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My therapy - your feedback on shame would be appreciated

Discussion in 'LGBT Later in Life' started by LionsAndShadows, Jun 14, 2016.

  1. LionsAndShadows

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    I’ve recently started cognitive behavioural therapy in an attempt to work through some issues in my life. Its early days but I’m already finding it powerful in allowing me to elucidate aspects of my thoughts and beliefs. I hope you don’t mind if I use this wonderful forum from time to time to get your feedback on some of these. I’m sure it would be helpful for me.

    Within days of starting the therapy I started to uncover my experience of shame. I know shame – particularly gay shame - has been discussed a great deal here, and with a great deal of lucid words. But I’m afraid I’m going to add more. I beg your indulgence.

    Years ago, when I was coming out as gay, a lot of the gay men who helped me through that process talked of the shame, guilt and self-loathing they had felt since they were kids. I read a lot and did my research and, yes, this was a big theme. But it was problematic for me because I just couldn’t relate to it. Had I felt shame? Had I loathed myself? Had I felt guilt as a result of my being gay?

    I felt the answer was simply: no. No, I hadn’t, that was not my experience. As a boy I’d known that I’d had to keep my sexuality secret purely as a defence against the ignoramuses that surrounded me, against the rejection and potential violence. But I had never felt shame, guilt or self hate, had I? No. I was just being rational and biding my time.

    But I am beginning to conceptualise it differently, and it on this I would appreciate your feedback.

    I now understand quite how powerful, how destructively potent the emotion called shame actually is. Shame is hideous. And I knew it from when I was very young. I felt shamed as a young boy because I was just a little bit different, but in so many ways, from ‘normal’ boys. I felt shame when I was repeatedly molested as a boy. That was full on shame. I could see and recall that.

    Then in adolescence the potential for yet more shame arrived when I realised I was gay. By then, I think, I’d had enough of shame. I guess I couldn’t take any more. So I reacted by rationalising a defence against that emotion. And that defence was to remove the concept that I could ever be loved (its hard to write that, but I must). I created a nihilistic self-concept that rationalised me as unlovable and worthless. And, in a horrible way, it worked. It took away the shame. How could anyone who was worthless feel shame?

    My confusion when other gay men talked about their shame as kids had been a result of my never having felt it because I had defended myself from it by believing that I was not worthy of it. So self-hate had been my defence. And it worked, in a way, because it saved me from shame. Of course the defence was yet more corrosive than the shame it prevented me from feeling.

    So my concept is that self-loathing and worthlessness are not so much a result of shame, but a rationale for avoiding – if you like, negating - shame.

    Your thoughts would be much appreciated.
     
    #1 LionsAndShadows, Jun 14, 2016
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2016
  2. baristajedi

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    Hi malcstep,

    I relate a bit to your post. First, I'm so sorry for the struggles you've gone through. I want to give you a big hug. (&&&)

    I think for me, I didn't realise I felt shame about being queer either, but I manifested it in s different way. I too was molested, and that created s lot of shame. But when it came time to really understand my sexuality, I was mostly numb. That's the best word I have for it.

    I'm so glad you're breaking down these walls in therapy. It's awful how shame works so insidiously in our inner psyche.

    I don't have a lot of advice right now, I just wanted to say I understand, and to send you some warmth and support.
     
    #2 baristajedi, Jun 14, 2016
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  3. SiennaFire

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    Hi malcstep,

    Help me understand your thought process. To you shame is the guilt and self-loathing that we feel as gay men. Your defense was to remove the concept that you could ever be loved. You created a nihilistic self-concept that rationalized you as unlovable and worthless. And, in a horrible way, it worked. It took away the shame. How could anyone who was worthless feel shame?

    Is this summary of your thought process correct?

    If so, the paradox is that you created shame by trying to avoid it. I get the sense what you call shame (the guilt and self-loathing we feel as gay people) is really internalized homophobia and the defense is actually shame. To me shame is the feeling that we are somehow wrong, defective, inadequate, not good enough, not strong enough, or not loveable. You created this feeling of shame inside yourself as an antidote to your internalized homophobia.

    HTH
     
    #3 SiennaFire, Jun 14, 2016
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  4. LionsAndShadows

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    Dear Baristjedi, you kind thoughts and hugs are warmly received and I really love them, so thanks very very much xxx

    Dear Siennafire, well you are always challenging in a most positive way. Let me try to respond. I perhaps didn't articulate clearly. Shame was there, undoubtedly. What was missing was my understanding, or feeling, that shame because as a defence - or as a negation - I felt unworthy of even feeling shame.

    You say: "to me shame is the feeling that we are somehow wrong, defective, inadequate, not good enough, not strong enough, or not loveable."

    I feel: shame is a profound and horrific and unbearable emotion. It results in the extreme pain of us feeling wrong, defective, inadequate, not good enough, not strong enough. To negate the pain we rationalise that that is indeed true. As it were, to overcome it, we come down to it and accept it as true. By accepting that it is true (wrongly of course) we negate it.

    This sounds so desperate, but I feel strong and would really respond to your feedback.

    ---------- Post added 14th Jun 2016 at 01:03 PM ----------

    Putting if more crudely.

    Someone saying: you are crap, is somehow more bearable if you create a belief within you that that is true.
     
  5. SiennaFire

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    Here's my quick reply. I think we may agree on several points, but I'm not 100% sure. If this still doesn't make sense, I'll try to respond later.

    The point I'm trying to make is that creating the belief that you are crap is generating (more) shame because you've created a feeling in yourself that you are defective, inadequate, and not good enough. In order to ease the shame of being gay, you created more shame that you are not good enough, that you are crap. I suppose whether or not this constitutes shame is a factor of how much you internalize the message that you are crap.

    Where we appear to disagree is whether the second layer of shame is therapeutic or not. I can see that the second layer of shame can maybe help hide/relieve some of the original shame while introducing more shame (you are unworthy of feeling shame). I'm not sure if the net is positive or negative from what you've written. In any event, I feel that you need to unravel it through therapy.

    FWIW, my definition of shame was a synthesis of the following two sources. I would recommend watching the Dr. Brown video.

    1. Psychology Today - https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-zesty-self/200905/what-we-get-wrong-about-shame
    2. Dr. Brené Brown "shame is the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging." - Dr. Brene Brown: “Shame Is Lethal” – SuperSoul.tv
     
    #5 SiennaFire, Jun 14, 2016
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  6. LionsAndShadows

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    I will sleep on it too and respond later... but for now:

    The "real" shame was the emotional response. Therefore the real source of pain.

    The "fake" belief was that I was crap. The fake belief temporarily relieved or masked the emotion of shame. Something needed to because I couldn't stand the shame.

    In someways the fake may have been a blessing because without it, or if I had felt the shame, I am not sure what I would have done... it might have been real bad.
     
  7. SiennaFire

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    I think we are beginning to push up against the limitations of EC as a communication medium.

    A lot hinges on to what extent you internalize the message that you are crap. If this is a "fake" belief as you suggest in post #6, then perhaps this was indeed a clever defense. I am concerned that your mind may start to believe a "fake" belief that's repeated again and again, so the defense might have side effects of which you are not fully aware.

    Hopefully I've gotten you to think about your situation from a different perspective. If anything I posted resonates with you, it's probably best that you follow up with your therapist.
     
    #7 SiennaFire, Jun 14, 2016
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  8. LionsAndShadows

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    SiennaFire,

    You use the present tense... "A lot hinges on to what extent you internalize the message that you are crap". Perhaps I should be clearer. This is not something I feel now. It was decades ago. I have been trying to uncover the truth of my youthful experience. And I believe absolutely that I did internalise the message that I WAS crap when I was thirteen/fourteen. This belief is in tatters now, thank heavens. I was wrong. It was merely a defence against the unbearable pain of shame I felt back then.

    It is not easy to recall this stuff in a way that makes sense. But I am finding that doing so, understanding what went on in my psyche is important for me... to unblock the memory of who I truly was, not who I thought I was.
     
  9. yeehaw

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    I'm not sure if this is important, but reading this I get the sense that malcstep thinks of shame as an intensely emotional experience that feels very painful in the moment and isn't there when not acutely feeling the pain of shame in the moment. So for malcstep, if a belief that he is worthless is experienced in the moment as not-excruciating, then it is not shame.

    And I think siennafire may be thinking of shame as something more than just the acutely painful feelings in the moment. I think siennafire views a belief of worthlessness a evidence of shame even when the worthlessness isn't experienced as acutely painful in the moment.
     
  10. OnTheHighway

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    I can relate to some of what you have written as there is quite a bit of overlap with my experiences; so allow me to express some of that:

    1. Like you, when I was young, I was told how I was different, teased and picked on; and I certainly did feel different. My defense was to act "straight" and amalgamate myself amongst my peers.

    2. Also, like you, I experienced sexual coercion and the resulting shame. The lack of control I experienced lead me to seek control in everything that I did. By seeking control, I was able to ignore the lack of control that resulted from the sexual coercion that occurred.

    3. When I realized I was gay, (although at that time I did not accept it), I ignored the shame and distracting myself by focusing on my career and building an emotional wall which I sought protection in.

    4. In every case, the shame that built up caused me to never view myself as handsome or attractive despite others whom would always suggest otherwise.

    One by one I have looked to tackle my shame, and while I believe I have come a massive way in tackling it, I recognize I will continue to tackle aspects of the shame for the rest of my life (I do believe it is an ongoing journey for all of us).

    Today, I have embraced my difference and relish it. I see myself as the handsome guy that others claim to see me as and I am even happy to stand in front of a mirror or even stand in front of a camera where previously I was unable.

    I no longer have the need to retain control in my daily life. I am comfortable and confident with myself such that I do not need the control that I so desperately sought prior to accepting myself and my circumstances. That said, some of my sexual habits (without going into any details as there have been numerous threads on this topic), does suggest that I am still dealing with the remnants of the shame from the sexual coercion I experienced. At least I recognize this and cognizant of the implications.

    And finally, I have been able to knock down the emotional wall I but and let others into my emotions and my head. I have learned to make myself vulnerable and I have benefited form the confidence and self esteem boosts as a result. This I can not stress enough, and I recognize it might seem counter intuitive, but being vulnerable is such a great cure for shame. At least for me it has been.

    I can not really comment on where you are with your journey or how your tackling your own shame, but it does seem as if your are addressing it and working through it - and that is a great place to be.
     
    #10 OnTheHighway, Jun 15, 2016
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  11. LionsAndShadows

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    Dear OnTheHighway,

    I thank you for your deeply felt response to my post. I cannot tell you how wonderful it feels to be sharing with others like you how I feel and to receive such compassion and honesty in return. It is really very special indeed.

    I am absolutely getting through all this and the community here - people like you - are a huge part of that.

    It appears we have been on a similar journey. In a previous post I expressed frustration that I had not been able to find a place on the internet where men of my or our age could talk about these things in our lives and I was encouraged to post here more (by SiennaFire). He was right. I should have trusted this place more before. It is unique and members like you make it so. Thanks so much.

    M
    xx
     
    #11 LionsAndShadows, Jun 15, 2016
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  12. Chip

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    The definition of shame used by those who research it is something akin to "a profound and deeply held belief that we are not worthy of love and belonging."

    So look at it this way: We are certainly not worthless, a piece of crap, or unworthy of love or belonging. But shame makes it seem that way. And the shame is a very real emotion that we all have... it's just that nobody wants to talk about it, and based on the research, the less we talk about it, the more we have it.

    So in that way, the source of the pain is the shame itself. Now... when we most feel it is when we are in what Brené Brown calls a "shame storm." The shame storm happens when something triggers us to revert back to the primitive self (the shame always comes from early childhood experiences) and feel the strong emotions that happened early on.

    That's why shame isn't rational, and our responses to it aren't rational either. Our reasoning centers, when we're in shame, are off-line and we're operating from our amygdala brain which is basically fight-or-flight, very primitive emotions. Logic and reason are out the window, and what we feel can be very intense.

    But I don't think it's accurate to say that the source of the pain is the feeling; the feelings themselves result from connecting to the early events that create the shame.

    As such, we can never really 100% get rid of shame; we can certainly get better, learn to recognize when we are about to get triggered, or when we are triggered, and learn to minimize the shame storms. But shame work is a practice, not something we solve that goes away never to return.

    IF you aren't familiar with Brené Brown's work, take a look at her three TED talks: The Power of Vulnerability, The Price of Invulnerability and Listening to Shame. These give a good overview of current thinking in shame research (she draws extensively on the work of other shame researchers, as well as her own work). It's the best pulling-together of the work I've seen, and is really helpful in understanding and changing your behaviors to work through it.
     
  13. yuanzi

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    I can relate to the self-loathing part. But I do think I have had both self-hatred and shame. My self-loathing and shame started way before I realized my sexuality though. It probably started from middle school when I was a little over-weight. I was never intensely bullied but kids in my middle/high school made snarky comments about my weight from time to time. It didn't help that I was super shy and nerdy and never dressed well. I had 0 friends and no one ever invited me to hang out. So I began to develop this weird mixture of superiority and inferiority. Sometimes I felt I was too good for everyone and other times I was so ashamed of the way I looked and talked and felt I would never be good enough for anyone.

    It got worse when I realized my sexuality. I had a string of rejections (mostly from girls) and some of them were really bad. My self-hatred was much stronger at that point and in a twisted way it also made me feel stronger (it is like nobody could harm me because the person who hated me the most was myself, ugh if it makes any sense).

    I feel much better these days. I made a few good friends over the years and finally came out. The very dark part of me is still there but I guess it is dormant for now.
     
  14. OnTheHighway

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    I like how you describe it as "shame storms", because that is exactly what they are. What I have learned is to recognise the triggers, and understand how my emotions have been impacted, which helps me moderate the storm. This has taken time for me to really understand myself to do this; and I have been able to accomplish this once I was able to fully get in touch with my emotions.
     
    #14 OnTheHighway, Jun 15, 2016
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  15. SiennaFire

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    Apologies for misinterpreting your post. I'm glad that you are long past the feeling that you are crap. I also felt worthless at points in my life. It's much better to love and accept ourselves.

    I'm glad that you are posting here on EC. You've started a very meaningful dialog with depth and substance via this thread. I hope that you have more to share.

    ---------- Post added 16th Jun 2016 at 07:15 AM ----------

    My experience has been similar. I still have pockets of internalized homophobia that create shame storms. I'm aware when this is happening, and I can overcome the internalized homophobia behind the shame relatively quickly.
     
    #15 SiennaFire, Jun 16, 2016
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  16. LionsAndShadows

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    May be I'm getting too pedantic here. But I've always been a pedant.

    Here I go again.

    Chip says: The definition of shame used by those who research it is something akin to "a profound and deeply held belief that we are not worthy of love and belonging."

    This may be what the experts say. But my lay persons feeling is that shame is an emotion. We strain our emotions through our beliefs (i.e. they - emotions and beliefs - are not the same thing). Our beliefs attempt to deal with our emotions, make sense of them, make us do this or that.

    To me, then, we create beliefs to deal with emotions. So shame isn't the same as that deeply held belief that we are not worthy of love and belonging. The belief is a way of trying to deal with the overwhelming emotional pain of shame. Shame is the emotion, being not worthy of love is the belief.

    The good news is that whilst we can't change our emotions we can change our beliefs (when we uncover them).

    M

    ---------- Post added 16th Jun 2016 at 04:35 AM ----------

    SiennaFire, I neglected to add my appreciation of your kind words.
     
  17. Chip

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    Shame is both, and that's what's confusing

    It's definitely recognized as an affect, the "fifth emotion" in most newer research (anger-fear-grief-joy-shame) but it is also an experience. And certainly beliefs are different than emotions.

    So shame is a deeply-held belief, but it is also an emotion that arises from the belief, if that makes sense. And yes, it is the beliefs we change that ultimately impact how we experience the emotions.
     
  18. Mr B

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    I like this distinction between beliefs and emotions, however, I think there is a constant feedback going on between the two at the individual level as your beliefs affect your emotions (and your actions) and vice-versa. It is also useful to bring in the social dimension of this dynamics, which really is about power and status. People are constantly trying to influence others' beliefs, which impacts how others feel and act. People do this unconsciously, they say things that make others feel crap, worried, guilty, insecure, dependent. Everyone is pushing his/ her 'social agenda'. Once you realize this, you start becoming more immune to external influences, as you become aware that there is nothing wrong with you, that's just how the social game works. On the other hand, some 'successful' people have a ridiculously high and unshakeable sense of self-worth. It is as if there is not really any objectivity in this game, you can determine your own price tag and people will take it at face value. If you listen too much to others, you end up at the bottom. In the end, it boils down to this: if you do not believe you are entitled to feel good about yourself and be loved and respected just the way you are, you cannot expect others will love you, respect you and make you feel good about yourself.
     
  19. Chip

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    To the extent that I understand it, Brené's research doesn't necessarily correlate what she calls 'wholeheartedness', which includes a strong sense of worthiness, with necessarily being extraordinarily successful. She identified ten factors that were present in all of the people she found who were wholehearted, and the one factor that she found that most strongly influenced whether someone was high in belonging and worthiness was, very simply, that they believed they were worthy. Period.

    In the arena model that Brené talks about, and uses in the Daring Way curriculum, she refers to the people that matter (close friends, family you care about, people she describes as "marble jar friends") as the only ones whose opinions should matter to you. Everyone else is in "the cheap seats" and their opinions should not matter at all.

    So while we don't want to ignore what other people think -- if those people matter to us -- too many of us care about what everyone thinks, or at least about people who don't matter, and then we find ourselves hustling for our worthiness.

    So in short, I think Brené's model matches pretty closely with what you've described above.