Shame and Denial
Shame is a VERY powerful force in my life, and I’m assuming I’m not the only one. Brené Brown’s talks about shame really helped me. She says, Shame cannot survive being spoken. It needs three things to grow: Secrecy, Silence and Judgement. The first two of this list – Secrecy and Silence – explain why I find this blog so therapeutic. I can put it all out here and release it’s hold on me. I know my shame triggers (another thing Brown says is important, to KNOW what causes you shame) – parenting, body/health, dependability – and so if I start to feel shame in any of those areas, I talk about it in my safe place. Here.
I also will dump it on people in person, and this is where Brené Brown and I differ a bit. She thinks it’s only possible to have one or two trustworthy people to hold your shame. But, I think it depends on the shame. I have many friends I can talk to about my parenting shame, but they may not be the same friends I discuss my body shame with. Sometimes we connect with people on different levels, but I say the more of us discussing our shame, the more we all feel more comfortable to do it. SHAME UNITES!
The third thing: Judgement, can sometimes cause you to feel shame about things you don’t necessarily think are shameful if you look deep beyond that judgement. I live in the conservative South and am part of a very large catholic family so sometimes I feel judgement-induced shame when I reflect on things like my divorce. Or maybe I feel judgement-induced shame when someone attacks my LGBTQIA+ supportive post on Facebook. I only feel shame because of the external judgement, which was one of the many reasons why I first left the church. I thought, Shame is being PUSHED ONTO ME about things I am not actually ashamed of!
In the world of addicts, shame and denial are often considered to be intricately connected. Addicts live in complete denial of EVERYTHING in their world because addictions taint so many aspects of their lives and to avoid facing the shame of their addiction, they have to build fake realities around themselves. This is well documented and if you are close to an addict, you need to always be aware of this when you are approaching that relationship.
(That’s an entry for another day!)
However, I’ve been thinking about shame-induced denial a lot lately though, as it relates to NON-addicts.
What are some things that cause shame – and resulting denial – in people who are NOT addicts?
Sometimes shame can be caused by trauma, like sexual assault victims who convince themselves what happened was their fault in some way. Or children who live in abusive homes and convince themselves all families are like theirs just so they can survive. Or worse, they convince themselves they deserve the abuse in some way. Victims of trauma feel shame and in order to survive and not feel that shame, they hide the trauma behind denial. For trauma victims, denial helps you survive while you’re deep inside the trauma but it’s a hard think to tackle once you escape the trauma. It’s hard to let go of the denial and release yourself of the shame.
But other times shame is caused by something you’ve done that you simply feel ashamed about. In my “asshole years” as I like to call them (this is pre-Donnie) I lived in complete denial because I didn’t want to face how big of an asshole I was. So, I excused all of my asshole behavior. I built myself a fake world in my shame-induced denial bubble that allowed me to keep shitting on people because in this world of denial I lived in, I wasn’t really shitting on them because they didn’t care. For me, I was forced to face my shame when I was force to face the real world of hurt behind the fake world of denial I had built. In an addict, this is often a type of “rock bottom.”
That’s the problem, denial is SO STRONG that it takes something catastrophic to shake it and part of living with or loving someone in denial is to recognize that you do not have the power to force someone to see a world they’re not ready to see.
But it’s important to be aware of how all of this works because it’s important to know how we can delude ourselves. I like to think my awareness of these things is what makes me stop drinking even my nightly beer because I start to worry, “Wait. Am I in denial? Am I really drinking more than I should?” I’m constantly doing self-checks because I’ve seen firsthand how real denial can be and how blind the person orchestrating the denial is to it. I see myself walk the denial path a lot in my fear of conflict so I have to be aware of it so as to avoid it, which I’m not always successful at.
Shame enters the political sphere too. I was reading about a woman who was facing her own denial in the news about Eric Schneiderman in New York. She was evidently a very vocal supporter of him and was having to resist the urge to doubt his accusers to combat her own shame. I was thinking about how I might be drawn to the same instinct if something came out about Obama. So we all have to be aware about how denial is such a subtle defense mechanism against shame.
This is what I come back to a lot when I think about how defensive I would get when I would first face truths about my own privilege and the systemic racism that handed it to me. My urge to enter DENIAL instead of facing the SHAME of being blind to all of this was SO VERY STRONG. No! There is no systemic racism that gives me an advantage! I LIVED ON GOVERNMENT SUPPORT AS A POOR SINGLE MOM IN COLLEGE! I succeeded on my own skills and talents and determination!
(Or maybe not.)
I could talk and write about this forever, it is one of my new favorite subjects, but I guess I’ll wrap it up now so I can face the shame of my body odor and get in the shower.