It was 2003 and I was working on healing shame from childhood abuse (although, I didn’t realize that’s what was going on.)
“Let me get this straight. I need to say these 50 Positive Affirmations eyeball to eyeball 5 times a day for 6 months? And if I skip a day, I have to start all over?!” “Omg I can’t even look at myself much less look and talk to myself saying 50 positive statements I don’t even believe!” I begged, “There’s no other way?”
That was August of 2003 and I had just spent two weeks at WIIT (Women’s Institute for Incorporation Therapy) and the professional’s recommendation for my discharge included continuing my one-on-one therapy as well as saying the 50 positive affirmations I wrote there out loud, every day, 5 times a day for 6 months.
Healing Shame from Childhood Abuse Felt Frightening
From what I remember, the message conveyed was, “Do it, die or become institutionalized.”
As a result, these positive affirmations felt like the only secret ingredient to my healing and “getting better.” Mind you, I had tried to commit suicide just 5 months prior and I realized that unless I followed the advice of my trauma experts, I was doomed to end up suicidal again. Therefore, I clung to these 50 phrases as if my life depended on it.
Because, to me it did.
The “Self” and Healing from Childhood Shame
I had no problem with saying them (although hearing my voice out loud really creeped me out at the time) however, the fact that I had to look at myself-a self I did not want to be much less relate to, turned my stomach to the point I barely got them out every time I said them.
Considering my life was on the line and I desperately wanted to change my life especially for my teen age daughter at the time, I packed up that binder with me wherever I went for those 6 months and said those words out loud looking at a self I couldn’t stand and never missed a day.
The First Shift in Healing My Childhood Shame
On one of those many 180 days, I remember standing in my bathroom as I was doing my hair and saying those pesky positive affirmations. Something clicked. I can see myself when I remember this. Where I was and what I was wearing.
I had just rattled off, as I had many times prior, “I am a valuable child of God.”
Next thing I knew, I felt something shift. “Wait a minute,” I thought to myself. “That’s a pretty powerful truth. If I am a child of God, then I’m not a loser.” I stopped for a moment as if God had tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Hey, you are not a loser. You are my child made in My Image! That alone makes you worthy.”
To this day, I remember stopping long enough to know that this truth would play a role in my future, but I quickly brushed it off and tucked the realization away for what I thought were more important issues in my recovery. (Insert eye roll here)
When I look back on that afternoon in my bathroom with my shiny plastic white binder, I can feel God trying to tell me to pay attention to His revelation and turn to Him.
But I chose not to.
Healing Childhood Shame- A Futile Attempt Outside Myself and God
While, I did make time for God in AA meetings, went to Church on Sundays and talked with God throughout the day, I did not make one-on-one time for God daily. Instead, I desperately sought outward means to prove my worth. In fact, I decided to go to graduate school and prove I was successful and worthy by getting a master’s degree and getting out into the workforce.
Having a career meant the world to me. I had unconsciously convinced myself that the shame would go away if I could prove that I wasn’t crazy and the only way to do that was to have a successful career. So, off I went less than 6 months in recovery off to the big world I barley lived in just a few months prior.
Needless to say, this did not work out for me. Oh! I got my degree and I even worked as a graduate research assistant and graduated with honors and got a job as a teacher.
However, that sense of worth quickly faded no matter what beautiful outfit I bought to wear at Loft, no matter how cute my classroom looked or even how well my students performed.
Healing Childhood Shame Cannot Be Accomplished with “Things”
Because no job, career, relationship, or outfit transforms shame. No amount of money, fancy schmancy car or huge mansion can overcome the power of shame.
Unless consciously acknowledged, shame steadily and consistently unconsciously increases in intensity and frequency. For example, anxiety gets worse, trauma responses increase (ie. Obsessive compulsive thoughts and behaviors like drinking, doing drugs, promiscuous sex, binge eating, overworking, etc.)
So how does all of this relate to the scared woman looking in the mirror in 2003?
Connecting the Dots
Despite excellent grades, well performing students, a safe, healthy marriage and a successful career, my shame became so horrible that my anxiety increased to the point that nothing I did masked it long enough for me to avoid it and still function at a high level.
When I finally lost my job and failed at the other attempts I made at career success, I found myself face to face with the fact that I despite all my hard work, the real issue at hand the entire time was my shame. I still felt like a loser (aka shame). This time I had no schoolwork, or job or drug to mask it.
My body had been keeping the score and the shame score soared and soared no matter my outward “success.” My anxiety probably quadrupled and although I didn’t realize it, the shame got louder and louder. I felt like a huge monster was following me around all day screaming at me, “You are such a loser!” “When are you going to stop trying to prove you aren’t?!”
At this point, I figured since I had no place to be in the mornings and no job to go to, I would go back to spending time with God like I had prior to my recovery. During one of those mornings, as the tears streamed down my face and I held my stomach crying out to God pleading for help, I remembered that afternoon in the bathroom in 2003.
Suddenly, I felt the same ah ha moment I had then. This time, however, I paid attention and felt a shift in my body, mind, and spirit. “Ohhh! I knew that meant something big back then,” I thought to myself. “Hmm, I wish I had paid more attention to that,” I lamented. “Oh yeah, I am a valuable child of God. I don’t have to do anything to be worthy!” “The abuse doesn’t determine my worth and neither does having a career.”
The Second Powerful Shift
The more personal time I spent with God, the more unconditionally loved and supported I felt. Both of which helped ease the dread as I worked towards really facing the shame that still lingered. Which leads me to my second powerful shift.
What I recognized next ironically, broke my heart and healed it at the same time. I was finally able to see myself as the scared little girl who felt, invisible, unloved, unworthy, and alone. I saw how horrible I felt growing up. Additionally, I realized that those feelings became beliefs about myself because I was abused by people trusted to love me and keep me safe. I learned that the brain’s limbic system records all of that and subsequently children internalize the abusive treatment as shame.
These self-sabotaging beliefs, this paralyzing shame was not my fault, nor were they true. The shame resulted from no one ever seeing the severely wounded, lonely little girl who just wanted to be loved.
Making Space for Childhood Shame
When I learned how to make space for those sad, gut-wrenching feelings that had never been seen or heard, the shame shifted even more so. The shame was just a huge sign screaming, “Please see me! Please see how sad and scared and lonely I felt! I am longing for love!”
The job, the striving, the search for worth, prevented me from seeing her. But knowing I had God to help me hold her and her feelings (which were mine now as an adult) with compassion, transformed the shame almost immediately.
I just wanted to hug my little girl self and hold her close. Then I wanted to turn to my adult self and hold her with us. I imagined God holding all of us close to His heart.
Finally, I felt seen, safe and supported. I felt love and compassion for myself and the shame just sort of shifted without conversing with it cognitively.
God and Compassion = Hope and Freedom
Like it or not, shame is the number one result of abuse and very difficult to face. However, armed with self-compassion and God’s unconditional love for you, you can more easily see the shame and attend to the sad scary feelings it creates. Therefore, reducing the shame keeping you stuck. Next thing you know, you’re recovering your true self! Yeah!!! 😉 Furthermore, you’re regaining the hope, freedom and joy to create the peaceful, playful and purposeful life you desire and deserve.
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