So I saw this interview a few days ago, and its message about humiliation versus shame has been percolating in my head for a few days. It’s an Oprah interview with Dr. Brene Brown, who is a researcher who focuses on shame, where they discuss how one’s self-talk determines whether or not they will feel humiliated or shamed by a negative event. I’m not thrilled at how she says that shame is the #1 teaching tool and she sees it all the time in classrooms, as I’ve only been shamed by one or two teachers in my own academic career and it was definitely not something that was encouraged during the time I spent as an education major. (However, the education department itself had a grand time shaming me for having a mental illness, but that’s a story for another day.)
Aaaanyway, I was thinking about how I talk to myself and about myself, and about how I’ve internalized that shame very, very well. I’ve pretty much beaten it when talking about my body, as I am happy with my body physically and have learned to love myself and advocate for myself and other fatties out there, but mentally? Mentally is a completely different story. I beat the shit out of myself mentally on a pretty frequent basis, and usually over extremely inane things. The general manager at work told me the other day, “Sometimes I don’t think you have as much confidence in you, as other people have confidence in you.” It’s so very true. I am a rock solid ally for anyone else, and do not hesitate to give other people the benefit of the doubt and encouragement when they screw up, because we are all human after all, but when I do something dumb? I throw myself to the goddamn wolves.
I read something about how women in our society have been conditioned to treat themselves so poorly, that it would be considered abuse if they treated another human being or an animal that way- denying themselves food, calling themselves horrible things, never loving themselves or finding themselves worthy of anything, constantly berating themselves. And I realized, that how I treat myself mentally, how I think about myself mentally, is abuse. It’s the same abuse my father meted out, in fact, that has led to my spending a lifetime in and out of therapy, still trying to grapple with that little kernel of self-hatred buried deep inside. All of that shame that my father heaped on me when I was a child, I have taken upon myself to self-flagellate with now. I’ve let that shame and self-hatred live rent-free in my head for YEARS. The voices in my head that are so quick to judge me wanting might have started with my father, but I took them in and let them stay long after he was out of my life.
It’s not something that can be changed overnight. After all, my journey to accepting and loving my body has been one years in the making. After so many years of being abused and then taking on the role of my own abuser once the external one was out of my life, it’s going to take a long time to learn to love me for all of my mental flaws. And unlike in my journey to make peace with my perfectly good body, my mind is not in such great condition. It’s very broken, very fragile, and takes a lot of work to just keep myself feeling okay. It’s hard not to hate something so broken in myself, because I don’t WANT it to be broken anymore, but it’s not something I can really mend. I will have to love the bipolar disorder, the PTSD, and the anxiety if I’m going to love myself mentally. I’ll have to love the neuroses and compulsions and derisive voices.
I am visualizing my mental self as a child, my child. I would not treat a child so poorly as I treat myself. I would not hate a child for having shortcomings, or for making mistakes, even big ones. I would not bring up every failure the child has ever had over and over and over again. That’s already been done. It’s time to treat myself with respect, and learn to love my mental self.
It’s going to be a hell of a journey, and I’m not sure how well this one will play out.