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Transforming Shame & Self-loathing

By Mike Moran
September 09, 2014

This article examines the healing of shame and self-loathing through the Inner Bonding lens.

Transforming Shame and Self-loathing
By Mike Moran, LCSW, CST, Certified Inner Bonding Facilitator

Growing up gay and gender-variant in a homophobic environment I quickly learned to hide my vulnerable feelings and mask them with the shallow sheen of indifference. Whenever I was bullied or ridiculed, as soon as it was over, it was as if it never happened...that's how I dealt with it....by not dealing with it. This coping strategy kept me safe from having to directly face the humiliation and fear perhaps...and sternly dissociated from my real feelings. Trapped deep below my carefree, laissez-faire attitude was a bubbling well of self-loathing, shame and anxiety as well as hatred toward my perpetrators. This impacted every area of my life of course and it took me years, with much quality therapy, to develop the capacity to express my true feelings and learn to live from a place of authenticity. Not an uncommon story in our culture, gay people, to a greater or lesser degree, are taught to link their sexuality with shame before they're even consciously aware of it...the two become intertwined in a ferocious knot not easily untangled. Fortunately for all of us, it is indeed getting better, as the gay and lesbian, gender-variant and transgendered adolescents and adults that I counsel attest. When I meet one of these kids who have the capacity to speak their truth and own who they are from a loving/assertive/gutsy place, my heart aches with joy...it is beautiful to experience.

I learned to cross the bridge from paralyzed shame to authentic expression - from challenge to opportunity -- and looking back no doubt that rocky terrain has served me well as a social worker, psychotherapist and sex therapist and while I wouldn't ask to take the journey over again, I'm genuinely grateful for the gifts I've gleaned along the way. Now I spend my days helping others crack the code of shame and self-loathing and claim the power that is rightfully theirs. And as I've embraced this work, I've learned my experience, in content, is not all that different from any of us...the straight, white, successful, wealthy, married-with-children male -- and every permutation of person possible -- has their own version of pain that must be carefully unearthed and thoughtfully brought to understanding before it can be transformed. We unpack it together, find the compassionate gems of meaning hidden in the darkness of repression, projection and denial, and as she/he rewrites their story from the challenge-as-opportunity compassionate place-- they integrate -- and as a result, experience more vitality, aliveness, and acceptance of things just as they are. And from there comes the power to make new, empowering choices that positively impact their life...freedom from the tyranny of archaic, unclaimed hurt.

So what is this process of transforming self-loathing and shame? How do we claim the innocence and vitality that is rightfully ours when shame is woven into what seems to be our very being? As we examine this through the lens of Inner Bonding, there are several key markers that are important to keep in mind. Firstly, as step 1 advocates, we must be willing to feel it, be present for it, tune into how it manifests in our body. This is imperative, as all the other steps build upon it...if we don't have the capacity to be present for what is occurring on the inner level, how can we possibly begin to heal it? And this is one of the tricky things about shame...by it's very nature, it organizes to conceal, to hide. The part of us that holds the trauma believes that if it's exposed, surely we'll only be more humiliated and things will just get worse; the best we can do is keep ourselves off the radar and hope that no one sees how flawed we truly are. It's an often messy process...we must remain committed to our healing as these layers of pain are exposed. Be very patient....these parts have held our pain all these years for us...let's understand the very good reasons they have come into being in the first place. Until these hurt parts receive a consistent experience of presence and understanding, why on earth would they just give up what they see is their mission? No, they will remain vigilant, stuck, static...maintaining that we are deeply flawed and the best we can hope for is no further explosure. So as with step 2, we move into a deep intention to learn, and with one hand of our loving adult holding the hand of these wounded parts, the other hand holding the hand of our guidance, the wisest part of ourselves, we begin to integrate. As wisdom is brought to our hurt parts, it is a healing salve that begins to soothe the wounds. Remember, let this be a process, we simply cannot push the river.

Over the years I've learned one of the things that occur as you do your IB work is that you will begin to feel more space around these wounded parts. Victor Frankl in his wonderful book, "Man's Search for Meaning" touches on this when he states, "Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." Inner Bonding helps us cultivate this space where we can begin to choose another response. And here-in lies our response-ability. As your adult, connected to your guidance, cultivates a loving relationship with these wounded parts, the intensity lessens and you develop the capacity for more objectivity...your reflective functioning self gets stronger. It's as if your wounded self begins to look up and into the eyes of your loving adult and, perhaps for the first time, begins to feel truly seen/known/heard. Now he/she is no longer alone in all that pain, and can begin to heal.

From here, the next marker is deep empathy and compassion, for all parts of ourselves...it's arises naturally, the gem of experience earned from a committed, dedicated journey. As we move through the six steps, these darker emotions such as self-loathing and shame transform and become a pathway for compassion, for ourselves, for humanity, and often times even for our perpetrators. Certainly it is the path of the courageous and the empowered...the journey can sometimes feel as if we're clawing up a jagged glass mountain naked; what we scrape against can at times feel as hurtful as the original wound. Just keep your heart open and your intention to learn pure...this will gently guide you up the mountain, and you will increasingly experience more peace as well as vitality, and you'll find the view enlivening.


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