Sunday, June 07, 2009

Residual Shame

I had an intense flashback to my abuse 2 days ago. It does not happen too often for which I am grateful, but when it does I try to keep my wits as best as possible. It was kinda funny/frustrating at first: M peed in the kitchen sink! He was going to wash his hands but when he turned the water on it made him have to go suddenly. So instead of having an accident he went in the sink. He was trying to be responsible, poor thing.

And how did I handle it? I said something to the effect of "that's gross/disgusting". I immediately saw how guilty he looked and how genuinely sorry he was. The most unnerving part was that he looked embarrassed. As I realized that he was trying solve a problem in an emergency and got yelled at anyway, I was yanked back to my childhood. I automatically worried that he was feeling like he was dirty or gross because of what I said. I was seized with fear thinking that I was putting my same issues that I dealt with right onto his shoulders to be repeated.

When I flashed back I remembered being shamed about my body growing up. There were times when I was shamed for eating because I was a chubby kid. There were times when I was shamed for not being clean and/or ladylike. This was usually a vicious cycle: I would forget to shower/brush teeth because I did not feel worthy of taking care of my body (probably from the sexual abuse), and then I would receive more shaming from my parents to be clean. I think it was for my mother's need to fit in as a perfect mother, so I did not stand out to other people as having problems. There were many times when I was very aware of how embarrassed my parents were to have such an awkward, overly sensitive, emotional child.

There was spiritual abuse from my mother: never have any desire to sin or you are "bad". And there was the emotional abuse from my mother: why are you kids acting like "A" when you know it makes me sad and depressed? The physical abuse from my father and mother: really angry spanking, throwing, yelling, sometimes slapping. And finally the sexual abuse at the hands of my father. I talk of all these abuses intertwining because that is the messy reality. I had a therapist say once that sexual abuse is symptom of many other problems. Clearly, this was the case in my family. The bottom line: I was ashamed of my body, among other things.

So after this M-and-sink incident, I sort of emotionally froze for the next day. It was a funny story, and I joked about it with people. I could even laugh about it. But in the back of my mind I kept regretting the way I handled it. I should have calmly explained instead of shaming M about his body. You see, M is very similar to me in many ways. I was a very sensitive child (as was R, so M never had a chance!), and would internalize many things. When I see M get embarrassed in his life, my knee jerk reaction is to address it and try to help him understand. I do not want him to carry unhealthy feelings about his body. He should have healthy understanding of how bodies work. All joking aside, peeing in the sink is not really that big of a deal. A simple explanation of how pee has germs and needs to go in the potty would have solved future incidents.

As I worked through my feelings that day I realized several things: I realized that regular childhood embarrassments are not the end of the world. M is experiencing the ups and downs of growing up, not abuse on all sides like I did. M just needs to know that I love him, and that I will try my best to help him. He will get embarrassed sometimes, and that is normal. Also, I was reminded that it is pointless to try and avoid embarrassment in life. It WILL happen. The best anyone can do is to work it out when it does happen. Finally, I realized that I should think and talk these things through. It is the only way to free yourself from them. It is painful, but necessary (for me.) So I eventually talked to R and admitted all the horrible scenes I was reliving. He reassured me that I am not my parents, and that M is not doomed to repeat my fate.

I tell this story to illustrate two things: (1) That the ripples of abuse can be very far-reaching, both into the future and deep into a survivor's psyche. Let this make abusers aware of the irreversible consequences of their actions. (2) Let this also make survivors aware of how important it is to be armed with tools from therapy. When I flashed back I knew to calmly face my demons until they had no power left. It took me a good full day, but I worked it out. I also talked to R and felt much better. You could also revisit a therapist if needed. I may make an appointment if I have any more flashbacks in the next few days.


McDonalds said...

Oh K, I think most parents, (probaby all parents) do things that make them feel so bad in their parenting role. I hate it when I do/say something that clearly effects my daughter emotionally (physically or mentally) in a negative way. What I really appreciate about you is that you are so sensative to healing your children in and through your personal process of making sense of life (even if it is no big deal like peeing in the sink). I just think you handel things so well and I admire you for this. Love you my friend...

Amy said...

Hi-I don't know you :) (found you through a friend's blog) but I just wanted to thank you for this post. I wasn't abused as a kid, but I've had some pretty huge insecurities and am always afraid of doing things that would help instill that sort of insecurity in my daughter. I like the conclusion you came to here--that normal embarrassment is okay, and that as a mom, you can help your kids get over embarrassment and feel loved and worthwhile in spite of it. Thanks for sharing.

Also thanks for the comments about tools from therapy--which are also strengths we can pass on to our kids.

aaron&marianne said...

what a post- and a brave one-
i constantly am fighting a temper with my girls- i never had one until i had kids! but i appreciate your post- i must do whatever i can to help myself use different tactics when i get close to loosing my temper- i just die inside when i've been too harsh-
thank you for your post