Friday, March 1, 2024

How I'm overcoming toxic shame by looking it in the face

 Hello my friends of this blog on how I lost 100 pounds! I know I promised you some fun diet tips for our March Madness weight loss challenge, and we will return you to that regularly scheduled program. But this blog is also about getting emotionally healthier too. Cuz it's all part of the same, thing, this mind-body-emotions connection. 

Today I need to examine how chronic toxic shame has controlled me and how much I'd like to heal from it. And one way to do that is to look it in the face, literally. My computer's camera has been freezing, as I was taking selfies for this blog. This Candid Camera catches me when I'm not posed. And the result was pretty disturbing. 

I have this pinched, grim look on my face. It looks like I'm constipated or something. Awful. And if I look like this most of the time, I feel sorry for you who have to see me. But I got to thinking that this is not the RBF of anger or irritation as it appears, but of toxic shame. Constant chronic guilt and shame have etched "scars" into my face. They've distorted my demeanor and behavior and twisted my facial features. Like an emotional acid-throwing. 

You could tell WW1 soldiers who were gassed by the scars around their eyes. Many were blinded by it.  I realize that I was "blinded" by emotional gassing from gaslighting. I couldn't see what had happened. And  these are part of the "scars" you can see around my eyes. 

My face is a tense mask because I'm never relaxed. I'm always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I don't feel comfortable in my own skin because I was taught not to be. I learned early on that if there was fault or blame in a situation they were mine. That no matter what I gave it wasn't enough. I learned to be prepared for passive-aggressive anger, aggressive anger, punishment, mocking and shaming. 

I was exploited, neglected, abused, parentified and manipulated. But I was expected to just take this as part of being a "family member." Situations were convoluted and made to appear to me as normal. That everyone else was treated the same. I wasn't being singled out or bullied. That is the gaslighting. And I was continually breathing those poisonous gas fumes of till I was thoroughly poisoned and didn't question it any more. 

I just mopped up the toxic shame and guilt and internalized it. But I couldn't quite hide the fear. It seeped out in my expressions and gestures. My anxious, eager-to-please-yet-knowing-I-won't hyper vigilance showed and still shows when I'm not consciously covering it. My moves are defensive, sitting crumpled in on myself, trying to stay small and make no sudden moves. Like a terrified animal. 

But I am beginning to pry my hands off my eyes and look these terrible experiences in the face. In my face. I'm beginning to, instead, admit that I was gaslit and that I learned to auto-shame myself. No one else was being treated as I was. I wasn't a family member. I was a scapegoat, surrogate parent, surrogate spouse and servant. 

It's only been within the last month or so that I've even dared to call their behavior gaslighting. And that's because I've seen the gas "scars" on my face. For the last 58 years, 7 months, I've been hiding from horrific things that were done and said. I've blotted out the voices, the shaming, the systematic abuse, the nauseating fear. I've cushioned my memories of their appalling behavior with excuses. I've lied and assured myself that they didn't mean it. They were joking. I was exaggerating. I was too sensitive. I was too critical. yada. 

But now I'm beginning to see that as the man who become my father-in-law (God rest his soul) said when he was told about how I was treated. "That's bullshit!!" I am re-experiencing what happened without the toxic cloud of gas to obscure. I am going to write through each experience, to put them in perspective. Every time I do, I find (and am affirmed by those I share with) that I was NOT exaggerating. Neither was I at fault or to blame. Of if I was, it was a mistake or just a kid thing. It did NOT warrant the atrocious consequences I experienced. 

And that brings me to what will need to be another blog post. Nothing a person, especially a child, can do, warrants abuse, neglect, manipulation, exploitation, vicious punishment or shaming. That is just plain toxic behavior. 

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