I am really excited tonight. I read something that made everything in my head make sense. It was this book.

Shame: Interpersonal Behavior, Psychopathology, and Culture

It begins with the premise that our emotional responses are adaptive solutions to problems. In other words, our emotions aren’t bad. Which I appreciate.

There are four possible responses to threat: fight, flight, freeze or appeasement.

Shame is the emotional experience that accompanies appeasement. The book claims, in a lot more words than this that are much more eloquently used, that shame is a way of signalling submission with, essentially, the behavioural communication that I have less status than you, I don’t pose a threat, and please don’t hurt me.

It’s commonly felt when we transgress social norms, because other people tend to react to the transgression of social norms with aggressive retribution.

It’s not really surprising that shame comes up as a feeling commonly associated with traumatic experiences. There is no social norm involved a lot of the time, but we are responding to aggressive violation of our boundaries, which can appear to best be solved by giving the person what they want.

But,if talking about that particular trauma, does violate social norms, we might will feel shame just about telling it.

I was thinking in abusive families, “norms” are invented, just to give someone a sense of control they aren’t able to gain by simply ordering and structuring their own lives. I have a friend with a controlling husband who has some weird belief about poison bananas he inflicts on the rest of the family.

Or the norm is something you can’t change, such as your nose, or something that doesn’t really matter and no one else actually cares about (suddenly your skirt is an ugly colour) Or even something you are not developmentally able to control, like crying when you are hungry or having separation distress.

Someone like me, who grew up with inconsistent boundaries, is scanning all the time for what the social norms are, because they were hard to figure out. So there are a lot of threats to react to.

Lacking a consistent caretaker in early childhood made it hard for me to learn to regulate myself physiologically, and all of these reactions to threat are hard to calm down or understand.

Particularly since admitting to feelings of shame itself violates a social norm.

Advertisements