I was reading a few things today and they got me thinking. I want to expand on my previous discussion about shame. I'll start by saying that shame is absolutely *the* thing that has crippled me from a mental health standpoint for years on end. It still is impacting me, and though I'm now getting professional help in dealing with it, it's something I feel a need to talk about. Why? I know I'm not the only one.
So let's talk about shame. Shame is one of society's ways of saying "No, that's wrong. That's not acceptable here." And, in all fairness, society does sometimes need the ability to say that. It should be fair for people who care about each other to communicate about harmful behavior and attempt to come to a resolution. But... shame isn't the way that happens.
Attempting to influence someone through shame is, quite possibly, the most toxic and passive-aggressive thing you can do. We've all been guilt-ed by shame at some point or another, and we all know how it goes. Disapproval of personal behavior can start with as little as a nasty look, and can, in time, escalate full blown social isolation. Rather than addressing the underlying problem directly, shame relies on the person performing the undesired behavior to eventually become uncomfortable enough that they chose the group dynamic over their own. Even worse, since there's no direct communication about the cause of the disapproval, the person subjected to it is often left in an anxious state, trying to guess what they might have done wrong. Sometimes it's clear cut, but not always.
So let's talk about the toxic effects of shame. It's not like we don't know what it does to people. It's not as if we don't know it drives them to anxiety and depression, to self-hatred well before it makes any change the person outside sees. This process of internalizing the fact that something about yourself is wrong can take years to unravel, and that's only assuming the person in question actually manages to reach out and ask for help.
I guess what I want to say here is this. Shame sucks the life out of the person it is directed against. It is the tool of those who do not have the courage to speak out and actually say what they think problems are. "She knows what she's doing wrong." and "He's getting what he deserves." in reference to these kinds of actions are an outright cancer, and we need to start cutting it out.
With that out of the way, I'll add my own story here. This is something I've never written down, and I'm honestly not sure how it'll come out, but it's a start.
I grew up in a household that used shame and passive-aggressive behavior as a method of control, and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. It's been ten years since I left home and I've barely made a dent in the damage that it did. Though I'm working with a wonderful therapist on this and other issues now, I still can't function entirely normally in relationships, to say nothing of my issues with gender and sexuality.
In that household, like many others, we were taught from the time we were little to not "air our dirty laundry in public". Basically, if you had a personal problem, you were not to discuss it or otherwise let on that something was going on around anyone outside my immediate family (the unspoken idea being that to do so would bring shame upon all of us). In practice, this extended at least somewhat into discussing issues that affected us within the family as well, leaving us alone an isolated with our problems, repressing and pretending like everything was always 'fine.' That's a word I can hardly use anymore, as it and the corresponding "It's nothing." are now huge red flags for me in any conversation.
Here's the thing. Directing shame at 'undesired' behaviors (sexuality, gender, etc) inside the family, while directing those within it to never speak to outsiders for support was a fucking terrible system. It created a self-reinforcing feedback loop that turned anything outside 'normal' into self-hate, and forced me to emotionally disconnect from my family and wear a mask at all times in order to self-protect. I understand *why* they did it, that some of these things (religion especially) bring into question their own sense of identity in a way they're not comfortable with, but it's still not something that's easy to confront. Or forgive.
I'm still fighting these demons, and I don't win every day. Some days they best me, and it's everything I can do to force myself to go to work. I'll talk more about my response to anxiety and the accompanying depression in future posts, but suffice to say that I think I understand why anxiety and paralysis are linked for me now, largely as a result of managing to write this out.
I want to leave with a few resources that have helped me over the years. I'll be talking about these more in future posts, but for now a short description (and the links) will suffice.
QC is a story about a group of friends in the northeast US who move into an out of relationships with each other. All of the characters are 'real' in the sense that they all have issues, some of them very serious. Running the gamut from anxiety to control and OCD, to outright grief, this strip will make you laugh and cry in equal measure. And all the time you'll be learning, about both yourself and others.http://questionablecontent.net/view.php?comic=1
Venus Envy is recent find, but one I wish I had found ages ago. Both the artist Erin and the main character Zoe are transgender, and though Zoe's struggles take place way back in high school (well before I managed to break out of *any* of my shell), they still mean a lot. If you've ever wanted to understand a transgender person's desire to just fit in, be normal, and be accepted, you'll want to read this. Beware though, it's not an easy read. Lots of tears ahead.http://www.venusenvycomic.com/index.php?id=2
Sunstone is another recent find. I've actually never considered myself to be interested in BDSM-related material, but this comic caught me a bit by surprise. The way it portrays an alternate lifestyle in such a positive and loving way, with no fear or judgment, is absolutely huge. Learning new ways love can be seen and experienced is never a bad thing, and as much as it surprised me, I think it might surprise you.
(NSFW link warning) http://shiniez.deviantart.com/gallery/35675685/chapter-1-completed?offset=0