Buh-Bye Toxic Shame!
Recovery for me has included unburdening of generations of the toxic shame imposed on me. I now have the tools to identify what is mine to amend and for what exactly what I am responsible. I can not and will no longer be sorry for: existing, feeling and thinking differently and deeply, speaking my truth, attempting to meet my own most basic needs or taking up space.
As a girl and young adult, I was truly sorry, all of the time, for all of the things. My constant thoughts and words, attempts to seek forgiveness: “I am sorry I felt that way. I am sorry I reacted that way. I am sorry I made you feel that way. I am sorry I made you act that way. I am sorry for my skin color, my birth name, my skinniness, my height, foot size, my voracious appetite, limiting food preferences, my screaming angry family, the shape of my nose, my anxiety, my insecurity, my despair, the clothes I wear, my family’s religions and ethnicity, the weird foods served in our house, my mother’s appearance and personality, my father’s accent and Egyptianness.” I am done being sorry. I was ashamed of my shame. I felt good about one thing, my cat. I am definitely sorry for pain or trouble caused by me. When we know better, we do better. While I do affect how others feel about me, I repeat, as many times as I need to, I do not make another person lie, sneak, steal, gossip, cheat, do drugs, abuse, deceive. I am just not that powerful.
You know what I am now sorry for, what I apologize for, what I am willing and able to amend? Those moments when I could have done better. I am sorry for things I have said and done that have caused harm(not upset or displeasure), but legitimate harm, knowingly or otherwise. I am sorry and work daily to be intentional with my words, attitudes and behaviors. This requires a lot of unlearning- dumping of learned behaviors and faulty beliefs, adopting a better way.
I learned to exist in shame and that the burden of shame was the price to be paid to and extracted by those “claiming to be right—living in a state of rightness”. Sadly, I took up the practice of shaming and punishing others for disappointing or frustrating me. I think in the world of therapy, behaving this way, is referred to as offloading shame. Unhealed shame does not go away without intention and commitment to doing the work to heal. Shame is healed or passed on and perpetuated, manifesting in— Recklessness or over-controlling of people, food, drugs, sex, exercise, cleaning, shopping, people pleasing, striving for perfection, strained hot/cold relationships, bad marriages, unresolved conflict, egg shells forever…
Striving for perfection is the opposite of healthy striving– rooted in shame, not self-love or self-esteem.
To be armed with shame resilience, a healthy sense of self, knowing where you stop and others begin, with the appropriate sense of accountability, this is an advantage I can offer my children. They get to make mistakes, amend, and move on. They need not be perfect or sorry. And fuck anyone insisting otherwise. They will not be manipulated and diminished in these ways, without knowing what is happening. For now, they are small and being placed in conflict, just trynuh survive. But they, at least, know what IT is, that uneasy feeling in their guts telling them something is not right….and that something is NOT them and not their imagination. THIS is the fight of my life, to spare my children from the legacies of shame, addiction, and very sick entanglements.
Oh and you know what else I am sorry for–for participating in my own abuse and neglect, for submitting myself to others who thought it ok. I will spend the rest of my days taking better care of me and walking TF away from anyone suggesting that I(or others) earn or deserve pain and fear, which they will righteously impose. Even as I stumble, on my way out the door, my head is high and my shoulders square. When you hit my boys or me with your shame issues and vibes, we are Returning To Sender.
“I decided that the single most subversive, revolutionary thing I could do, was to show up for my own life and not be ashamed.” ~Anne Lamott
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