I really appreciate the conversation you have taken on, helping people walk through the muck of shame, using the 12 steps with modern lingo and soundbites that people can chew on. Truly, with deep sincerity, I appreciate your work.
In today’s video you are speaking to one side of the equation of shame. I would like to speak to another side which I believe is extremely important.
Russell, your stories bring to mind the rich history of Alcoholics Anonymous which consisted of mostly men. As a result of AA, the wives of the alcoholics got together and created Al-Anon. They did this because their issues were (and are) unique, and, in many ways, polar opposite from AA. I’d like to quote you and then respond.
- You said, “We must speak about shame.” YES, heaven’s yes!
- You said, “Nobody deserves to feel ashamed.” I couldn’t agree with you more.
- You said that your way of dealing with shame is to “address incidents in the past where I feel that my behavior is not what it should have been… to ask for forgiveness and to forgive others for being less than perfect.” Again, I wholeheartedly agree.
- You said that a spiritual solution is necessary, “You need to believe that you are beautiful and that in spite of what you have done, you are able to forgive and to be forgiven.” AMEN AND AMEN!
What you did not speak to, Russell, which I feel is a huge gap and an important topic for this conversation about healing shame is healing the false shame that is projected onto people who’ve been abused.
Bearing another person’s shame due to skewed power dynamics is often the price that is paid for living with an abuser (whether that be a narcissist or an alcoholic or whatever). Carrying shame for things that another person did. Carrying shame that has been projected onto you. This can be a huge burden. Examples:
- A close friend (a woman) is getting married to a lovely man. Your father attends the bachelor party. Your father (who has a power position in the community) gets the groom into trouble. The bride is very upset on her wedding day. You don’t know the details but the next time you see your friend after the wedding, she tells you about what happened. Your reputation is tarnished due to his behavior. Your (former) close friend backs away from a relationship with you. Shame-fuck.
- You’re a teenager. You hear your mother repeatedly tell your two year old sister that she is a loser. She calls her stupid and dummy and idiot. She says this in different languages so you can’t easily repeat it. You know it’s wrong and every time it happens you feel the pain in your stomach as though it’s you who is being attacked. You want to protect your sister but nothing you do seems to work. You ask your mom to stop but she doesn’t. You carry the shame and powerlessness with you, which multiplies the burden of shame. Shame-multiplied.
These are the kinds of stories I hear from clients and friends who berate themselves for why they’re not achieving more in their lives. Brilliant people who hold themselves back fully going for their dreams or from taking positions of leadership and being powerful agents of positive change. What holds them back? An invisible cloak of shame which was never theirs to begin with.
Now, I’m going to switch to the topic of narcissism because it’s directly related to shame and helps clarify what’s needed. Also, since narcissistic abuse is one of my areas of specialty I feel I can speak to it with authority.
Narcissists are masters of disguising shame. Narcissists are known for dealing with their shame by projecting it onto others. A co-narcissist is someone who’s been targeted by a narcissist (this term comes from leading edge research and I don’t know a better one to replace it). A co-narcissist, rather than projecting their shame onto others, projects their brilliance, their love and their strength onto others. BOTH disown their true, brilliant, beautiful selves.
Here are 3 primary needs of someone who’s taken on the shame-burden of their abusers:
- VALIDATION. Telling and hearing stories of having taken on false shame and having released it.
- Empathy. Someone who can hear their story with zero judgment and with recognition that their experience really happened. Someone who can meet them at the level of depth of their particular shame (Russell, your suggestion to get a mentor is priceless). Often this requires a professional if the abuse went deep.
- Healthy sense of self. “Healthy narcissism.” A commitment to honoring one’s true strengths and radiance. (I believe you are offering this, Russell, in every one of your videos). Corrections in faulty thought patterns, setting boundaries, embodying your sense of power, and strategies for not taking on other people’s crap are part of having a healthy sense of self.
Validation is the one thing that I would love to see you (and all of who are reading this) bring to the larger table for this conversation about shame. It would be more meaningful for everyone who is watching you, Russell.
Here is a collection of my blog posts on this topic. https://joybasedliving.com/narcissistic-abuse/
Thanks for reading!