What is it really like to be so shamed and codependent that you lose your identity completely and fully? What could have happened to such a person that put them in this state?
In therapy circles these days, the topics surrounding shame and codependency are coming more and more to the fore. That said, the effects are mostly hidden in our attempts to block the effects of a dysfunctional past growing up with dysregulated people. Not bad people mostly but ones who carry their own issues in a generational process that guarantees these issues roll through the years like an avalanche. One of the key aspects of therapy is to examine and heal this.
One search on the internet will reveal many sad stories of shame and codependency. I see them every day in my work and it always amazes me how some people are able to carry on with their lives.
So we come to William (not his real name), who is not in therapy but has been sharing his life story with me for many years in an informal way. He has agreed to me putting it down here in a series of posts so that others might be helped by some of the things he has done and experienced. I personally believe he is indicative of a personality who has experienced so much that shame has dictated his life to the extent that he is still searching for who he truly is.
Here is the first installment:
I have nearly reached the point in my life that my parents didn’t. They both died early in their lives through terrible illnesses that I am convinced came from the life they led together. It is so long ago that I don’t remember their faces well or what is was like to be around them. I remember enough to know that being born into their family meant that life was never going to be easy for me from the get go and so it proved. I had never heard about the effects of toxic shame until recently and especially how it can affect every aspect of our lives. This has been a revelation for me but has also filled many gaps in a life spent blaming and shaming myself for the things I have and haven’t done. All that I have read and discussed has told me that it all started a long time ago and I essentially had no chance to avoid or change it at the time. This has started an intense process for me thinking about anything I can remember about being a child and part of that process has led me to doing something Dr Jenner advised. I started to write my life story as a way to understand where I came from. So here goes. It is not there to become a bestseller or make money but a testimony to the toxic effects of shame that have followed a man for over six decades.
I was born on a spring day in a small town in my parent’s bedroom. It was the fashion at the time to have children at home but I suspect there might have been another reason. We lived in a remote place in the middle of nowhere and maybe there was no time to get to the hospital. My parents were never very organized and I can imagine they were totally overwhelmed. After all, they were young and I guess fairly naive. My mother was 16 and my father three years older. I was told it was a day of driving, near horizontal rain that hammered on the window. I can only imagine the fear my mother went through as her first child slowly came into the world. She often described my first year as overwhelmingly stressful and depressing. In those days, she said, you just got on with it but I often wonder how she felt about being a mother really.
My mother was an immigrant from a dirt poor Irish family and met my father at a local dance. His family were poor on a slightly higher scale but their relationship caused friction with both families, neither of whom wanted them to be together. Her father was very strict and rigid in his views on everything and used the Bible as a parenting aid. He was also a monster who beat my mother and sexually abused her up to the age of 14. She told me this much later in her life and I remember crying when she told me. I really don’t know why. Her mother ran away with another man when she was three and left her with her father. I hated both of my grandparents who seemed totally self-centered.
My father was an idiot and I hated him too. I don’t believe I had any connection with him at any point in my life. He didn’t drink like the Irish side of my family but he was abusive, neglectful and cheated on my mother numerous times. He was never really there for the family and we spent more time looking after him than the other way around. I can’t remember him having a job for longer than a year and this inability led to extra pressure for my mother who worked three jobs at one stage. He came from a farming family of the old breed. The oldest of ten children, he lived in the same cramped house together with his siblings and parents. Some of my earliest memories tell me that I lived there too at one point though that is rather sketchy in my mind.
So, these are the two people who brought me into the world on that wet day and I have a feeling it didn’t get much better after that. They were poor as children and as parents, even poorer and that is how I grew up. I still have shame when I think of where I came from and how my parents could never get it together in a way that made me feel secure. My earliest memories are full of fear and dread.
To be continued.
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Dr. Nicholas Jenner, a therapist, coach, and speaker, has over 20 years of experience in the field of therapy and coaching. His specialty lies in treating codependency, a condition that is often characterized by a compulsive dependence on a partner, friend, or family member for emotional or psychological sustenance. Dr. Jenner’s approach to treating codependency involves using Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, a treatment method that has gained widespread popularity in recent years. He identifies the underlying causes of codependent behavior by exploring his patients’ internal “parts,” or their different emotional states, to develop strategies to break free from it. Dr. Jenner has authored numerous works on the topic and offers online therapy services to assist individuals in developing healthy relationships and achieving emotional independence.