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How Shame Keeps Us Disconnected

This week, I’ve been reading Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make–and Keep–Friends by Marisa Franco. (I get a commission for purchases through this link)

I’m only halfway through the book, but something Marisa talks about in Part One struck me as it relates to abuse survivors. I’ll start with the quote and then get into the details:

“Anything unspeakable to you is affecting you”

The context for this quote is a handful of stories where someone felt ashamed of an event or something that they’d allowed people to believe about them that wasn’t true. Marisa goes on to talk about how when we have something we won’t discuss, it creates a separation from other people, and that separation can take away from humanness. Our interactions with other people are blocked off. We know we aren’t sharing our whole selves with the people we should be. That block can protect us from potential pain, but it also prevents us from having all the benefits of having close relationships with other humans.

Doesn’t that sound exactly like growing up keeping our abuse secret?

We grow up with shame around something that was never our fault. That shame prevents us from fully connecting with other human beings. That lack of connection harms our mental health as adults. We struggle to heal without one of the most powerful tools in our arsenal as human beings, other people. We keep our secrets and hide our shame, meaning we will never know the healing power of being accepted and loved by those who know our whole selves.

I’ve had that struggle before. I’ve watched so many adult survivors struggle with shame and secrets, fearful of sharing them and connecting with others, and I’ve seen far too many share their secrets with people who did not offer them the acceptance that would lead to healing but only more pain.

We’ve all got to do better, first, by realizing that the shame of childhood abuse is not yours to carry. It is the abusers. Second, for those who can, we should be sharing our stories far and wide to create a world where survivors know they are not alone but among a large, diverse group worldwide, and third, by being better when someone shares their secrets with us. Accept them warmly. Appreciate how hard it is to share that with someone and continue caring for them as you did before you knew their secret. The person you’ve become close with over the years didn’t change when they shared this with you. They are still the same person you knew the day before. Appreciate the gift they are giving you by attempting to connect with you and learn how much that connection benefits both of you.

It’s the connections that will see us through the rough times, and it’s the lack of connection that will see us losing hope. Do more things that give us hope.


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