On The All-Consuming Shame and Anger After Trauma
As a recent survivor of interpersonal trauma, comprising both physical and moral injury, shame is beginning to consume me.
I didn't understand the concept of shame, at first.
Physicians and therapists would bring the emotion up appointment after appointment.
"It's ok to feel shame... it's a natural part of the healing process."
I denied it. I didn't feel shame. I felt proud to have survived.
Or did I?
For a year, I swiftly evaded my feelings of shame. Burying it deep within, like a time capsule, hoping to delay its discovery for at least a lifetime.
But, it wasn't a time capsule. It was a ticking time bomb.
What is shame? Shame vs. guilt.
Shame is really hard to talk about. In fact, it wasn’t until 2013 that shame was officially recognized as a crucial diagnostic element for PTSD by the medical community.
Shame and guilt are not one in the same. Whereas guilt is a negative evaluation of one's actions, shame is a negative evaluation of the self.
Studies show strong links between:
Guilt and prosocial behavior (e.g. owning up to one's mistakes).
Shame and antisocial behavior (e.g. addiction, depression).
It's hard to be open about shame. In my experience, it has to be uncovered—hopefully by a professional.
How does shame manifest? The link between shame and anger.
Back to the aforementioned floodgates.
When shame reared its ugly head in my life, I felt anger.
Heart-pounding, blinding, seething rage.
Rage at my abuser.
Rage at the detective who chose to charge and arrest me, instead of helping. Rage at the threats he doled out to me, as if life were a mere game. Rage at the humiliation he made me endure, placing me in a situation so dire and powerless, when he was supposed to be a victim's advocate. Forcing me to recount my traumas as an abuse victim over and over to strangers (criminal defense lawyers) during the most helpless and horrific moments of my life. Forbidding me even a moment's time to process the sheer audacity of it all. Gaslighting me to the point that I doubted my own innocence for stretches of time (DA dropped charges against me).
Rage at our disgusting, shameful, cruel joke of a criminal justice system.
Abuse of power is an uncontrolled fire that, when burns, leaves a forever scar.
A scar so deep and raw that its power to permeate even the most benign occurrences in life, post-trauma, is limitless.
Like a virus, the pain multiplies within the host—i.e., trauma survivor—creating an effect so significant that, whether actual or perceived, the survivor is forced into separation.
There's The Before, and The After. The survivor, and the others.
And while moments may occur that resemble a semblance of times that once were, things will never be the same.
That's what the survivor knows, that others need to constantly be reminded of.
Things. Will. Never. Be the same.
The life of a pariah isn't all leprosy and disease. It can be far more subtle.
I still feel anger, and don't really know what to do with it. I've channeled it toward "healthy outlets" like running, playing instruments, writing (oh hi), yet the repressed rage blooms faster than the red steam lets loose and evaporates.
Sometimes the anger escapes—often in the form of unwarranted irritation toward an undeserving individual. Which then fosters more shame. Thus, the shame-anger cycle continues.
"But you have to trust the process," says my therapist.
Says the group therapy facilitator.
Says the general zeitgeist.
And so, I trust it.
Because as counterintuitive as trusting the anger may feel, resisting it feels far more dangerous.
One thing's for sure: I'm done being told anger is an "ugly emotion."
When it comes to trauma, anger is a necessary emotion.