Trauma, Shame, and Disconnection from Self (Pandora III)

Sometimes…no matter how hard we fight to hold ourselves together…we get triggered. Everything we bottled up…everything we try not to remember…it comes back. We lose control.

The tears are in her eyes but they refuse to fall. She trusts me. I have no words to describe the honor that is. She reads me and she knows I understand. “I feel like a little girl right now. I’m four years old and I’m hiding under the bed. I’m sad. I’m crying and I’m shaking and I’m so scared. ” Why are you scared? “Because people are yelling and it’s scary when they yell. They’re mad and it’s all my fault. I’m a rotten little bitch and it’s all my fault.” No. That’s not true. There are no bad children. “It’s all my fault!”It wasn’t your fault! I say this several times to make sure she hears me. This is not a bad memory. This is reliving and in this moment there is no separation between the child she was and the adult she is. This is what trauma looks like – it’s happening all over again.

We talk about what happened to her and it’s horrible. There are questions that haunt her and the answers are all unacceptable because they hurt. Everything we discuss goes against the grain of what she was taught. When we move away from how we were taught to be, we feel overwhelmed with guilt and it paralyzes us. Shock. Disbelief. Denial is easier. “It’s my fault. It’s all my fault.”

We come back to the here and now. I point out that the woman she is to others today is the woman that little girl needed. She struggles to hear this. She is still ashamed – mostly of what was done to her, but also of how living with those memories and that pain impacted her adult life. She is a recovering alcoholic and addict. She has lived a lifetime surrounded by sick and selfish people. She has found countless ways to self destruct. She sees today that these are all ways to just not feel the pain. We hide in dark places. She cannot kill herself so she puts herself in harm’s way. Half of her hopes to be rescued and half of her hopes she won’t wake up tomorrow.

I confront her. The little girl she was is an important part of the woman she is. She has ignored that child – neglected her, blamed her, abused her. To treat herself this way  is to live her life honoring what her abusers taught her about who/how/what she is.

They were wrong. They lied in order to convince themselves. They knew what they were doing was wrong and they did not wish to feel guilty. By blaming us they placed their shame squarely onto our shoulders and there it remains until we chip away at it.

The old adages are true: The Truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.

What if everything you believed about yourself was a lie? If you accepted  this, then the only thing you’d have to change is everything. There’s a lot of shame, fear, and pain in the space between what we know and what we accept. Truth is…most people don’t have the guts to change everything. I work with the most courageous people in the world.

The very best form of strength is resilience. It’s hard to imagine that people can survive so much but we did. We are not victims. We are survivors. Victims don’t get back up and therefore they don’t get better. We got back up but we fight other people’s battles and we fight ourselves and God help you if you try to stop us. We’re terrified to stop. We’re killing ourselves to maintain the illusion that we are not powerlessness because we associate being powerless with being helpless. We were then. We’re not now.

We see ourselves as broken. In truth we are simply disconnected. Our emotions are buried deep and convoluted. Our minds go 100 mph to avoid all that we seek to forget. Our bodies are used to abuse and so we abuse them. We struggle to have Faith in ourselves and in a Higher Power. We see ourselves as unworthy of love. We withhold forgiveness from ourselves.

There’s a disconnect between the adult we are and the child we’ve never forgiven. That child like part of us takes over when we’re triggered. Until we choose to protect the child and help her/him to heal, we will continue to punish ourselves for not being good enough.

Truth – we have always been loveable and acceptable – we simply were not made to believe this . We are good people who have done bad things. We cannot forget and the only way out of it is through it. We readily see the truth about who others are while we maintain distorted images of ourselves. This is why we need each other. Kindred spirits have a way of finding each other. The hard part is to receive us. Please know that we need you…every bit as much as you need us.   Look for us in self help, in group therapy, and amongst the folks who seem to cross your path by pure “coincidence.”

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.