Surviving and Thriving! Shame is at the root of stigma in reaching out for treatment…and support, especially from loved ones…
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Robert D. Stolorow, Ph.D., Ph.D. is a Founding Faculty Member at the Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis, Los Angeles, and at the Institute for the Psychoanalytic Study of Subjectivity, New York City. He is the author of World, Affectivity, Trauma: Heidegger and Post-Cartesian Psychoanalysis (Routledge, 2011) and Trauma and Human Existence: Autobiographical, Psychoanalytic, and Philosophical Reflections (Routledge, 2007) and coauthor of eight other books. He received the Distinguished Scientific Award from the Division of Psychoanalysis of the American Psychological Association in 1995, the Haskell Norman Prize for Excellence in Psychoanalysis from the San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis in 2011, and the Hans W. Loewald Memorial Award from the International Forum for Psychoanalytic Education in 2012.
“Many psychological disturbances have a double-layered emotional structure consisting in a first-order painful feeling combined with a second-order feeling about that first-order feeling. For example, so-called “panic disorders” consist in escalating cycles of anxiety coupled with shame about exposing the anxiety (= flawedness) to viewing others. The anxiety-shame combination is so unbearable that the anxiety must often be somatized such that it only shows up as physical symptoms. Many phobias embody efforts at avoiding shameful exposure of anxiety. Similarly, some clinical depressions consist in escalating cycles of natural depressive feelings (sadness, grief, etc.) combined with shame about exposing the depressive feelings (= flawedness) to viewing others. Like the anxiety in panic disorders, the depressive feelings too must be somatized, showing up mostly as vegetative symptoms.”
JACKSONVILLE — Jamie Hoots could tell something had changed after her husband returned from his second deployment to Iraq.
“He was a completely different person. Sometimes he was still there; other times it was like, I don’t know,” she said. “It would make him cry every day because of the things he had to do over there, the things he saw.”
His sleep was restless when it came at all. There were times he awoke and “thought, ‘I was a bad guy,’” Hoots said.
After years of struggling with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, Marine Sgt. Travis Hoots died of a drug overdose. Family members say they believe his death was accidental, rather than an intentional suicide.
But five other members of his unit did take their own lives before Travis died.”
It is not difficult to observe that family members and loved ones are often at the root of the stigma and emotional pain connected with PTSD and mental health issues in general. Suicide is becoming a regular news event or “accidental” death as in the above story of Jamie Hoots’ husband, Marine Sgt. Travis Hoots. Family shame is the beginning of denial that comes from the person affected by traumatic events in life.
In my life experience, the symptoms of PTSD in myself and in others was not understood and most embarrassing, especially to me while hiding from severe anxiety and panic attacks. I thought my behavior was compromising in achieving personal and professional goals. My family distanced themselves and would never speak of the challenges connected with “abnormal” or “dysfunctional” behaviors. It was easy for me to assume that the distancing reactions from loved ones and denial would have to be considered while working toward living a successful adult life and maintaining close friendships. We made fun of each other at home, and made fun of others who behaved in “shameful” ways. We were completely ignorant of my father’s PTSD as a US Navy combat veteran of both WWII and Korean War. We were also less than aware of the secondary effects of PTSD on children and families that often resulted in “emotional neglect” or child abuse.
Even to this day with all the research, awareness, and knowledge of PTSD along with treatment strategies, most folks are still ignorant and in denial, especially family members. Consequently, we survivors must also learn the skills of thriving during our life long journey of healing. You do the best you can to engage in outreach and treatment strategies that are effective. But you must also keep in mind that we are a long way from becoming a society that is more completely intelligent and compassionate toward others who live with mental health challenges… Acceptance of others plays a big part in the process of healing. It isn’t easy but it is critical in living a healthy, happy, and productive quality of life after trauma…