Intensive Therapy Session # 2: Turning Toxic Shame Into Self-Compassion

Today, I learned that I developed two self images while growing up: the outwardly confident and happy me and the hidden, traumatized and shamed me. I see that my adult struggle has been integrating these two parts of myself which were bifurcated by my father’s abuse.

Those of you familiar with my second novel, “Mental (2018),” may note here that it is illustrative that it took me almost twenty-five years to pen that tale of identical twin sisters, or rather two parts of the same psyche…

When I am manic or depressed, I am more like that above mentioned latter part of myself, full of negative emotions. Someday soon, I hope, I will be more of the former healthier me, able to move through my day feeling together and successful.

Without me realizing it, part of myself developed in the darkness because I was sexually abused by my dad—I now call this part of me my “secret self” because it developed during dissociation.

Although the trials of this part of my personality remained hidden from me for most of my life until relatively recently when I was ready to deal with them, the traits of this “secret self” were absolutely ruling my life: body dysmorphic disorder, self-hatred, low self-esteem, desire for isolation, suicide attempts.

I had wished to disappear often in the last twenty-five years. I thought about taking my life hundreds of times and attempted to seriously take my life 10 times. I frequently fantasized about even somehow erasing all evidence that I had ever lived, frustrated that this was impossible. I never questioned why I felt this way, it just was. I learned today that this is the result of the toxic shame I felt from being abused from around the age of 3 until around the time I left for college.

I released this toxic shame during my last inpatient hospital stay because, as the saying goes, it had become “too heavy” to continue to hold onto if I was to continue to live at all, once I saw it for what it was. It was like backing up to see the entire picture—the shame had been driving me all along—I just hadn’t realized that by not fully accepting the repercussions of being an incest survivor, I couldn’t continue to survive.

Now that I see how this toxic shame drove my self-destruction, I want to respond to myself with self-love and self-compassion: the abuse wasn’t my fault and I want to heal myself, to feel better, and to be strong enough to feel free of my messy and dark childhood.

There is a new hope in my heart because now I know I am strong enough to heal my toxic shame and to love and be loved without it continuing to misdirect any positive feelings in my life toward self-hatred and self-destruction.

Toxic shame is commonly experienced by incest survivors who had little or no control over their bodies and little to no choice over their childhood fates. All of the negative response toward the abuser is refocused by the abused on herself, locked in a seemingly endless loop of feeling that she is fundamentally flawed, damaged, unworthy, dishonorable. But this cycle can be broken—survivors can rise up and have self-compassion, realizing that they have the power to heal their own childhood wounds because they are now free adults.

I finally feel free to love the girl whose brain blocked out the abuse as a result of thinking I wasn’t strong enough to deal with it, and I finally feel loving enough to feel compassion for the me who hated that same girl (who, of course, was me). I’m starting today with self-love and self-compassion in the hopes of becoming authentically and positively myself, integrated and wholly who I really am, finally all back in one piece.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Victoria Fincher says:

    I wish you well on your journey. Keep doing the hard stuff.


  2. Alabama says:

    Ugh. I am totally struggling with my own unacceptable unlovable “secret self” right now, that destructively shameful side of me that I just want to destroy, but clearly cannot do so without destroying myself. I don’t know how the heck to integrate it or accept it tho. All my attempts seem to backfire or fall to pieces. I’m relatively new to this healing journey tho, as I only just realized last year at age 45 that my mom is a narcissist. I had internalized that abuse for all that time, thinking I was the problem. Hopefully the truth will set me free, but wow is the meantime a bitch. Anyway, thank you for sharing your own struggle, cuz I totally get it.

    Liked by 1 person

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