My entire life has been full of shame.
When I did anything wrong, even as a small fry, I got lectured about how I should feel “ashamed” of myself. That happened every single time that I did anything wrong, whether it was age appropriate. One of the very first times I can remember was when I was about 4-5 years old. We moved to this rental house. Our neighbor was a friend of my aunt’s and she owned the house we were renting, as well as the house she lived in with her son and his father. I guess she was in a relationship with him, but it was an open relationship I guess because they weren’t married. She was weird and let her yard get overgrown for the environmental benefits. Unfortunately that led to weird infestations of fleas and other bugs that often found their way onto our pets. The son was about 7 years older than me or so and was very strange. I remember everyone talking about how he was “gifted” and I was just a little kid. He was fascinating to me. We talked about spaceships and cats and aquariums. I remember thinking that he was the only person who didn’t treat me like a dumb little kid.
Around this same time, my brother was being toilet trained, along with a bunch of boys at my babysitter’s house. I remember sitting on the toilet backwards like she was teaching the boys to do and thinking that was how I should go from then on. I also started peeing outside with this neighbor boy. I don’t think he touched me or anything like that, but he was usually behind his garage when I was back there peeing. My brother found me once and told my parents. He was only like 2 or 3, I think so he told on everything I was doing. I remember my parents being really angry with me and repeatedly saying that they were ashamed of me and I should be ashamed of myself. I remember feeling like all the blood was running out of my head and arms and torso. My feet felt heavy and I just looked down at the ground. I didn’t know that it was my blood running down my body, but that feeling was what I remember feeling as I looked down.
Another time my brother and I were playing in our backyard with the neighbor boy. We were sitting on the stairs and the neighbor boy was standing on the ground looking at us. My brother stood up on one of the higher stairs and wanted to jump at the boy. My brother jumped off the stair and the neighbor boy stepped to the side. He landed face first in the gravel and started crying right away. One of both of my parents came out and grabbed my brother with his bloody face. Whoever it was turned to me and the neighbor boy and asked what happened. The boy said that my brother just jumped off the stair. My mom or dad told him he should’ve stopped it from happening and then took both my brother and I inside. I got screamed at for a long time about how could I let this much older kid hurt my brother by letting him jump face first onto the ground. I wasn’t even that old. We moved from that house when I was 8, so I was just a young kid myself. My brother must’ve been only 3 or 4, so maybe my parents should’ve been outside with us, since my brother wasn’t old enough to know he shouldn’t jump off the stairs like that.
But it became my shame to carry. Any time my brother ran his mouth at the bus stop or on the bus, he got punched or shoved. Then he would tell my parents that evening, and I would be scolded for not taking care of him. If the babysitter told my parents that I instigated trouble at her house, I was shamed because I was the oldest so I should know the difference between right and wrong. That was one line on constant replay in my house. “You should have known better…” If my brother did anything wrong and I happened to be with him, I should have known to stop him, even if I didn’t necessarily understand what he was doing was wrong.
I felt like I was supposed to be more grown up than I actually was. I felt like I was supposed to just magically know everything as an 8 year old. I had no moral compass though. I lived in fear and shame. Fear of doing the wrong thing and shame because I usually did. I was expected to be a small adult with a fully functioning brain like theirs. I learned to lie to get out of trouble and I had no guilt about all the lies I weaved. I just needed to stay out of trouble everywhere I went. The anxiety that caused took me over. I talked to myself all the time, I was telling myself stories in my head to survive, and I was spinning so many lies about everything.
In college, I felt like the guards were removed and lying was a really bad habit by then. I was a complete and total asshole. I used to spend a lot of time berating myself for how awful I was, but my wife kept pointing out that we were all young with developing brains, making tons of mistakes. And I spent a lot of time repeating that in my brain to help me stop punishing myself for the way I acted. I accepted that undiagnosed ADHD made me very hyper and impulsive, trauma stunted me emotionally, and I went from being very tightly controlled by my parents to being controlled by no one. And I behaved like a person out of control. I did pass all of my classes and graduate, but it wasn’t spectacular. I’m not ashamed of that, because I wasn’t in control at all. I skipped classes, played sports, joined all the clubs, and had a great time. I learned a lot about myself and other people and I managed to salvage most of those friendships. The people that matter, at least.
The way that I was parented has hurt me so much; almost as much as the trauma I faced. Always taking responsibility for things that go wrong and feeling shame for the smallest things going wrong is hurting me. Sometimes I feel shame for things that have nothing to do with me. It puts me on the defensive all the time, like with the soccer emails about moving practice. I feel like I need to explain myself for some reason, because so often I am making decisions that make sense to me, but don’t take into account that it might not turn out the way I am expecting it to. I want to make all of this stop so that I can handle hard things a little better. It makes me feel so bad when the smallest of things makes me feel extreme shame. I guess my parents’ goal of making me ashamed of my behavior worked after all. But I don’t have to stay like this. I can work on it and talk about it and get it all out. I don’t need to feel shame for just living and doing the very best I can, which is what I do all the time.
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