I was thrown into shame at the age of 17 which would turn into a self-defeating cycle for at least the next decade.
Is this uncommon and why is this important?
Shame, essentially the opposite of self-worth, requires that your self-esteem not only be bottomed out, but that you will seek out and experience similar circumstances and experiences to what originally occurred because you don’t believe you are worth more...which, in turn, will only serve to perpetuate the belief and you will exhibit further self deprecating behaviors. What is the effect? At the worst case, eating disorders, drug use, and other unfortunate results can occur, and then there’s overall poor health. If you believe at your very core that you are not worth anywhere near your true worth, you are not going to pursue healthy behaviors, thoughts, patterns, or ways of being in the world. This can and often does have lifelong consequences.
I was a server in a couple of restaurants in high school where I was the subject of pretty extreme sexual harassment. When actual sexual assault finally occurred, I fell into my lowest point emotionally. Looking back, I can almost picture myself moving emotionally further and deeper into myself so that in the end I felt like just a mere shell of a human being. Not to mention that I was shell shocked.
Before this occurred, I didn’t have impeccable self esteem. I had some circumstances in my early life that didn’t exactly set me off on the right foot. Additionally, I was keenly aware from a very young age that girls were supposed to be accepted by others, at all costs. The societal messages in some subtle and not so subtle ways came in loud and clear. I was supposed to be perfect, and if I couldn’t be perfect, then I had to be accepted. Nothing was good enough, which wasn’t even a possibility. With this ingrained belief, going into an atmosphere of sexual harassment and assault, I was hit pretty hard.
What followed was years of essentially ruminating in shame. It became who I was, which meant I didn’t know who I was. I floundered for years, spending many years struggling with an eating disorder, drug use and abusive relationships. I was running from myself because if I got too close to myself, I may see that I was just as inadequate and unworthy as I thought I was. Worse than that I believed myself to be a bad person who couldn’t be trusted. So I stayed with my self-hate, humiliation and fear. It was uncomfortable, almost unbearable to be in my own skin. It was through this lens of self loathing that I saw and experienced the world around me.
In high school on one occasion I ate several pills at a friend’s house with the intent to not wake up. I did wake up, but I don’t remember the three days I spent in her bedroom thereafter.
I am one lucky girl.
I not only got out alive but I completely turned my life around. It was through my self discovery where I went into the health field. But not until years upon years of counseling and art therapy and fostering inner awareness, compassion and forgiveness. I became healthy from the inside out slowly and surely. I consciously worked through all of the ugly feelings until I hit a point where I felt healed.
Why do I talk about shame? Because I see it in so many women I work with. And I also see that harboring shame, even shame that is seemingly pushed to a corner of the psyche, is a major obstacle to achieving inner, and outer, health. Shame is an epidemic of the female race.
When we identity and give a name and voice to our burdens, they lose some major power over us. Furthermore, voicing our experiences removes the stigma around these emotions and issues. Carrying a heavy load on our backs and in our minds serves as a major roadblock to health and wellness.
I never imagined that I would overcome this burden. And never in a million years did I think that I would end up full of inner health, self-assured and content. It requires shaking out the cobwebs to fully embrace our own value.
We are all, each and every one of us, magnificent and universal love.