Embodied Heart

Self-Nurturance as an Antidote to Shame

I was poisoned early and often with shameful encounters through the abuse I suffered as a child. The most devastating experience, the one that completely shattered my sense of self as an individual, was when both of my parents simultaneously sexually abused me. To the best of my recollection, this type of traumatic event involving both of them as active participants only happened one time, but it was enough to set in motion a coping strategy that has brought ruin to many of my personal relationships. If any aspect of the experience is sufficiently recreated, the sole solution to the internal distress I feel is to end the relationship immediately. For today’s #EmbodiedHeart post, I will reflect on how this experience affected me as well as how caring for myself can potentially help to heal me.

The involvement of my mother in this event feels almost like a twisted form of ceremony, one in which her necessity to see me as a physical extension of her being met its completion. I believe that at least some part of her thought she fully and totally “owned” me as a result of her actions. I was branded psychically with the message “you’re mine and you exist only when and how I see fit for you to do so.” It has taken every ounce of spiritual and mental strength I have to resist the shame and guilt that her treatment of me instilled in me whenever I take autonomous action or stand up for myself.

Shame separates me from others. It leads me directly to thoughts of suicide, whispering in my ear that I don’t deserve to live and that the only way to make bad things not happen to me is to end it all. Shame silences me, my tongue paralyzed by visions of horror and the underlying script of “it’s your fault this happened” and “this didn’t happen and it’s your fault for thinking it did.” Shame traps me in a seemingly never-ending cycle of enactment of the same scenes, unconsciously and desperately searching for a solution to the impossible paradoxes of the memory.

Knowing that I am my own person—that no one owns me—feels like a starting place in putting the memory where it belongs, which is in the past as a lived experience, rather than in the present as a maze from which there is no exit. I’m left, though, if all I have is myself, with a feeling of broken and jagged pieces which are uncoordinated towards life experiences that are not threatening or dangerous. I have almost no idea how to react to sweet libations of warmth, tenderness, care and affection. In those moments, I’m forever awaiting the bitter draught at the bottom of the glass, certain that the story of what happened to me is doomed to repeat itself.

To move beyond existing, I know I need to nurture myself. I need to give myself refreshment and comfort, holding space for the parts of me who want to resist it as well as the parts of me who are too scared to hope it could exist. The venom of the memory courses through me at times because I give it power and strength through acts of self-neglect or self-abuse. Only through consistent and careful attention towards my own needs can I provide an environment where every trace of the residue of undeserved shame can be drawn out and burned in the fire of my righteous anger or drown in the well of my necessary grief.

To this end, I am committing myself to three concrete actions of self-nurturance:

  • Checking in with myself on a daily basis to see what parts of me may need as well as to work to resolve any internal conflicts.
  • Keeping a regular record of things for which I am grateful.
  • Developing a mantra of self-nurturance, creating a visual expression of the mantra (a painting, drawing, etc.) and displaying it in order to remind myself of it.

What effects does the experience of shame have on your life? To what extent does the practice of self-nurturance assist you in caring for parts of you that hold shame? What concrete actions can you take to engage in self-nurturance?

Goddessing Self Care

Softly Slumbering

For this #GoddessingSelfCare Sunday, I will be sharing about sleep. Did you just yawn? Talking about sleep sometimes makes me tired 😊 Our bodies and minds benefit when we are able to get a good night’s rest. Mental health conditions common to trauma survivors are related to specific sleep problems. Specific behaviors can improve our sleep environments and we can elevate the act of sleep to a sacred practice.

Health Benefits of Sleep

Attaining a healthy night’s sleep affects nearly every aspect of our being, and is linked with living a longer, healthier life. Getting sufficient sleep at night seems to improve our fertility, immune system and metabolic functioning. The REM state of sleep appears to help our brain process memory. When we miss out on sleep, we suffer from short-term memory loss and our capacity to focus and learn is negatively impacted. Whenever I miss a few hours of sleep, I find myself having trouble keeping track of everything I’m doing and sometimes forgetting the next step in a process. Both of these experiences are indications of short-term memory deficits.

Sleep and Mental Health

Sleep problems can be symptoms of mental disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, and generalized anxiety. Hypersomnia can occur with depression; this would include feeling tired even after a full night of sleep and engaging in excessive sleeping. Insomnia includes difficulty falling asleep, waking up repeatedly throughout the night, and/or waking up early in the morning and not being able to go back to sleep. This can be a feature of depression or generalized anxiety. Those who have bipolar disorder may feel energized despite sleeping only a few hours a night and can eventually swing into a deep depression.

PTSD is linked with numerous sleep problems. A specific symptom of PTSD includes having nightmares reliving the traumatic event. People who have suffered trauma are also more likely to have REM behavior disorder, meaning that they move during REM sleep, which can lead to injury to themselves or those with whom they are sharing a bed.

Some sleep experiences that can be startling if you are unaware of their origins include the hallucinations that can occur while we are falling asleep or as we are waking up. You may feel or see a presence in the room. In addition, we are paralyzed by our brain every night during REM sleep. When parts of our brain come to full consciousness without a simultaneous release of our muscles, we experience sleep paralysis, which can involve awareness without the ability to move your body. If these types of experiences occur frequently, they can be a sign of narcolepsy.

Sleeping Soundly

Behaviors that assist us in getting a high-quality night of sleep are called sleep hygiene. Medications to help us sleep may sometimes be necessary but can come with a lot of side effects. To improve your sleep environment, consider the activities that occur on your bed or in your bedroom. If you are spending time concentrating on your computer in your bed, you might be confusing your body. You are conditioning your body to associate your room as a place to stay very alert and focused but also to a place to sleep. This discrepancy can increase insomnia. Having your bed designated only for quiet activities may help you to attain a peaceful night’s rest more easily.

To the extent that it is possible for you personally, consider creating a sacred sleep environment. Think about the sights, sounds, textures, smells and tastes that are most likely to induce a calm and peaceful place of respite, and redesign your sleeping space accordingly. I have a Goddess statue and a few trinkets in my bedroom that help me center. I’ve incorporated darker colors and blackout curtains in my design in order to bring the moon and nighttime vibes inside. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the extent to which these small changes have made it easier for me to get a restful night’s sleep.

Sacred Sleep

Sleep is a biological act and does not necessarily or inherently involve a spiritual component, but I think it can be transformed when we view it as an active spiritual practice. For instance, when we dream, our unconscious mind has an opportunity to express itself. I think Goddess can speak to us during this time. In order to remember dreams, most people find it necessary to record them immediately after waking. This ensures that the vivid details will be captured. You may need to adjust this practice if you have PTSD and experience trauma-related nightmares. I have these in cycles; there are times I go without them during which I think it would benefit me to more fully examine my dreams and look for Goddess symbols.

The moments between sleep and awakening are a time when our mind can be particularly open. I tend to find myself immediately running through all the things I have to do for the day. A practice I am now incorporating is to spend the first light of dawn in a visualization. This will include creating a rich, full color picture in my mind of a nature scene, and using all my scenes to fill out the imagery. When I consider starting each day in a tropical jungle, snowy mountaintop or wind-raked beach, it seems a little easier to transition to addressing the mundane tasks that lie ahead of me. An interesting side effect of this practice has been that I am sometimes able to remember my dreams more fully, possibly because I am engaging similar brain areas.

I hope you will share tips on what you do to improve your sleep and reap its benefits. I know there are many other spiritual practices that relate to sleep and would love to learn about what you have found to be particularly meaningful. Sleep well!