That Tape! and My Triggered Flood of Shame Memories Starting At Age 6

I felt the over bearing weight of shame that I did not deserve or provoke….Have you ever felt that?

Shame doesn’t really care who’s taking it on, even if it’s not deserved.

When I was asked to write about the Donald Trump media leak of him bragging about sexually assaulting women, I thought it wouldn’t’ be hard to conjure up some opinions on the subject. I am, after all, a woman who has a vagina that could possibly be up for grabs by him, so yes please, I’d like to tell you what I think. However, as I sat down to write about it, my thoughts became all jumbled and messy, and I would begin draft after draft only to erase the whole thing and start over. Why was I having so much trouble writing an objective piece on hearing a man who is running for President of the United States talk so openly about grabbing and kissing women?

I took a long time to sort out my thoughts, and when I finally did, what I discovered was an ocean of bad memories of my own sexual assaults, with the first being when I was six years old. I pushed these memories out of my mind, covered them up with other happier memories, like my wedding day and the birth of my daughter. But now, here they were. All dusty and dirty, occupying space in my mind. So now I guess I have to deal with these feelings. Fuck.

The first memory from when I was a little girl happened around my home by a kid I knew. He didn’t rape me, or molest me, but he did expose his penis to me and grabbed my hand to make me touch it. He was 13.

While I don’t remember many details of what lead up to that event, I do remember the feeling that came over me that I later recognized as shame. For the first time at six years old, I felt the over bearing weight of shame that I did not deserve or provoke. It was thrust upon me and in a span of no more than 10 seconds; this feeling became a part of me, and reared its ugly head a lot over the years.

I felt shame again when I was 10 and a brother of a kid in my school chased me and grabbed my chest really hard, then ran away laughing, and again when I was 19 and a guy in my group of friends pulled down my top to expose my breasts then jammed his hand down my pants, and again when I was in my 20’s and the manager of a fine dining restaurant I worked at for a few years harassed me, sexualized and bullied me so much I started to feel nauseous on the way to work.

When I sit down and define what the feeling of shame actually is for me, it’s a combination of fear that I will somehow be in trouble if I report it or don’t go along with it, that no one will believe me anyway, and that it will automatically be assumed that I did something to provoke this unwanted behavior.

Relationship 911: Unpacking Shame

The ways we perceive the actions of others reflect how we see ourselves. I knew I had a problem with shame because of how I’d been treating my partner.

It began innocently enough.

“Are you really going to eat all of that?” I’d ask playfully, as if monitoring his eating would negate my own cravings.

“You did what in high school?” I’d gasp, appalled at whatever crazy anecdote came up. As if I were Mother Theresa.

I was looking at his past under the same negative microscope with which I judged my own. This served to confirm my belief that my mistakes made me a bad person.

Shame was deeply rooted in my relationship history, but I covered it with false bravado, impulsiveness and deflection. Subconsciously, I kept focus away from my own negative qualities by looking for them in others. Even in those I loved.

At the time, I saw this as a positive behavior. I would point to something I saw as a fault in my lover, then actively assert myself in “helping” him fix it. I thought that this made me a good partner. But in truth, I was anything but.

I didn’t know how to love someone without trying to improve him or her somehow – even if my words said otherwise, and even if I didn’t really want to change them. I couldn’t help myself. Judgment, blame and shame were all that I knew, even when life was good.

“Blame is [a] defensive cover-up for shame. Blame maintains the balance in a dysfunctional system when control has broken down.” – John Bradshaw, Healing the Shame that Binds You

I could say that I developed these habits because of my religious upbringing, where love came with conditions. Or I could blame my actions on past relationships, because they all seemed to have been dysfunctional in this way. But to actually solve the problem, I would have to look at the common denominator in these factors: me.

I didn’t know how to love myself without pretense or perfectionism. And because I didn’t take the time to admit this before I entered the relationship, it took a big toll on my partner. I was ruining my life, without even realizing it.

At the time, I was convinced that I was in the right. I believed that caring for people in spite of their shortcomings was the same as unconditional love. The very foundation of my relationships had been poisoned by shame. I acted defensively by default, manifesting of my own deepest fears. I truly loved my partner, but I was doing it wrong.

It took a great deal of therapy, self-reflection and rock bottom moments for me to finally have the guts to look in the mirror and acknowledge the fearful person staring back at me.