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Shame and Pride

Shame is one of the more challenging issues for trauma survivors, and affects many people who have C-PTSD very deeply. Please exercise selves-care on this topic, take everything very slowly, and please bring your professional team into the loop if y'all are experiencing shame issues or identify with the issues on this page.

Shame as an instinct or emotional reaction tells us to hide, that it's dangerous to be seen or found out. As such it's a natural instinct gained around the age a child can walk and wander, and makes a child freeze to consider their behavior and what they've done wrong. Natural shame is temporary and healed with proper attention and care from a loving caregiver.

Shame, as a trauma survivor, is an internalized injury from an ego or self-esteem attack. It can happen when a child is made to feel that they are bad, that they are not worthy of being seen. If a child blames themself for something that goes wrong, internalizes it, and is shamed, they feel as if they are not worthy of fitting into their clan, tribe, social network or society. Instinctually this creates a response that to survive (fitting in is an instinctual part of survival) they will have to hide the thing they have been shamed about. That if anyone were to find out how bad or unworthy they are, they would be exiled.

Some might say DID is built on that instinct to hide. That this self-esteem blow could be enough reason that a child can't live with themself and starts to hide the injury even from themself. Internalizing the shame, pushing parts of themself away, the child creates pockets to even hide the shame along with the shameful circumstances. Because being ousted from the support of their tribe is unacceptable. This deep moral injury creates so much conflict it becomes a survival crisis.

As adult survivors, we may develop this deep need to hide, not be seen, and not understand where it comes from. We may act, but feel we are unworthy of attention or love. Hiding can come in many forms, so sometimes it may just help to assume that we have this issue and ask "What am I hiding from?" or "What are we hiding from?" and see what answers arise from it.

The shamed insiders may come paired with protectors and defenders. They may or may not be more accessible than the shamed internal folks.

Ways to address shame include bringing the shame itself into the light. Not necessarily exposing the people, but talking about the fact that the shame is present. Interestingly, this doesn't have to trigger more shame in itself (though it can) because it's not talking about why there's shame; it's not exposing the reason for the shame. Understand that shame is a survival response. There should be no shame in protecting yourselves. Ask yourselves how your shame helps you take care of and protect yourselves.

Another step in dealing with shame is reframing the circumstances more objectively and realistically. If this happened to someone else, would you blame the victim?

Shame is a good situation for recruiting their protector to help take care of the shamed system member. Acknowledging the real blame belongs with the situation or the adults who failed to protect them, dealing with the hurt and traumatized headmate with love and compassion, and helping them to see that they are worthy, and helping them recover from their flashbacks (see Rescue Missions New and our podcast episode about Onboarding Residents).

System-wide, pride is a good foil to shame feelings or a legacy of shame. Those headmates who are able to be prideful can carry the banner of plural, multiple or DID system pride for a while until others are willing to join in. Knowing that you/y'all are valid, that you were a victim, not to blame for what happened, that it's OK to be seen, heard, and loved — are all very important parts of healing the self-esteem and coming out of hiding which are the legacy of this self-esteem injury.

Y'all don't have to go straight from shame to pride. There's plenty of middle ground — healing boundaries, reframing abuse situations and putting the blame on the people or societal structures that disempowered you, or harmed you, and fighting for yourself and others can be helpful milestones on a road between shame and pride.

Shame is a natural emotion. It's a survival instinct, it's adaptive and it's OK to feel shame. Remember that shame is healed by love and compassion, by being understanding, and by putting the responsibility where it belongs and taking responsibility when it really is our fault (but it's not our fault as a child, we mean as an adult).

Sometimes shame is at the heart of self-harm. Balancing out harmful behaviors with new loving behaviors, reaching inwards a little bit at a time to send love and comfort and compassion to the hurt inner child, just a little bit each time, may be able to help.

Going from shame to pride is not a lightswitch. It's more like healing a plant that didn't get enough water. And the answer is love. Sometimes you have to nurse a plant back to health. Dumping water on it and walking away isn't enough. It needs warmth, protection, to be turned towards the light, and cared for.

Consider setting up a re-parenting situation for headmates buried in shame. They need love and to be seen and cared for on a consistent basis over a long period of time.

If you believe a headmate is struggling with shame, and you have a professional team, please bring it up with them if you can. This is a situation where y'all could use a lot of support.

In terms of building pride gradually, the conference session on Plural Activism & Selves-Advocacy talks about going from advocating for each other inside your system and being internal activists through eventually (over time) advocating for yourselves externally and eventually becoming community activists externally — basically the whole journey of standing up for each other internally as individuals through standing up for yourselves individually or as a whole, inside & out.

Credits: Some of the thoughts in this article were heavily influenced by the NICABM Advanced Master Program on the Treatment of Trauma and their shame session, the System Speak podcast's Shame episode (#43), and Dr. Serenity Sercesión's Healing Together presentation on Pride.

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