Guilt, Shame and Fear – Part 1

“Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough. Guilt is just as powerful, but its influence is positive, while shame is destructive. Shame erodes our courage and fuels disengagement.” – Dr. Brené Brown

Four years of therapy and six therapists later, I found the three methodologies that have helped me break through the barriers of my own psyche and progress on my healing journey. When my sixth therapist kept hitting a wall and didn’t know the best way to help me, she reached out to her spiritual teacher for advice (Yes, my case forced her, a science-oriented therapist, to go to a spiritual practitioner to find a way to help me out) In our last therapy session, she informed me that for me to proceed and heal, I need to try an alternative healing therapy like Somatic Experiencing therapy where a therapist will work with my body to release the trauma and emotions it’s carrying. She informed me that my defenses and fear responses after multiple traumas had become so strong that without someone working with my body, it would be difficult to release the trauma that I had been carrying around. A few months later, I found just the person and I am actively working with her on my body. That along with a licensed therapist who practices Internal Family Systems therapy seemed like just the perfect solution that I had been waiting for.

Somatic experiencing therapy is an alternative therapy geared towards helping people find healing from trauma. Created by Peter Levine, Ph.D., this therapy works on the principle that trauma gets trapped in the body, leading to some symptoms people with PTSD or people who have experienced trauma might experience. Through this method, practitioners work on releasing this stress from the body. While not much research has been published on somatic experiences, one study, a randomized controlled trial, showed that 44% of the participants lost the diagnosis of PTSD. (Learn more about the practice at Somatic Experiencing Therapy.

So how are shame and guilt related to PTSD and how did the above modules help me recognize the prevalence of these emotions in my mind and body? Below is an overview of my session with my somatic experiencing therapist (SE Therapist) that eventually showed the overall pattern in my IFS session.

During my second session with SE, I was asked to lie down on my back while she worked with my body’s energetic balance. When she got closer to my heart, she felt a blockage. Me being the visual person I am, I saw an event from my past. For reference, I am apparently a very visual individual. In all my SE sessions, my eyes are closed. The way this therapy works, while the therapist works with an individual’s energetic aura, individuals see images or have thoughts come up from their past. Individuals are encouraged to talk about their experience with the therapist to further release these trapped emotions.

“I am seeing an incident come up from almost two years ago”, I said.

“Would you like to talk about it?”, asked the therapist

“Sure. The image is from an incident where I hid from my friend and her boyfriend.”

“Who was this friend?”

“I considered her my best friend. She was one of the few individuals whom I trusted about my sexuality. You know when I told her about my sexuality, she said that it might be a phase. It didn’t feel good.”

“What did you feel?”

“I felt dismissed. I just remember feeling disgusted with myself for being bisexual and being dismissed by her, re-emphasized that feeling. I thought she would understand. Her initial reaction just made me feel invalidated.”

“I am so sorry you had to go through that.”

“It was hard for me to open up to someone about it. I remember the only reason I could was that she had mentioned being confused about her sexuality in the past. She identifies as straight now but her initial reaction just made me feel rejected. We eventually talked about it again and I think she could finally see it. But it was not a good experience.”

“That sucks. You were being vulnerable and didn’t receive the response that you expected”

“You know I had never felt safe to talk about my sexuality. It was always this hidden secret that I was scared of anyone finding out. A few months later, I realized that I had developed feelings for her. I was confused about what to do with those feelings. On one hand, I knew how genuine my feelings were. On the other hand, she was my best friend. I didn’t want to lose that connection. She was in a relationship with a guy and I knew I didn’t want anything from her romantically. So initially I tried to suck it up. But, I couldn’t for too long. Since we were very close friends, our conversations sometimes became too intimate for me to handle. A point came when I knew I had to confess or I’ll keep struggling. So I confessed, letting her know that I didn’t want to lose her as a friend but also couldn’t pretend anymore. We had a heartfelt conversation about it and we agreed to remain friends. I asked her to promise me not to tell anyone about my sexuality. She promised me she won’t.”

By this time, I had started to cry. My body started to shiver and I could feel the panic rise.

“It’s okay. You’re safe. I am here. You’re not alone. Talk to me.”, my therapist said, still working on my heart.

“She didn’t keep that promise. A few weeks later, I started to sense that something was wrong. I had this feeling that she had told her boyfriend about it and that he hadn’t taken it well. I asked her, multiple times. She denied it every time and accused me of not believing her. And, then, I made a mistake that she used as a way to gaslight me – I read her messages on her phone. Not only had she told her boyfriend about me, but her boyfriend had called me names and asked her not to talk to me. He called me a slut.”

By this time, I was crying uncontrollably.

“I was called a slut for confessing my feelings to my best friend. I was called a slut because I felt uncomfortable with our conversations. I was called a slut and a bunch of other things because I wanted to respect their relationship. She had lied to me multiple times and had kept asking me to get to know her boyfriend despite knowing how much he hated her talking to me. Despite knowing the way he had reacted to who I am.”

“You’re safe now. Let it out.”, my therapist reminded as my body continued to shiver.

“That image I saw was from the second last day in that city. By then, I knew that she had been lying. I went out for a walk with another friend and we ran into her and her boyfriend. Before they could see me, I ran and hid in a corner. I think that was my first panic attack in a while. I was panicking. My heart was pounding, my head was foggy and I wanted to just cry. That’s how scared I was. After that incident, I had multiple dreams about that incident. I was so scared.”

“To me, it sounds like you were just being honest about your feelings. You were trying to be a good friend but met with judgment. I am so sorry that happened to you.” My therapist had now moved to my head.

“I had never felt safe to express my sexuality. It felt like a betrayal of my trust. She was someone I considered my safe place. When after a few months, she decided that we shouldn’t talk anymore, there was no acknowledgment of what she had done or how her boyfriend had ridiculed me. There were no acknowledgments. Just accusations of how I had led her down. Even after I had confronted her, it took her days to say – ‘I am sorry’. But that sorry was not for how she betrayed my trust and for telling a complete stranger (to me) about something that was so personal to me. It was for not telling me how distressed she was because of how stressed she was throughout the experience. I felt sorry for causing her that stress. I could see how much she was struggling because her boyfriend did not want her to talk to me.”

By this time, I had stopped crying and had gone completely still. My body had stopped shaking and my breathing had gone back to normal.

“I can feel some resistance coming from you. It feels like we have reached a limit. We’ll continue working on it in our next session. But, I want you to know – there is nothing wrong with you. You are loved and you are perfect the way you are. You did what your heart told you to do and you tried to be a good friend. You deserve to be respected and loved for who you are.”

“Thank you. I don’t know where all that came from. I thought I had moved on from that incident.”

“These emotions sometimes get stuck in our body. That felt like a traumatic experience for you. You felt unsafe by his response.”

“I did. It was like my worst nightmare had come true. Someone, I didn’t know, had gotten to know my most personal secret. He had ridiculed me and I felt scared. I kept having dreams of the two of them calling me out about my sexuality. In all the dreams, I kept waiting for her to say something to him and take a stand for me. She never did.”

continued in part 2…

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