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Shame and Attachment — from Attachment Disorder Maryland

Shame and Attachment

The page linked above is talking about ‘wishing to disappear’, states of experiencing the world in slow motion, and the endless cycle of sabotage. I’ve possibly never been so relieved to identify so deeply …

Description: The feeling of shame can be described as a sense of smallness, worthlessness, and powerlessness in a given situation.  …  It is triggered by a “perceived” break in one’s connectedness to others or to oneself. This is compounded by feeling exposed and extremely concerned about another’s evaluation of oneself.  Shame can be defined as the emotional experience of another’s devaluation or disgust, real or imagined. It is a self-absorbed, self-centered, and isolating experience.  While acutely feeling shame, an individual is not considering the implications of his behavior for others, but is focused solely on the possible impact on self.  Shame essentially splits a person into both an “observer” and “the one being observed”.  The observer part witnesses and criticizes the part being observed.  Sometimes, the presence of another is not even required to generate shame.

Shame & behavior:  Shame is self-perpetuating.  Internalized shame tends to induce behavior in the future that will lead to an outcome of further shame.  This is not recognized at the time.  The original motive for the behavior appears to have nothing to do with shame.  Yet, shame invariably results, and this final outcome indicates the true, underlying motive for the behavior as being the generation of shame, rather than the prior illusory motive.  Behavioral attempts to escape shame always work this way.  This can easily lead to an upwards spiral as increasing amounts of shame accumulate within which then fuels further shame-creating behavior.  …

Systemic impact:  Shame is more than a feeling.  It is an entire organismic state that affects multiple systems in the body.  Shame operates at primitive levels below the reach of rational thinking.  Shame brings with it a subjective sense of time slowing down which serves to magnify anything that occurs during a state of shame.  It also is accompanied by intensified feedback from all perceptual modalities, particularly autonomic reactions such as blushing, sweating, and increased heart rate.  These autonomic reactions induce a state of heightened bodily awareness which combines with the slowed sense of time to produce the extreme self-consciousness that is a part of feeling shame.

Shame and trauma:  Shame both mirrors trauma and is bound up with it.  Much of the power of what we term traumatic events lies in the shame bound up with these events.  Through traumatic events, perpetrators can download their own shame onto the victim who ends up being pervaded by it.  For the victim, this becomes an experience of powerlessness or helplessness.  Perceptions of being powerless create shame, for the self is seen as being weak / ineffective.  This often leads children to vow to “do it right” the next time in an attempt to overcome the trauma and prevent further trauma.  This can easily evolve into a perfectionistic stance which, in the end, only fuels the shame, as perfectionism generally guarantees failure.

Shame signals:  In addition to aversion to all eye contact, shame can manifest as fragmented thought and speech including: pauses, repetitions, false starts, inaudible voice level, and unclear diction.  All of these are common with AD children.  Subjectively this often gets reported as “going blank”, somewhat like dissociation.

Coping Defenses: The primary defenses for handling shame are denial, dissociation from all feeling states, splitting, withdrawal, perfectionism, entitlement, externalization, rage-driven behavior, pre-emptive shaming of oneself, and inability to give or receive praise.  With repeated use, these defenses, like all defenses, can function so quickly that the child never even consciously experiences any shame….

… Attempting to counter all this with positive reassurance is potentially damaging, for it can accentuate the shame by being so at odds with the self-image, and it can make the person offering such feedback seem completely out of touch to the AD child.



Trigger #2millionfourtytwo.five:

How am I:

I’m either in crisis, incredibly scared and shaky and just barely staying out of the hospital right now OR I’m doing more wonderful than I’ve ever been. Coming to bloom in the garden of life. Experiencing enlightenment. A bright shining light of inspiration and wisdom. Enjoying summer and friends and my happy new home.

On Friday, I began the day by reaching out for help in the face of having been distracted by increasing thoughts of how to kill myself, feeling hopeless, that no one was ever going to get me. Coming up with a plan for how to stay alive over the weekend, alone in the house with my roommate gone. It was an accomplishment that this was taken seriously and I received the caring I needed in order to have a re-do.

That the doc was not treating me less seriously than the ones who act out instead of hold it all in. That I need to feel the depth of these feelings in someone else’s presence, and how hard that is. Finally, I felt got!

I went for a walk with a friend that afternoon, mentioned nothing to her of my morning or what was going on. Took her lead instead to speak about writing and indulge ourselves in simple time together in the sun by the river, feeling peaceful and content and having good conversation about creativity and healing. Feeding the creative muses in both of us.

I got home, thawed out some home-made chili from the freezer, ate it, and went to my ACA meeting.

As soon as I walked in the door, I was struck by the feeling of not knowing how I was – was I in crisis, or was I enjoying the fruits of my labour in life? I honestly did not know.

This confusion was (is) so terrifying for me that I went into shock. I felt the Dead Feeling in my body and face, barely able to rouse a facial expression, sitting slumped in my chair, unable to look at anyone. Managing to read aloud my part in the opening to the meeting, managing to function just barely enough to not disrupt the meeting or draw attention to myself, and meanwhile sliding further into shock and the Silent Panic.

By the end of the meeting, it was so intense that I reached out for help, and concluded with a close recovery friend that I should not spend the night alone, and should go to the hospital if I couldn’t get a hold of anyone else to stay with.

The recovery friend went back into the meeting room for the second part of the meeting, and I moved to my car with my cell phone to find a place to go that night. I finally cried and shook when she hugged me good night. I was really scared and not in control of myself – not myself, and feeling exposed in that state, unable to think clearly and make decisions.

I couldn’t get a hold of anyone on the phone, so I decided to show up at someone’s house. But it was near the hospital too, so maybe I should just go there. I turned around several times, driving back and forth between the person’s house and the hospital, eventually up to the hospital. But then I realized I was almost out of smokes, and didn’t want to spend the night in the emerg room without smokes. So I went home and continued my phone search. By this time, my abdomen was in pain, enough for me to be slightly doubled over and moving quite slowly. I equate this with emotional stress, as that is where it tends to be stored in my body. I spoke with a couple other recovery friends, telling them what was happening. But they were unable to put me up for the night. I had never reached out in this way before.

Finally found someone who could. As soon as I left the house, on my way to be with someone in my time of need, I felt calmer, and began to come out of the shock and panic.

By the next morning, I felt like myself again. I invited some people for a potluck, made soup, and went for a hike and a swim with the same friend as the previous day.

This friend had no idea that my visits with her had been sandwiched between near admission to the hospital.

Is this real yet? What will it take for my Child to believe that her pain is real, her feelings are real, her distress is valid. What has been happening to me?

Does this not sound insane?

It scares me that I have this range, and the capacity for such extremes.



inwards vs. outwards: no one is better, no one suffers more

I came across a bdp discussion forum last night discussing the notion of the Quiet (or Inwards) Borderline. A post there expressed disagreement with bdp subtypes, and criticism of the notion that Quiet Borderlines either a) Suffer more than “outwards” and / or b) Are somehow less ill or easier to deal with.

painting by tammera

painting by tammera

Some of my writings here on this blog might inspire similar reactions, as if I am demonizing outward bdp and making saints of inwards.

I don’t think it’s useful in any contemplations of bdp to compare levels of suffering — that is completely subjective, and impossible to ever really know or compare.

I think there are indeed many outcomes of the underlying patterns that define bdp, but those underlying patterns are the same in all of us, and we all suffer greatly with them.

Some of us turn our suffering inwards. In my case, it can be impossible for those around me to know what is going on for me until I become desperate enough to let it show; and in my case, I must decide to do so. Consequently, I often feel like I am a fraud, “dramatizing” my feelings in order to receive support that maybe i don’t deserve. Am I over-dramatizing or minimizing my experiences? It is a different reality in every day, or every moment at times. I feel the chronic aloneness, emptiness, self-doubt and fear of abandonment of any borderline; and my sense of confidence, status, personality and role in the world are as unstable. I am inconsistent in mood, energy and personality; which is often devastating to my relationships, and perpetuates my aloneness, self-doubt and abandonment fears in an endless cycle.

In my experience of being an inwards borderline, no one would say that I am a difficult person. I think what some might think (though they would never say it) is that they do sense something a little unsure or unstable, something i am hiding from them, and they therefore do not deem me trustworthy, and are not very comfortable around me. There is a sense of caution, like there is something dark and scary beneath the surface that is scarily subtle and ominous enough as to make people quietly and sneakily distance themselves from me. No one would think that I am mentally ill and may just require a little extra patience, support and encouragement; they just think i’m a little “off” and aren’t really drawn to get to know me too well. Some of my friends are probably saying this is a load of crap, but my recovery depends on my own ability to validate this experience I have, intentionally let it show and receive the treatment that I need around it. I have to choose and work at living more honestly in the world to escape the endless isolation that swallows me whole. It is the degree of this, the intensity to which i feel it, and my ability to hide it that qualify this a dangerous, precarious and pathological reality. The hardship of this outcome of bdp, and the common misconception on the parts of friends and mental health professionals, is the assumption that because I can control what I show, I cannot truly need treatment. This leads me to thinking that I am a fraud, until I read about others this way, and the term “quiet borderline.”

compassion painting

the heart of the matter of living

While the quiet borderline (in my experience) experiences subtle social isolation, invalidation and abandonment by the mental health profession for not being “ill” enough; the outward borderline, it seems to me, experiences overt social isolation and abandonment by the mental health profession for being “too ill to treat.”

Both borderline outcomes end up feeling the same thing–isolation, hopelessness and unworthiness. Both suffer. Both require and deserve radical acceptance, compassion and support. One is not “better” than the other; and one is not more treatable than the other.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for listening. Please comment!

Love, HJ

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to my therapist–“titanic”

The surest way to earn my distrust is to praise or compliment me. Praises are the bars of my cage, the language of denial, abandonment and the chaos of unreality that snapped me in two.

People have been telling me there’s nothing wrong with me all my life; that I’m making things up, making assumptions,  giving too much weight to negative thoughts, “choosing” to see things negatively. If they were right, I wouldn’t be here.

It feels like the only way to heal is to block them out, acknowledge the parts of me that aren’t okay, reassure those parts that they have good reason, and make amends to them for abandoning and ignoring them.

My intelligence betrays my heart, again and again; people think I’m way too (intelligent, articulate, capable) to ever need or deserve support. I was like the titanic. Those compliments stifled the pain in my heart and the confusion in my soul like the second-class passengers locked below while the music played on above.

I don’t want to shine or stand out in any way for a very long time. I’ve spent a half-life overachieving, to at least gain praise if I couldn’t have love. And even that has failed me. Eventually, the water became to heavy; I snapped in two and sank because people thought I was too talented to warrant due human dilligence. I do feel betrayed and entitled. No, it is not entitlement; it is that I cannot pull myself from the ocean floor alone, and I will not. No one deserves to raise the titanic alone.

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Walking the line in flip-flops

My intensity–in anger and enthusiasm–has scared me (and others I think).

In other moments, I feel like there is nothing wrong with me; I’ve been making it all up and being a drama queen. When I am strong enough to embody that, I feel guilty for receiving the support I am receiving, like I don’t really warrant or deserve it, and there are so many others who need it. I feel like a fraud.

Then I have nights like tonight when I see why I am here. I am fragile like a leaf on the highway. Interactions with others in my life have brought up such intense feelings of rejection and abandonment that I feel unable to sustain my relationships with them. I have awoke in this state at 3o’clock in the morning crying (and breathing deeply). I may have to miss some engagements tomorrow.

I feel like I can’t be seen by non-recovery people, or those who don’t know my story. They are Outsiders. I don’t like this feeling of hiding what is going on for me–something I did around everyone before I attempted to end my life. I promised myself since then that I wasn’t going to do that anymore, that I couldn’t do that any more, that it was a matter of life and death.

I don’t have my skin on around the Outsiders, and I feel way too vulnerable to be with them. It’s like I have no skin and the air is filled with tiny knives that pierce my fascia.

I am a child’s heart isolated and abandoned at times by my intellect.

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what is pathology & what are people for?

What level of aloneness and fear should I expect myself to handle alone? What level is normal? What should I expect of myself and my life? What have I suffered through alone that I shouldn’t have–when should I have asked for help? What is an overwhelming emotion? What parts of my experience are pathological / need some bandaids? What parts should I be able to deal with alone?

If everything I need to know to heal comes from inside of me, what do I need others for? That just says to me that nothing is going to change; I just have to buck up and deal with it better.

I’m sorry, but I do feel a sense of entitlement–for the emotional support and protection I should have received so long ago. I am entitled to not feel alone, and to receive the therapy I have needed for so long.


CoDA 12-Step: My own criteria

I never posted this here, but I think it belongs, in my effort to collect all the ashes:

CoDA 12-step program — Step One: What is Unmanageable

• Desperate need for validation & feedback
• Chronic loneliness & low self worth
• Inconsistent personality & mood, dependent on external people and events (contexts)
• Need and ability to impress, like an autopilot function
• Forcing things to happen by working harder & longer
• Compulsive working, getting carried away in the vision of how good it could be and what a great thing I could do. If I could do something really great, I would finally be loved and all my problems would disappear. Maybe this time … Over and over again.
• Sense of faking it till I made it; pretending I wasn’t desperate or unstable, having it leak out uncontrollably and unpredictably and feeling rejected and abandoned as a result, then hating myself, progressively more.
• Memories of tiny moments that haunt me, causing me to relive the humiliation of the moment with a visceral and physical reaction. Moments that really devastate me emotionally, cutting me down like a reed.
• Growing sense of overall humiliation in life from the lack of lasting relationships and professional endeavors. All the starts and stops.
• Progressive shame, embarrassment and exhaustion over the degree of chaos and instability in my life, and the lack of social support I had to help me deal with the chaos. It was so much for so long that it became too embarrassing and awkward to talk about.
• Alone in these feelings cause no one would OUTWARDLY believe or admit that I could possibly really have problems. People were trying to be supportive by continuing to tell me how brilliant and intelligent and capable and special i was. They didn’t realize how alienating these words felt to me because they denied and invalidated the internal experience I was having. “I must be even crazier than I’d thought, for thinking I’m crazy in the first place.”
• Most recently, feeling these things while having to keep the face of extraordinary leadership. The ship finally broke in two.
• My whole life seems like a bad memory; i would wipe it out of my brain, but then i’d have no past, no roots, though now i have been describing my past like decapitated limbs floating around inside me. Where’s my continuity.
• The feeling of hopeless isolation; after all the personal growth work i have done, these things continue.