(Long entry but read it till the end..)
Ever since I started therapy, I have been doing a lot of self-reflection especially when I am able to find a quiet place to think (along with my pen, journal and good coffee!). My previous therapist would ask me inquisitive questions which most of the time, I wouldn’t be able to answer there and then. Usually, time alone especially in a different environment gives me that space to reflect on her questions and I would return to therapy to share them with her. It is amazing the things that I come to realise during my self-reflection.
One of the things which I discovered from my ‘self-reflection’ sessions was that talking about my childhood is difficult because of how ashamed I was of it. The thought of discussing about my physical, verbal (and I realised now, sexual too) abuse was not an easy topic to talk about. Those who have never walked in the shoes of survivors of childhood abuse, would never be able to fathom the pain they go through even though they are adults now. Of course, I don’t expect everyone to understand, but sometimes, having empathy is enough.
Moreover, I also realised that people tend to become uncomfortable when the topic revolves around ‘speaking ill’ of parents. A few weeks ago, I shared some details with a close friend about my childhood horrors and the rather unstable relationship that I still have with my mom. She was empathetic but I could tell that she was starting to get uncomfortable after awhile. I noticed a change in her behaviour and immediately stopped. We never talked about it ever since. I don’t blame her actually because I think this ‘uncomfortable’ feeling is universal. A couple of years ago, when I desperately needed advice on how to deal with my mom, I wrote in to those ‘advice columns’ because I could maintain anonymity for fear that if people knew my name, they would judge me for asking such questions. Talking about it was out of the question at that time. The reply I received was overall sympathetic but then there was guilt attached to it – How is it that I am not thankful to my mom for all the sacrifices she has done for me?. It is almost like saying, the abuse is nothing compared to what she has done for me. It is obvious that there are some people who are not aware that abuse, no matter what kind it is/was, should never be condoned and NOT to sugar coat it with ‘sacrifices’ done at childhood.
I started therapy with the intention to address my anxiety in social situations and social isolation which I struggle with for the past year. I also wanted to explore the reasons why I was sensitive to rejection and do not trust people easily. My objectives were all set out – anything but digging deep into my childhood. Those memories had been compartmentalised and stored somewhere deep in my mind and I did not want to access them for fear of shame arising from talking about it.
Unfortunately, with my mom’s recent lashings, it triggered painful memories and emotions that I chose to not address before. It came at the same time as when my therapist left abruptly which left me uncertain about what I should do next. I told bestie that after waiting for weeks for my case to be transferred to a new therapist from the centre and at the same time unsuccessful in getting hold of another therapist, I wanted to give up. I would figure this out by myself and that means, having to go back to where I was before – suppressing these painful memories again and pretending things will be just fine. Bestie and my aunty encouraged me to keep finding one therapist to address my issues. I knew that this time in therapy, I needed to confront with my childhood demons. I understood later that the root to my anxiety and other symptoms could be traced back to my upbringing.
It’s funny how Bestie and I enjoy talking about vulnerability and shame (especially in reference to Dr Brene’s Brown books) but when it comes to having to seat through being vulnerable and talking about shame, it is perhaps the hardest thing I had to do. Trust me, talking about painful things and crying in front of a complete stranger (current therapist) isn’t something I would ever sign up for especially since I dislike exposing the vulnerable side of me to anyone. It was tough opening up old wounds and exploring how my childhood has shaped my perspectives, my relationships with others and with myself too.
But with every difficulty, comes ease. What I do realise is that, confronting these memories actually bring light to my current issues. Speaking on something shameful with someone in a safe environment may evoke painful emotions but it is more painful when kept inside, pent up for years where it festers and grows into something potentially agonizing. I cannot express how liberating it felt to get it off my chest even though words would constrict at my throat. Before, I was ashamed that I was speaking ill of my family. Recognising that moving forward towards recovery requires sitting with difficult emotions and replaying distressing memories would be difficult at first, but it will only get easier as times go by. We need to detach ourselves from feeling guilty of talking about things that had been hurting us and instead, start to address the injustice done.
I still feel like I have a lot of work to do on myself – my self esteem, getting rid of my negative inner voice and that I am worthy of love despite feeling like I don’t deserve any of it. At least, I am aware of this lifetrap and it is step towards recovery.
I hope that any of you out there who finds difficulty in talking about shameful experiences (and I’m sure it’s also eating up inside of you), find someone you trust to talk about it in a safe, non-judgemental environment. Trust me, it will hurt at first. But it will only get better.