Women and Shame: A Silent Killer

Leslie Carol Botha: If you want to hear more about Dancing at the Shame Prom – check out the Holy Hormones Honey! radio interview with Amy and Hollye on September 10, 2012. Journalist and colleague Marcia G. Yerman’s article is an important piece of journalism and needs to be read by every woman. We have all been shamed and it does affect how we function in the world and how we perceive ourselves.  How menstruation is portrayed in the media is shame enough – but then add sexual abuse, weight, image, phobias, unintended pregnancies – and single parenting.  Women carry more than our share of shame. The only way to rise above is to recognize that shame and women is universal.  If it happens to one of us – it happens to all of us! The abuse and shame stops here!

Naming the Shame That Can Cripple

Huff Post Women
by Marcia G. Yerman
October 10, 2012

When Amy Ferris asked me to contribute an essay to Dancing at the Shame Prom: Sharing the Stories That Kept Us Small, I wasn’t sure that I had any shame. Then, when I thought about it, I realized that I did. I just hadn’t framed it that way. I agreed to participate. After I handed in my essay, I heard back from co-editor Hollye Dexter. “I think you are holding back,” she said. “Can you go a little deeper?” So I did. Along with twenty-six other women, I wrote openly about issues that had impacted my life.

Now that the book is out, I have taken off my memoirist hat and am writing as health journalist. Reading the stories that encompassed familial alcoholism, sexual abuse, parental suicide, distorted body images, hoarding, alienation and racial identity anxiety made me want to get to the psychological root of how shame shapes who we are and how we live out lives.

I interviewed four practitioners who shared insights that were both clinical and revelatory. We focused on how shame specifically impacts girls and women. Many of their observations overlapped. To a person, they all began the conversation by drawing a distinction between shame and guilt. Shame is a feeling or belief that screams, “I am bad.” Guilt is feeling, “I did something bad.” Shame is feeling worthless. Guilt is external; you can fix it. To have shame is to think, “I am damaged.”

Amber Lewter EdS., LAPC, whose background includes working as a survivor advocate at a rape crisis center, told me, “When women define themselves as being bad, it creates low self-esteem and a poor sense of self-worth.” Treating those who have experienced childhood sexual trauma, Lewter sees women coming in for counseling with a lot of “shoulds” (“I should have told someone.”). She conducts an exploration of shame through expanding awareness of external factors, pointing out that what happened “was beyond the control” of the patient. She believes that shame is more of an issue for women because they are “relationship-centric” and therefore bring childhood shame and a “less than” mindset into their adult relationships.

Ph.D. and Licensed Clinical Psychologist Nerina Garcia-Arcement qualifies shame as “an insidious emotion, often at the root of mental health problems like depression and anxiety.” She sees shame as creating “a sense of isolation” which poisons an individual’s self-esteem.” She told me, “My patients feel silenced due to their shame. Often, they can’t even speak out loud what they feel ashamed about.” Garcia-Arcement defines shame as a reflection of a “core value.” Therefore, what results is a need to cover up what we feel ashamed about. She related, “The power of shame is that it silences us and creates internal negative dialogue, such as, ‘I wasn’t good enough. I deserved it.’ So we want to stay invisible. We don’t want to feel vulnerable. This stunts our ability to grow.” Garcia-Arcement explained how the fallout of shame translates into a “fear of takings risks.”

“A silent killer,” is how Lori Freson, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, describes shame. Her practice specializes in women’s issues and self-esteem. “Women don’t always acknowledge shame as a presenting problem,” she said. “Women can have body image problems and not realize it is shame.” She spelled out, “Shame about our bodies can lead to isolation, depression and eating disorders.” Shame about sexual abuse can lead to “avoidance of intimacy, relationships, sexual problems and self-harm.” Shame about an addiction “can delay or sabotage” efforts to recover. Finally, she added the key observation, “Shame is connected to self-perception and how you think people perceive you.”

Read full article…

 

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Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.