Monday, March 24, 2008

Night Again, But a Glimpse of a Permanent Dawn

That experience helped to pull me out of my deep, suicidal depression. It was so powerful and uplifting. However, with in a couple of weeks I was back to being depressed. I told myself that if the only thing I had to look forward to in this life was one experience like that every ten years, or every year, or even just once every month, it wasn’t worth the pain that I experienced the rest of the time. I had a couple of good experiences with “healthy male relationships.” And the most frustrating part of the whole thing was that I didn’t feel that those experiences really helped me fill the void at all. I was pretty down.

Then I met with my therapist. He listened patiently while I ranted on about how miserable and hopeless my life was. Then he asked if I had ever heard of emotional reasoning. I told him that I hadn’t. He then used the example of a girl who has roommates who are fighting. She may feel guilty and somehow partly responsible for the argument, but the only proof she has that she is responsible is that she feels guilty. He then asked if I had any proof that I was unhappy, unfulfilled, and hopeless other than the fact that I felt that way.

I had to think about that for a minute. I had lots of reasons things sucked, but no proof that they were the reason I was feeling that way. The proof was that I felt that way. He then told me that all emotion has a motivational purpose. For example, if you are angry, your emotions are telling you to resolve some tension or to avoid being hurt in the future; if you’re lonely your emotions are trying to motivate you to connect with others. Well all emotions have a motivational purpose except one.

He asked me if there was any chance that the feelings I was having were based on the emotion of shame. I told him no way! This depression was not coming from the fact that I felt guilty about looking at porn now and again. I didn’t feel shame because of that. I was working to overcome it and felt good about my progress.

He then told me that shame didn’t have to be for actions at all. That stopped me in my tracks. It hurt like hell to admit it, but I realized that ultimately I was ashamed of who I was. I was ashamed of the “real me” that if anyone knew about, they’d hate me.

I saw how shame had effectively isolated me from the emotional connection that I so desperately craved and needed. I had been so miserable in Jr. High and High School. I faced so much rejection as I tried to fit in and find my place in the social world. It was painful. Eventually I became so desperate to escape from that pain that I learned to “numb” myself. I build a thick wall around my heart, effectively keeping out the unpleasant emotions that I was dealing with. Unfortunately, this wall also kept out the positive emotions. Worst of all, it cut me off from feeling any sort of connection with others, regardless of how outwardly outgoing and involved I appeared to be. It even blocked the connection with God.

The ironic thing about my wall, was that in building it, I had locked shame inside. I felt so much shame at who I was that I hated myself. I felt that I was, by nature, unacceptable to anyone. But there was one hope for me to become acceptable and good. I simply had to be perfect.

Such a simple solution. So much pain and discouragement. The more I tried to be perfect, the more I realized that I was lacking. That became my motivation for everything. Not just to make others think that I was good, but to prove to myself and to God that I was good enough. That was why I did everything: serving a mission, getting married, praying at night, reading my scriptures, serving in the church, working hard in school, everything!

Shame’s most vicious effect was that I was barred from feeling accepted by others. Until I could accept myself, I would never allow myself to be accepted, and until I could feel accepted, I would never feel the connection that is at the root of my attractions. Shame was keeping me from an emotional connection and then tried to tell me that I was broken: incapable of feeling fulfilled in a “healthy male relationship.” In reality if had nothing to do with my ability to be fulfilled, it is just that the connection is incompatible with shame

I think it is important to note that shame is in no way related to guilt, or Godly sorrow. It isn’t feeling bad for what you did, it’s hating yourself for what you did or are. My therapist explained that shame really has only one purpose: it is used to control people. That sounds an awful lot like someone else’s plan. And shame ultimately leads only to despair and misery.

The problem was shame was causing a lot of other feelings like discouragement, hopelessness, and the feeling of being unfulfilled. I was just accepting those feelings as being true just because I felt them. I learned that I have to follow my emotions to their core and find out what is really causing them, rather than just accepting them. I could then immediately reject any feelings that where shame based.

Once I learned to do that, I felt incredible! I felt free and liberated. I had hope of finally being happy. I was a good person. I had worth that was completely independent of what I did. Even if I sinned, I was still lovable and acceptable. I was holding myself to a ridiculously high standard. On to which I would never hold anyone else! So why was I so different?

Well there is my spill on shame. I know it was long, but those insights have been invaluable to me and they set the stage for what happened next.

1 comment:

ThoughtsFeelingsInstincts said...

When you say that by putting up a wall you not only kept others out, but locked your shame inside, that was a a brillian insight! And that holding on to shame is incompatible with experiencing true, satisfying connection. Shame is insidious. I think the only way to remove it is to literally force yourself to open up to others.