We have a plethora of healthy (and not so healthy) emotions and feelings. Fear can be helpful, it reminds you it’s probably not going to be fun to be eaten by lions. So you avoid them. Even small amounts of anger can be a helpful motivator. It can push you to do that thing you’ve been afraid to do. Shame, though, does no one any good. However unnecessary it may be, it’s a ridiculously powerful emotion that often accompanies depression.
Like chemicals permeating the soil into the water below, shame can poison your core values. It can affect the way you think about the world and yourself, the way you live, the way you don’t live, even if you are not aware of it.
Shame and guilt suck a yucky one on their own, but when you are in a D/s relationship, at least in my experience, there is an added layer of shame and guilt on top of the original guilt and shame. We each have our expectations and agreements. When I feel as though I am not living up to those expectations, I really struggle. That is when I fall back into a self-loathing, self-punishing, familiar frame of mind. When I fail, I feel like a failure. I have to tell myself almost daily that that just isn’t true. I have tried to bully myself out of my guilt, shame and depression for as long as I can remember. It has only been in the last year or so that I have been trying to learn about and heal my trauma, not try and rid myself of it by force.
I am trying incredibly hard to work on that. Constantly self-shaming for any reason isn’t going to help me improve myself. It certainly hasn’t helped me thus far. It runs so very deep though, deeper than I realized.
My relationship is something I feel confident in most days. I feel like I put in the work and do the best I can. When the guilt and shame creep in though, I instantly convince myself I am a shitty sub because I got jealous, or made an assumption, or said something self-deprecating and negative. So not only do I feel like I fucked up as a partner, but also as his submissive. There is nothing submissive about irrational jealousy, but trauma doesn’t give a fuck.
Shame and guilt can be taught and instilled as early as two and three years old, when children are developing their own sense of self. In my case, I developed more shame and uncertainty than confidence and love for myself through a cycle of neglect and poor decision making. Sometimes the sources of shame are specific, and sometimes it is just a general blanket feeling that encompasses everything.
For example, my sixteen year old son and I were on our way home a couple weeks ago when I told him I needed to run by the dollar store to pick up a couple things. He asked if he could get them for me, and I laughed it off, saying “Well, I need tampons and cash, so you probably won’t want to do that.”
Without missing a beat, he shrugged and said that was fine, he didn’t mind.
I was so stunned I almost stopped the car in the middle of the road. It occurred to me in that moment that my teenage son was more comfortable with the subject of tampons than I was, a THIRTY-SIX year old mother of two.
Are you fucking kidding me?
I realized all of the shame I have surrounding periods and such was formed when I was a young girl, and I lived the rest of the time until recently just assuming most people felt embarrassed and ashamed of it as well, or disgusted by the mention – like the people I was raised around. Looking back I recognized specific instances where the shame that I still carried in my thirties wasn’t even my shame. It came from ignorance and fear.
There is no going back. I cannot develop my self image from the beginning, all I can do is educate myself and practice healing the damage that has been done and fill in the cracks with love, patience and forgiveness like gold, reforming the pieces into something stronger, more beautiful and unique than before.
I am doing this with a combination of therapy, education and open communication with my partner. Some days it takes every tool in my toolbox to not to break down and hate myself, crushed under the shame, and I don’t always succeed. On the days I can let some of it go and release it back into the universe, though, I feel lighter. Those are the days I live for.
Nikki is a photographer, writer, artist, and advocate of radical self-love. She writes about mental health, gaming, sex, and inclusivity.