Wednesday, February 4, 2015

On Shame

The topic for our Aspie group this month is Shame, so I wrote the following on the topic to share with the group.

Shame and Disability

If you look up the definition of shame in the dictionary, it is defined as  
"A painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior." To me, that is eye opening because it makes so much sense for how I have lived my life. I often pretend to be more confident than I feel, because people seem to respond to me better that way. I have fully adapted the theory of "Fake it to you make it."  But I so often feel a feeling of shame over who I am. Much of this is caused by having a disabillity whose primary description is not understanding the social world in the same way others do. 
For me, shame, at least as an adult, is not something caused by other people directly and overtly as much as it is caused by growing up in a society that de-values people who are different. This happens in a million subtle and indirect ways. It makes you wonder, who gets to define what "wrong or foolish behavior" is? The dominant culture does. The majority group does. As people with Asperger's, our behavior has been declared "wrong" or "foolish" by so-called professionals, and we suffer the consequences. We are self-conscious because we know we are different, we know we are doing things "wrong" but we often don't know what. We feel like we are always doing something wrong. We are always on the alert for someone calling us out on how our behavior needs to change. 
It is not necessarily anyone's fault, that we so often feel this sense of shame 
or self-consciousness about who we are and how we act. It is just the consequence of living in a society where the majority of people think differently than we do. We are sometimes harder on ourselves than the people around us. Sometimes, we internalize the shame and guilt of our childhoods, assuming that because our parents called us out for not acting like everyone else, everyone we meet will think similarly. We police ourselves unnecessarily, measuring every word that comes out against what other people around us are saying. We strive to be just like other people, and this attempt to blend in comes from a sense of shame about who we are - a sense that we're not even always aware that we have. Sometimes, we end up trying too hard to be like others, and find that trying too hard nets results that are equally as dissapointing as not trying at all. 

Some of us have a lot of needs that others don't have. Whether they are sensory needs, conversation needs, help with physical activities or activities of daily living, we feel that we shouldn't need what we do. We internally punish ourselves so much for the help that we require that we never have a chance to bask in the love that others show us. 

When we are embarassed about who we are, we can't feel our sense of connection to others. Shame makes us feel alone and cut off. Feeling shame is not limited to people with Asperger's, but having AS can increase it. 

How do you lessen feelings of shame? You take an inventory of what you like about yourself. You write it down, speak it out loud, talk about it with someone you trust. You surrounded yourself with people like you, that understand you and support you. You speak back to the feelings of shame, as if they were a separate entity from you, and tell them that you are worth something, and that you refuse to give into these feelings. Think of one thing you're good at it and focus on that. Think of a time when you felt confident and loved by others, and play it in your mind again and again. Keep trying to find places in your life where you feel valued and understood by others. Build up a library of these moments, until the moments when you feel good about yourself slowly start to crowd out the moments where you feel ashamed of who you are.