The Existential Shame Spiral

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leela

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The Existential Shame Spiral

Post11 Apr 2009

I have been unable to write for a while as I have been meeting some "shadows" that I have not experienced for a long time.

Kaufman coined the term "shame spiral" and here is his definition of it:
A triggering event occurs. ... a person is suddenly enmeshed in shame, the eyes turn inward and the experience becomes totally internal, ... The shame feelings flow in a circle, endlessly triggering each other ... causing the sense of shame to deepen ... until finally the self is engulfed.

I prefer the term tornado to spiral. To me it feels as though a dark tornado is locked inside my body. It has no exit, and it co-opts the mind to hoover up any trivial thing from the outside, twist in into something negative, and feed it into the spiraling closed energy circuit inside. It is overwhelming, debilitating, self-perpetuating, and feels "true" when it is in full flow. I absolutely see how it can lead to suicide. The negative energies spiral around and down, and feed off each other. It is a descent into hell.

It reminded me of the period after I left the BKs when this experience was more frequent. That period of exiting is such a critical one, as has been recognised by the founders of this forum. I remember I kept a picture of Beachy Head with me for about two years. (That's a cliff people jump off when they are serious about suicide).

A "triggering event" can be almost anything when a shame-bound person is in a vulnerable stage. In my case, it was partly triggered by writing here. This is the tricky paradox to be negotiated. Owning one's truth, speaking it or writing it, meeting it, is ESSENTIAL. It is also the most difficult thing for a shame-bound person to do. After they speak out, they can feel flayed and unbearably exposed. This can trigger another occurrence of the shame spiral and confirm their belief that they are not supposed to be seen.

This is why I call it the existential shame spiral. A person's core of shame comes about through some invalidation of their being. Our right to exist has een denied in some fundamental way. We don't feel we have the right to take up space, to have feelings or needs.

Some months ago, Diwali asked, over on the Latino forum:
Diwali wrote:"How come I did not realize? How could I not have seen it? How could I have witnessed so much psychological mistreatment thinking it was bringing me closer to God? What kind of lack of self-respect and self-love led me to believe that it was doing good to me and humanity! "

These are poignant questions. Others have asked similar questions about seeing and tolerating abuse within the BKs. And yet for a shame-bound person, it's an easy position to get into. I have explained elsewhere how I see the BK operating system as essentially shame-bound, and this easily co-opts the inner energy system of a shame based individual. One irony perhaps is that my experience of the shame spiral faded while I was with the BKs. Obviously, it was not cured, just covered up by the artificial BK identity. I don't know if the shame bind per se can be set up by the BKs, unless of course you were a child BK, but it is certainly a contributing factor to my being so "comfortable" there for so long.

Shame is a powerful control because it fosters the belief that you have no right to respond. Shamed people can be afraid of their own anger, unaware of their own anger, or feel that they have no right to be angry, that any mistreatment or abuse is deserved. They do not speak up for themselves because they do not see abuse as abuse. (This may be why I cannot find any anger toward the BKs - I still don't have the answer to that).

Another key feature of a deeply shamed individual is extreme self-doubt and indecisiveness. Their emotions have been so denied and invalidated thay they cannot trust themselves, nor can they empathise easily. This makes it easy to stand by silently as others are abused around you.

An ex-BK friend recently described our local center as "catastrophic". It was! There were three severe mental breakdowns while I was there; the center-in-charge thought she could cure a student's bipolar disorder - with disastrous results; I saw arguments that got physical; I saw kitchen sabotage in the fierce competitiveness to feed Seniors; most of the regular Western students had some trauma in their personal history; there was victimisation and persecution - all in the name of God!

At another local center, the center-in-charge Brother was an egomaniac and an extreme bully. He confessed to beating his wife before becoming a BK, and that violence and anger became viscious emotional and verbal abuse within the center. (Of course, he was another victim of existential shame acting out his escape from it).

I stood silently by for years, never seeing any of the madness as anything to be concerned about. After all, it was all if God's hands!

I know many people, BKs and ex-BKs, who are just like me. Maybe they will find their way here one day and begin their journey back to wholeness. The shame bind usually results from childhood trauma or abuse of some kind. If this resonates with anyone reading, I can highly recommend any therapy that specialises in the inner child. A lost childhood has to be found, felt, shared, and grieved in order to be released. Examining one's BK history is an integral part of that process.

Terry

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Re: The Existential Shame Spiral

Post11 Apr 2009

Before replying to some of your insightful points Leela, i'd like to make a comment that i nearly wrote under another topic to do with therapy and drugs. Depression can be seen as an extreme form of introversion. Unfortunately it is socially unacceptable,and there is coercion to "do something about it", to "pull yourself together and get on with it". In some situations that may be good advice. Yet here we have a strong human response to life's circumstances which I suggest is as natural as pulling one's hand away from a flame.

When we get sick and all we want to do is sleep, that is what we should do. That allows the body to divert its energy to fighting off the infection. I think that depression is akin to that. It is an instinct that withdraws psychological energy and if allowed, will seek to process and eliminate the toxicity. But we rarely consciously allow it. We deny it, pretend it is not there, take happy pills, or act as if everything fine, and so on. We have lost the culture or rituals for "dropping down" into the depths within and sorting out what needs to be sorted - either consciously and unconsciously. Only recently has there movement back in some forms of therapy to accepting it as normal. I was listening to a talk by controversial psychiatrist Professor Thomas Szasz. He said that many think we live through our minds, others think we live through our bodies, but really we live through our language. "What is depression" he says "except than another word for sadness"?

Leela- your post fills me with admiration, the way you respond to such emotions. You sit with it, look at it, seek to understand it, and emerge wiser. You turn every episode into a heroic journey & return.

The Existential Shame Spiral - what Kaufman & you describe here makes it so tangible, I have seen these descriptors happen in others so often.
Leela wrote:Shame is a powerful control because it fosters the belief that you have no right to respond. Shamed people can be afraid of their own anger, unaware of their own anger, or feel that they have no right to be angry, that any mistreatment or abuse is deserved. They do not speak up for themselves because they do not see abuse as abuse. (This may be why I cannot find any anger toward the BKs - I still don't have the answer to that.)
is it because if one is bound in shame, you withhold responding equally, to all people, the world, the BKs, in the same way - i.e. if you don';t find anger toward the BKs you also don't find it toward others? Or is it that they were not in your case the perpetrators, they were the refuge?

Terry

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Re: The Existential Shame Spiral

Post11 Apr 2009

Before replying to some of your insightful points Leela, I'd like to make a comment that I nearly wrote under another topic to do with therapy and drugs. Depression can be seen as an extreme form of introversion. Unfortunately it is socially unacceptable, and there is coercion to "do something about it", to "pull yourself together and get on with it". In some situations, that may be good advice. Yet here we have a strong human response to life's circumstances which I suggest is as natural as pulling one's hand away from a flame.

When we get sick and all we want to do is sleep, that is what we should do. That allows the body to divert its energy to fighting off the infection. I think that depression is akin to that. It is an instinct that withdraws psychological energy and if allowed, will seek to process and eliminate the toxicity. But we rarely consciously allow it. We deny it, pretend it is not there, take happy pills, or act as if everything fine, and so on.

We have lost the culture or rituals for "dropping down" into the depths within and sorting out what needs to be sorted - either consciously and unconsciously. Only recently is there movement back in some forms of therapy to accepting it as normal. I was listening to a talk by controversial psychiatrist Professor Thomas Szasz. He said that many think we live through our minds, others think we live through our bodies, but really we live through our language. "What is depression" he says "except than another word for sadness"?

Leela - your post fills me with admiration, the way you respond to such emotions. You sit with it, look at it, seek to understand it, and emerge wiser. You turn every episode into a heroic journey & return.

The Existential Shame Spiral - what Kaufman & you describe here makes it so tangible, I have seen these descriptors happen in others so often.
Leela wrote:Shame is a powerful control because it fosters the belief that you have no right to respond. Shamed people can be afraid of their own anger, unaware of their own anger, or feel that they have no right to be angry, that any mistreatment or abuse is deserved. They do not speak up for themselves because they do not see abuse as abuse. (This may be why I cannot find any anger toward the BKs - I still don't have the answer to that.)

Is it because if one is bound in shame, you withhold responding equally, to all people, the world, the BKs, in the same way - i.e. if you don't find anger toward the BKs you also don't find it toward others? Or is it that they were not in your case the perpetrators, they were the refuge?
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rayoflight

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Re: The Existential Shame Spiral

Post11 Apr 2009

Hi Leela,

Your post really touched me. I think you described something that draws many into a darkness that is very very difficult to come out of. It reminded me of the depressions I encountered when I was in University. I read William Styron's "Darkness Visible" and discovered the spiral of which you speak.

Terry said something in the "The Brahma Kumaris: Spiritualism and Channeling" thread that I think relates to this thread.
terry wrote wrote:If we do not exist, paradigms and archetypes do not exist.

My interpretation of this quote was: "by the disappearance/annihilation of my being, I do not have to deal with the complexities, questioning, falsities etc. the mind is capable of creating". A wounded psyche can find it exhausting to enter into the myriad dissections of the mind when all it wants is relief. The BK world would then appear to be a great place for relief, whereupon the pain can take refuge from all the questions that don't seem to have answers.

The comfort we find in the meditation room is like a "spiritual morphine" but also an escape from the dangerous downward spiral. The BK plaster provides "Godly" reasons that justify our unconscious (or even conscious) desire to annhiliate ourselves. The sacrifice we make appears to be worth it though, when finally the shame disappears along with our selves. And so by no longer existing, neither does our pain.

There is no quick fix to healing unfortunately. There is no shame in having been hurt by people and by life circumstances. It takes so much courage to say, "I hurt", "you hurt me," "I am mad," "I hate you," etc. because the truth is, the world is filled with the walking-wounded pretending to have it all together, and now with the BKs there are walking-wounded-dead-people pretending to be happy because they have found "the answer."

Considering the state of humanity right now, is it any wonder so many people were/are attracted to the BKWSU? We just have to care for each other properly which means not judge each other's fears and not be afraid of each other's pain. When someone cries, you just have to hold them. You don't have to tell them what the eighth wonder of the world is.

If we have bought into the BK story, then we will reach the abyss and say, "it is my karma and I deserve to die", while the BKs agree and stand by and watch you die (what else is a dead person supposed to do? You have to be alive to react). But we are not there right now. By accepting that we are human, the simplicity of saying, "I care", will not only heal our deepest wounds, but also help the human species evolve towards a more compassionate state of mind.

We need to trust that when we break the silence and speak of our shame, we will not die. Our biggest fear is not that of being revealed, but of dying from the exposure. It is true that sometimes too much light can burn a negative, so to avoid overexposure, we must let the light in slowly, consistently and gently, and eventually the light of day will become less threatening than the dark of night.

leela, I care.
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leela

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Re: The Existential Shame Spiral

Post12 Apr 2009

rayoflight

What a beautiful, eloquent post. I am moved beyond words - to tears actually. You reflect me back to myself in an exquisitely sensitive light. I have never felt so perfectly heard and safely seen. My soul feels kissed by the light of your seeing.

terry

Your questions are always thought provoking and productive. This whole anger thing is still a conundrum for me. Both scenarios you mention feel true. I have plenty of anger, but I seem to always run into it in the most unexpected and unrelated places. I am still looking at it.

Do you think an excess of shame is the root source of all spiritual yearning and searching?

It seems we could talk of a shame spectrum. At one end is the sociopathic absence of shame or conscience. I met one BK like this. The median would be the healthy shame that underpins healthy religion and spirituality, monitors socially appropriate behavior, and sets appropriate boundaries for intimate relationships. I think I met some BKs like this. And at the far end of the spectrum is the toxic shame condition that causes separation from ourselves and life. I knew lots of BKs like this. Wherever we sit on that spectrum would define the way we interact with and experience the BKs. Each of these three types would have a different experience in the exact same situation.

For all the positive things I have said about my BK experience, I did feel persecuted when I lived in the center. It is easy for a Westerner to feel special when they visit an Indian center - the food is divine, the welcome feels warm and genuine, the drishti is sweet.

Actually living in an Indian center was quite a different thing, and not only because of the craziness I mentioned above. I felt sidelined and judged a lot of the time. I did not speak the language; I wasn't pure enought to prepare food or sit on the gaddi; women weren't supposed to change a light bulb or touch the "dirty" garden; there was always some rule or ritual that I did not know about; I felt criticized and undermined by their constant corrections of me. It quickly became just another arena for me to live out the victim/persecutor relationship, (which I could probably do with a snail, so I don't say that as a comment on the centerniwassis really).

So why did I tolerate it for so long? Because there was a payoff, obviously. My victim script is not the whingeing variety. It is more the kind that says; look how fu*k*d your behavior is, but I am so serene/spiritua/strong/independent/above-it-all/whatever that I can take it. I thrived on the admiration I got from visiting students for being able to live in such a madhouse.

And the BK script completely articulates some of the core beliefs of the shame-bound, albeit with a "spiritual" slant. I am not allowed to be angry becomes anger means I am not having enough remembrance. I am no good becomes It is possible to overcome all my weaknesses if I do this right.Or I don't deserve to be here becomes my real home is in the Subtle Regions or Paramdham. The list is endless. It might be fun to compile one.

Our experience of the BKs must be totally defined by the beliefs, defences, and inner scripts we bring to it, or in other words, where we sit on the shame spectrum. I wonder if it possible to say anything "true" about who they are.
rayoflight wrote:The comfort we find in the meditation room is like a "spiritual morphine" but also an escape from the dangerous downward spiral.

Yes, and when we're ready, we see that the dangerous downward spiral is actually the way in. The truth of our being lies in the core of the shame. Or to put it another way, once we stop being afraid of what's inside ourselves, when we stop running away from it, we find out it is really quite powerless, that it is safe to just be here, and we don't need to search for anything else.
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ex-l

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Re: The Existential Shame Spiral

Post13 Apr 2009

Leela wrote:And the BK script completely articulates some of the core beliefs of the shame-bound, albeit with a "spiritual" slant. I am not allowed to be angry becomes anger means I am not having enough remembrance.

I don't suppose it is really necessary for me to write that all that focus on the external control of the senses, and external conformity, would appear to be entirely contradictory to the BK practise.

One is externally disciplined into "Being Brahmin ... Speaking Brahmin ... Thinking Brahmin" ... a largely unwritten code of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour which can, of course, be contradicted if it is the organization's interests. It defines the way you walk, talk, sit, eat, speak, look, think, deficate even. What is left for the person?

Of course, what it really amounts to, like a Dadi Janki, that one can become the "most stable mind in the world" and still do stupid, dishonest, nasty and unconscious things to other people ... but just that you are Om Shanti "stable" when you do them. How much of them are merely cultural hangovers and how much or true spirituality has been denied and destroyed by pursuing them?

    Am I wrong?
BTW, I never knew that gardening was impure against Shrimat for Sisters!?!

Your account of your time in India would be very welcome.
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tom

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Re: The Existential Shame Spiral

Post13 Apr 2009

ex-l wrote:BTW, I never knew that gardening was impure against Shrimat for Sisters!?!

No, it is not, it must be something culture related. The chief gardener in GRC in Oxford was Sister Gudrun (if I remember her name correctly), a pukka BK. I witnessed Sisters from our group working voluntarily in the garden at every visit. Their work was highly appreciated by the Seniors.
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leela

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Re: The Existential Shame Spiral

Post14 Apr 2009

From ex-l: ... true spirituality has been denied ...

This has been a great discovery for me, and a most unexpected one. What I thought was true spirituality, which was shaped by my time with the BKs, turned out to be almost a type of addiction - a way of avoiding reality, numbing out, and striving to achieve some other state of consciousness. There are nice experiences to be had, great people to meet, and lots of helpful practices. I've had good times and been to fascinating places and retreats. None of it brought me home. But I think the BK experience tops the charts for reinforcing the unhealthy conditioning from my family of origin.

ex-l, I know you're being tongue-in-cheek about the gardening, but it illustrates a point. Apart from the printed Maryadas, "Shrimat" could be any whim or quirk of a center-in-charge based on the cover-all, "Dadi says/Baba doesn't like/it creates a negative atmosphere/it's Maya." I have seen abominable behavior from emotionally dysfunctional teachers passed off as Shrimat. It's easy to adapt the BK system to carry on your own dysfunctional script without owning it.

By the same token, as I was recreating my own victim/persecutor drama in the center, that is how I heard the message about gardening. It was something I loved to do. Did I just put my own spin on what I heard and deny myself the pleasure in order to confirm the persecution? Who knows! But I think this is exactly the area where the BK system can be dangerous. If it doesn't help you to see your "shadow," but actually strengthens it by giving it a divine face, then that is a tragedy.

By the way, I did not mean to imply that I lived in India. I lived in a center that was all Indian teachers and students and had no connection to the Western BK world to speak of. It's probably not appropriate to say any more than I already have, for the sake of others.
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ex-l

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Re: The Existential Shame Spiral

Post14 Apr 2009

Leela wrote:I wasn't pure enought to prepare food or sit on the gaddi; women weren't supposed to change a light bulb or touch the "dirty" garden; there was always some rule or ritual that I did not know about; I felt criticized and undermined by their constant corrections of me.

What must it be like for the young Kumaris coming in to this religion? Its a question I have often asked to little to no answers at all.

As an aside, the god of the BK originally said that he would not enter into a virgin to speak through. Probably not true from the beginning because there were young trance messengers who may have been possessed by it but apparently through through the rule of Lekhraj Kirpalani. Soon Gulzar will die and we hear that they are training up - offering to their god - a handful of young girls to become trance mediums. Again, little to no answers about how that happens.

But, I suspect they are all Indians and virgins. Does this compound, subtlely, on Western women BKs who are therefore comdemned to a second class within the system because they are eternally not "pure" enough for their god and untrusted? Shame is, of course, a very Indian obssession and really a shortcut for a whole host of other attitudes and intentions.

    What were these others rules, rituals and corrections?

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