note from Ellie - this piece is part of my new weekly Vulnerability Writing series, Truthful Thursdays. I am looking for more submissions, so if you're interested in submitted a piece please read this post here.  Thank you.

***Submitted by Judy, who blogs at Get Unwrapped

I just finished reading a post by my friend and fellow-blogger Ellie at One Crafty Mother, a post which has spurred me to talk about something that I don't often discuss. Especially not in a public forum.

I must admit I'm a little daunted.  Especially because the first thing that popped into my head was something that I'm still going through and which I don't see any way out of except through it.  (Wow. That sounds familiar.)  But ... there's something that resonates in me with this concept - that truth makes people free, even if it's not pretty. That ugly things like shame and evil lose their power when brought into the light, when their soft underbelly is exposed.  

So ... here goes.

Last fall, I e-published a book about my journey from the bondage of control-freaking and door-mat-itis into a lifestyle of freedom, passion, and purpose. It was a huge deal for me to have made the journey, and I wanted to write about it! 

The response I've received has been rather sporadic, actually - definitely not what I had hoped.  To be sure, I didn't expect to make much money from it; it was something that I wanted to do so that if even one person is helped by it, then it would be worth it. But I had thought I would receive just a smidgen more recognition than the large round of indifference I've gotten.  

Except from one quarter: my birth family and extended family, and anyone who is friends with them.  

For, you see, I did mention a couple of members of my family-of-origin in the book a couple of times.  I did so to highlight the "before" picture and some of the things I went through to be free of the things certain people did and said to me: things which scarred me my whole life long.  I took great care not to make that the focus, though.  I wanted to talk about the "unwrapping" that happened as a result of a day-by-day relationship with God, with myself, and finally with others.  (For more information on the book, see my "About Me" page.)

But by talking about their part in it even once, I broke the cardinal rule that was hammered into my psyche as a child: "What happens here STAYS here - we don't talk about it outside these four walls."  

The truth about my childhood has always been a source of great shame for me.  I always thought - until I was well into my forties - that if anyone knew that I was abused as a child, they'd not want to have anything to do with me.  I'd lose everything.  Fear had me by the throat.  I thought people would blame me.  I thought that my family would disown me.  I thought that I would never be able to look anyone in the eye again.

But for the most part, people outside of my birth family have been kind, if not just tolerant. And I've experienced a great deal of healing from those traumatic experiences. 

Yet, I am still ashamed.  Not for the horrors of what happened to me - God has healed me from that shame - but for telling the truth.  Ashamed for (even though it is the last thing I intended) appearing to be disloyal, ungrateful, vindictive.  For exposing the deception and no longer keeping "our little secret." For being honest ... and being called a liar. For having my motives judged and for not being able to explain to their satisfaction why I would cast such a shadow on the reputation of someone who - to friends and family - is the closest thing to a saint that they've ever seen.   

I wish I could say that it's been resolved. That would be nice, nice and pretty, all tied up in a bow and a "wonderful testimony."  But it hasn't.  This is a process.  I struggle with these feelings of shame, of feeling exposed and vulnerable to what others think, nearly all the time.  There have been many nights - even in the last six months - that I have cried myself to sleep because of the fallout, the pointed fingers, the broken relationships, the constant criticism and the lack of any kind of attempt to understand what I'm trying to accomplish. Grief over lost contact, lost favour, lost relationship, is something I deal with daily. All too often, the weight of shame and the crushing, smothering feelings of loneliness, fear and anxiety overwhelm me. 

I fight to keep in the moment; it is the only way I can survive.

I don't know how to get past this wall of misery.  I don't know if I SHOULD get past it.  I don't know if I'm doing any good to anyone - or if secretly I WANT them to suffer.  (Am I really that horrible? How can I ever look at my reflection in the mirror? When will this end? HOW will it end if it does?)  

I don't know.  I really don't.  I have wrestled with saying goodbye for good, with writing them off, with closing the door on that part of my life and never looking back.  

More shame. More vulnerability.  More feeling like I want to crawl into a hole and disappear.  

I am exposing my soft underbelly here - in the hope that shame has a soft underbelly too.  My friend Ellie says that shame and vulnerability hate the truth; they hate compassion.  

I hope so.  I really DO hope so.


  1. It's funny how we can so easily take on other people's shame like it's our own skin. When we grow up having it thrown upon us we don't realize it's not built for us to carry.

    If you take a moment and remember that a child doesn't own the responsibility of adults....well hopefully you can grab onto that reality and begin to accept that this shame....even now isn't yours.

    You really need to battle the impulse to be a people pleaser, I totally understand this need but it'll damage you even now.

    What happened ....happened. No amount of denial or stuffing it under a rug will make it go away. Facing fears and taking their power is the only way to move on in today with a clear mind and to do this you'll have to create boundaries.

    Remember these people are probably sick somehow.....pray for them but don't take on their issues.

  2. I grew up in simular situations. No mater what happened, you were to slap a smile on your face; say everything is great, you are matter what the truth may be. Getting past that ingrained shame and secrecy is SO HARD. Harder than dealing with the things that happened in fact. At least those things are in the past. The messages ingrained into your head during childhood linger in your head forever.

  3. I wonder if the truth is that *they* are ashamed. Ashamed that what you say may be true, and if it *is* true then what that says about them. So they put that shame upon you, because it is easier to heap the shame onto the child who was always there to take it; to pretend it has nothing to do with them.

    But it does. It has everything to do with them. Everything is to do with them. And not you.

    And you know something? If you *do* decide to close the door on them, it is not the end of the world. Truly it isn't. My mother did, and it is the best thing she ever did. It closes the shame and deceipt and lies on the OTHER side of the door - where it belongs.

    You are not alone. It is sad that that is true, but it is so - there are many children who got caught in webs and snares of adults' making; and are made to feel guilty about even thinking of cutting themselves free and walking away.


  4. I think you have SO much courage, and what I see is a woman loving herself enough to put the truth out there to save herself, her sanity, her soul. I grew up in a home where everything was "FINE", bad feelings swept under the rug, arguments just didn't happen because we were all too afraid to color outside the lines.

    So I understand how much courage it takes to step outside that line and say "this is ME".

    I like what Gillian said - that this has so much more to do with them than it does you. You touched something they are afraid to look at, something in themselves.

    You will live a better life for it, even if it hurts, first.

    I think you're incredible, and you have inspired me.

    Thank you.

  5. It takes a lot of courage to speak up for yourself, to realize you are allowed to be YOU.

    I've never had support from my family of origin for anything I've done. I've come to realize it's because my mother is mentally ill. I've also come to realize I'm the only one of my family to deal with this. As the child who bore the brunt of her issues, I realized it was holding me back in ways I couldn't even fathom as an adult. Cutting those ties was hard, I still have moments where I wish I had a 'family'. But the truth is, they never treated me like family, I was always the outsider, never invited to things, heck, my younger siblings purposely excluded my daughter from their weddings while including all of their other nieces and nephews.

    Since I've walked away, I've lost the little voice in my head that tells me I'm going to fail. I've started pursuing what I want to pursue and for the first time in my life, I'm succeeding, really succeeding, at doing something creative for a living on my own terms. I'm a much happier person and a better wife and mother because of it too I think.

    And the outpouring of support I've gotten from friends and extended family when I walked away from my mother and siblings? Overwhelmingly postive. I may have closed one door, but countless others opened in response.

    1. Thank you, Becky, for giving me hope that the voice in my head (which I heard from the outside so long that it started being MY voice on the inside) will go away. I'm already so much happier without the added stress of even more condemnation from "them" (and yes, they never treated me like family - even advised me to lie to the authorities when I was 15 and say I "made it up" so that the family honor would stay intact). Since I've closed that door, I have discovered a whole network of supportive folks like Ellie, like Julie, Gillian, and a few more locally who have been nothing short of amazing.

      The day I submitted my blog text to Ellie, she wrote me back and the support I felt from her left my whole face wet from the eyes down. I was sobbing by the end of the email, having felt such judgment for so long that the validation she offered started to heal a very dark and scary place inside. I started to realize that I had to detach and differentiate between their issues and mine (they are "projecting" as the psychologists call it.) That I could set those boundaries without guilt. That how other people feel about me isn't my problem. And that it is "okay to be me."

      Thank you - thank you all - for your incredibly generous hearts and words. :')

    2. I just saw this reply, Judy - sorry to be late in responding.

      You are so brave and beautifully honest and genuine and graceful, and I am grateful to know you. You have taught me a lot, and I look forward to learning even more from you.



  6. I don't have any answers, but I do want to acknowledge your courage in wrestling with these questions and feelings. And most of all, for your courage in being true to yourself. Brava!