Posted by: Marie | December 31, 2009

(215) Shame bad shame bad shame

Post #215
[Private journal entry written on Wednesday, August 19, 2009]

Today, I had another piano lesson with Matt – my little 6-year-old autistic piano student. However, several things had changed since the last lesson. Due to scheduling conflicts, we shifted his lessons from Saturday to Wednesday, we shifted the time from morning to evening, and we switched the location from my house to his house. That is a lot of change for an autistic child to withstand – especially on top of him starting the new school year.

When I walked up to his house, even before I reached the front door, I could hear him screaming and crying and throwing things – he was in the midst of a full-blown temper tantrum. I took a deep breath . . . trying to teach him when he is in that mode is always challenging.

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Photo by Martin Chen

But, he has to learn that the “real world” doesn’t come to a halt just because he screams out in frustration. So, I knew the lesson would happen, as planned. It was my job to help him through the lesson despite his frustration. (His mom has been coaching me on how to do that.)

When I walked into the house, he was running around in his underwear. I wasn’t sure if his mom was planning on making him wear clothes, but I felt it was necessary for two reasons: 1) I am more comfortable having close physical contact with him when he is fully clothed, and 2) we need to maintain a sense of at least some formality in our lessons. So, I told him to go put on some clothes.

His mom backed me up and told him to put on clothes . . . and reminded him of the rule that he has to wear clothes when there was company in the house. He put on a tee shirt and shorts – and continued his tantrum.

His mom felt her presence in the room was fueling the tantrum, so she retreated into her office and left him alone with me in the living room. I called him over to the piano. When he didn’t respond, I used my firm “teacher voice”. He then came over to the piano but started hitting on the keys, over and over, with all his strength.

His mom has explained to me that he pounds the keys (and other objects) because sometimes his sense of touch becomes dampened . . . he has to “touch” with force in order for the tactile sensation to penetrate his dulled and/or confused senses. He pounds the keys because he is desperate for tactile input.

While it is not acceptable for him to damage the piano in those moments, it is important for us to not shame him for needing the input. So, his mom has taught me to offer my hands as an alternate surface. We encourage him to slap our hands as hard and for as long as he needs. That seems to get the frustration out of the way, at least for a while.

So, anyway . . . being armed with some fascinating tidbits of information from a book my mom is reading (the book discusses how autistic people feel calmer when exposed to steady, deep, full-body pressure), and having been repeatedly encouraged by Matt’s mom to provide positive feedback to him through assertive touch (tight hugs, strong mini-massages, etc.), I intuitively felt Matt needed me to provide to him some comfort through physical contact at the start of our lesson today.

Despite wanting to give him the tactile feedback and encouragement he needs, I have not felt comfortable initiating close physical contact with him. I have been okay with allowing him to “hug” and “cuddle” on me, as long as I remained passive. This day, however, my gut told me that he really needed the assertive contact from me.

I took another deep breath. My brain and every muscle in my body were screaming, “No!” But, my instinct was whispering, “Go ahead. It is okay. It’s what he needs. Go ahead.”

I reached out and pulled him onto my lap (he is small for his age), wrapped my arms tightly around him and pulled him close into me.

He immediately relaxed into my body and became calm.

It felt very right for a second. Then, my inner voices started their taunts, “Shame. Bad. Shame. Bad. Shame. Bad. Shame . . . ”

I suddenly realized that Matt was lying against my breasts. I tensed up as the dire warning from my father flooded my mind: “You have to be very careful to not cause boys and men to think sinful thoughts. If you dress, stand or walk in a way that calls attention to your body, you might cause them to sin. If you allow your ‘chest’ to touch them, even accidentally, you might cause them to sin. Make sure to keep you appearance and behavior modest . . . don’t do anything that will cause them to think sinful thoughts or have sinful feelings . . .”

Oh, dear God . . . I’m corrupting Matt . . . he is so young and I’m corrupting him by holding him against my jumbo boobs . . . I can’t provide the support Matt needs because these dumb blobs of sinful flesh are in the way. I can’t move them out of the way. They are literally blocking my ability to connect physically with other human beings in ways other than sexually. And now, they are causing me to corrupt the psyche of this sweet little boy. I am scarring him for life.

Wait . . . take a deep breath. Everyday, millions of mothers and grandmothers and aunts and female caretakers around the world hold children closely – against their breasts. It is natural and normal. Just because it feels weird to me does not make it weird or immoral or perverted.

Take another deep breath . . . do an energetic read to determine what Matt is focused on . . .

I can feel that he is not getting “turned on” . . . I can feel that he is not relating to me in a sexual manner. I can sense that he is simply reveling in this moment of human contact. The moment is innocent.

I am able to reconnect with my own innocence, for a moment.

Then, I tense up again. I’m sure his mom is going to come bursting back into the living room, screaming, “Pervert! What are you doing to my son!!?!?!?!?!?!? PERVERT!”

I started preparing my desperate response . . . how could I prove to her that I don’t have a desire to do nasty things to kids? I’m not like that. Really. I made my shrink prove it to me . . . he always believed I didn’t have perverted desires . . . he knew before I did that I was not sick like that. My fantasies are only about others raping me . . . about me being the passive recipient of abuse, not the aggressor . . .

My fantasies are about me being raped because I deserve it . . . because I am bad . . . so, how do I know that my badness won’t rub off on the little kids I have to touch now as part of my job?

Another deep breath. I remind myself that the panic is coming from my history. It is not reality.

I continued to sit quietly with Matt.

And, guess what . . . ?? His mom never screamed at me. She didn’t even come back into the room. All remained quiet and still . . . and Matt soaked in the affectionate, loving touch I was giving to him.

So, I tentatively mused, this is what it is like to have emotionally bonding, physical contact with an innocent child – a small taste of what it must be like to be a mom.

Yet another deep breath.

Then, it hit me . . . his mom didn’t come back into the room because she trusts me.

More than that, she didn’t come back into the room because . . . well, because I am worthy of that trust. A light bulb switched on in my brain:

I am trustworthy.

It is more than the fact that I can argue I wouldn’t ever do anything that would bring him harm. It is more than the fact that I have evidence of this in the testimony of my therapist.

Rather, it is all about the fact that, with or without solid arguments and testimony to prove it, I know he is safe with me. There is no need for me to prove it to anyone. Without a doubt, I know:

He is safe with me. Yes, my intentions are pure.

I am trustworthy and he is safe with me. All children are safe with me. I am trustworthy.

I have always been trustworthy. Children have always been safe with me. I just never acknowledged it before.

Another deep breath and a few tears . . . I tried to not let my snot drip onto Matt’s head . . . LOL.

Anyway, after a couple minutes of close contact, we were able to have a productive lesson. In fact, I introduced all the various major scales to him. By the time he played the tenth or eleventh scale, he was picking them out almost without error – the potential for confusion around white keys vs. black keys seems irrelevant to him. Absolutely amazing.

Now, here’s the humor for the day . . .

As soon as we finished the lesson, Matt ran out the back door onto the patio. I spoke to his mom for a few minutes, then I headed out the front door . . . and was met by Matt, who came running around the side of the house to see me off . . . stark naked.

I’m sure his mom didn’t know he was running around the front yard in this mode of undress – but I have a feeling it’s not the first time.

I guess it has to be said in his defense . . . he followed the rule that he has to wear clothes when company is in the house . . . he did wait until I walked out the front door (or maybe until he ran out the back door?) before shedding his sense of formality, LOL.

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  1. Wow. This is a very intense experience for you! It does describe my own experiences too, almost precisely!

    I think that those reactions on our part are more common than we think. I’m going to bookmark this post because I want to come back to it, think about it, and maybe write about it some…

    I don’t know much about autistic kids. But I do understand a bit about the tight holding. Weighted blankets are used to help with acute PTSD symptoms of survivors and they work quite well. I am assuming they work under the same principle (gives a sense of control and safety).

    Thanks so much for posting this Marie!

    And happy 2010 to you!

    • Hey, Paul –

      Thanks for sharing that your experiences are very similar to this . . . I have been feeling that “I’m the only one” with this type of experience . . . so, it is very encouraging to me that you can relate.

      For whatever reason, I feel desperate to convince others that I’m not being sexual (with children, with men, etc.) — I assume that others assume that is my intention, even when it is not. I have often wondered how that way of thinking/feeling got started with me.

      Anyway . . . thank you . . . and best wishes for the upcoming year for you and yours!

      – Marie

  2. This was wonderful to read.

    My daughter has often wondered aloud if I am a bit autistic because of my connection to any animal and what “touch” does to me. But mostly, because I think in pictures or numbers. I’m hard put to give someone an accurate account of a phone call before they get the colored and/or pictured account! Honestly, I’m not autistic, I’m just sensitive. If I’m about to have a panic attack, a loving hand laid on my arm will ground and center me instantly. It’s a wonderful feeling. Whenever my daughter asks what she can do for me, the answer is “touch me”.

    • Hey, Ivory –

      Isn’t it amazing how powerful touch can be — and how devastating the lack of it can be . . . . we are surely designed to be creatures of touch.

      Thank you for sharing your experience . . . it is always good to hear from you!

      – Marie

  3. This sounds like it was huge. It sounds like it was a real liberation.

    • Hey, Evan –

      Yes, it was . . . I still feel the need to prove to others that children are safe with me, but it helps to know it within myself . . . still a work in progress!

      – Marie

  4. Sorry I’ve been off the radar for ages. I’ve been following along even though I’ve not said anything. Things have been rough. Still are, but felt the urge to respond to this post and have battled through the “don’t say anything you will just sound stupid” talk.

    I TOTALLY get this post. I crave touch. I long for it. Which I despise (despise that I need it and want it – feels like a betrayal of myself) If the person is very safe – and there are probably only 2 people who fit this category- a 10 minute “hold” – I would differentiate between a hug and a hold – can be worth 2 hours of talking. Have you heard of the love languages stuff? Mine is totally touch.

    And YET – every time I have it everything in me screams BAD, EVIL, SHAMEFUL. Less so with the many children I look after and when I’m GIVING touch (I know we both give and receive it, but there does feel a difference for me). I know how vital touch is, and I want them to experience good, safe touch. I don’t want to pull away from them like my parents did. I think for me I was starved of good healthy touch as a child. Most touch I remember is inappropriate, or scary, or about being held/forced. But scarily recently, the more I’ve been “remembering” stuff from the past, the more nervous I’ve become about it. Sometimes I’m sitting with a child on my lap and I “see” something happening. I feel this is because I am bad. But those I’ve entrusted with this say it is perhaps things that have happened to me, or just something being triggered. I know I NEVER would do anything to hurt them. And like you, many people entrust their children to me.

    Most of my shame, badness comes when I’m being held by someone else. So if I’m receiving touch. If I’m sitting on a sofa and someone else is holding me whilst we talk (only one person who does this) then I feel like the shame is worse, because the longing for this safe holding is so strong. And I always feel like it’s my fault and something I’m doing – even though it’s the other person who has hold of me.

    My feelings of shame rocket out of orbit if someone walks into a room when I am having a hug or hold with someone. I feel like I’ve been “caught in the act” even though again it wasn’t necessarily me who was initiating it. I think I am very easily overresponsible when it comes to touch – like when you spoke about your ability to corrupt a boy just from them laying their head on your chest.

    So touch is a huge issue for me. It is a huge craving, something to which I am hyper sensitive to, and something for which I feel great shame and badness.

    Thank you for writing this post.

    • Oh, beautifulstones . . . I am so moved by your comment!

      I totally get what you are saying about:

      – the overwhelming need for touch

      – the difference between a hug and a hold

      – feeling guilty for touching a child, even though I’m not doing or thinking anything inappropriate

      – feeling shame for needing/receiving touch — the “getting caught” feeling

      Oh, my word . . . you describe it so well. Thank you so much for letting me know there are others that share this experience. I am grateful for you reaching out via a comment.

      I look forward to hearing from you again, some day . . .

      – Marie

  5. Thanks Marie.

    I find it so hard to articulate this stuff so that others understand. When I try and explain I feel shame for being held or having a hug – as if I am the one doing the bad thing, making the other person do something bad, corrupting them, forcing them into something – people always say oh but you aren’t doing it so why do you feel shame? It’s so hard to explain. I’ve had a number of very vivid dreams (possibly rememberances?? I don’t know whether I can believe them as anything more than dreams, but they are different to my other dreams) which would explain some of this sense of responsibility and shame, and being “caught in the act”.

    But thank you for understanding.

    I’m not sure how I move from intellectual insight to having a new experience though. Maybe like you it is talking yourself through it at the time. I generally react so quickly that I’ve pulled away or removed myself from the situation before I even realise what was happening.

    • Hi, beautifulstones –

      Once again, I totally get what you mean by reacting so quickly . . . I find myself puzzled by my reactions and feelings — or by my numbness.

      I see that Evan has some thoughts for you (below) . . .

      – Marie

  6. Beautiful Stones, the way I have moved from intellectual insight is by getting quicker – from taking weeks to recognise that I avoided something to days then a few hours, then sometimes minutes. Also finding safe places to make small experiments. Hope this helps. I’m sure other people have lots of other ways too.

    • Hi, Evan –

      I like your response to beautifulstone . . .

      I agree that, each time I reflect back on my reactions to certain situations, I can then identify a repeat performance quicker the next time it happens — and, in time, I have gotten much quicker at recognizing when I’m getting triggered.

      It is interesting to me that you suggested finding safe places to make small experiments as a way to start crafting new ways to respond. As a matter of fact, after much thought and planning, I have made arrangements for an opportunity to experiment in this way with a man I trust . . . we have set aside a couple of hours later this week.

      I am feeling a bit anxious about it (about that it might be too weird or too emotional), but this man has assured me he will follow my lead and that I will be in control of what happens.

      I find myself feeling a sense of relief about it, also. It feels like my internal wiring is all messed up and this exercise will provide the opportunity to map out the wiring so I can know what needs to be rewired — and, maybe, I’ll even come out of the exercise with some ideas on how to start the rewiring. The relief I’m feeling is from the hope that I don’t have to be held hostage by my messed up internal wiring for the rest of my life — things might start shifting in the near future.

      I’ll be posting journal entries about it down the road . . .

      Thank you for your wise input!

      – Marie

  7. Hi Marie, very much looking forward to hearing how it goes.

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