Fear of the Abyss: Healing the Wounds of Shame

Published on June 29, 2012

In my years of practice as a psychotherapist, I have come to know that people can actually heal, not just cope better—the best hope current cognitive-behavioral therapy models offer. Depending on the difficulty of their problems and the degree of self-examination they are willing to do, people can truly heal—leaving behind old patterns of behavior, as well as their attendant thoughts and feelings.

My orientation is psychodynamic, meaning that I believe in helping people get to the root of the issues that trouble them. A person’s history or narrative, and the unconscious (thoughts and feelings not in awareness) are keys to this process. My goal in this kind of therapy is integration—to view the many different components of one’s personality with love, compassion, and honor, and to understand that we all have some tendencies we don’t like that can be tempered by the positive ones. It is unnecessary to deny these tendencies, which can leave people feeling inauthentic. What some call the shadow side must be acknowledged and embraced, not split off almost like a separate person. My book will not tell you how to cope with these feelings, but will encourage you to see yourself as a whole person—though maybe one with some feelings you have been running from—and set you on the path to healing.

Many people have come to realize the importance of awareness, of being in the present, of knowing who they really are. The way to do this is to see who you are not, to go through issues and defenses that obscure your real feelings. The rewards are great: healing from emotional wounds and much greater awareness. Unfortunately, many people who think of themselves as spiritual believe that they shouldn’t have "negative" feelings. This is not true; the human being goes through many dark and difficult thoughts to arrive at true compassion or forgiveness, and this is definitely the case with self-awareness. To really know who you are, your core self, you need to know who you are pretending to be and who you are not, and the way to heal is the same way to grow in awareness.

fear of the abyssI wrote my book Fear of the Abyss: Healing the Wounds of Shame & Perfectionism to help those with a certain set of traits that I frequently see in my clients. Specifically, I have written this book for people who have problems with perfectionism, control issues, shame, problems making decisions, black-and-white thinking, a dread of criticism, poor self-esteem, a fear of being disappointed or disappointing others, an inhibited fantasy life, and problems with relationships that relate to these traits. I call this set of traits the PCS constellation, for Perfectionism, Control, and Shame. These issues are all interrelated and describe a certain type of person; they also cut across diagnostic lines. Although they may or may not have led to a formal diagnosis, they nonetheless present problems in living and feelings of unease.

Perfectionism is often the most obvious of the traits in this constellation or personality type. I believe that people with perfectionistic personalities actually feel anything but perfect. Maybe this describes you. Perhaps you, too, feel there is a horrible person hiding inside that you must always defend against. As one extremely bright and insightful young client put it, "Do you think I like being so rigid, strict, and judgmental? I hate it, but I’m afraid if I ever take one drink or go to one bar, I will be just like my parents….If I tell one lie or condone one little lie in someone else, I will become this horrible liar like they are, making excuses for things and never doing anything."

Those who feel this way do not yet know the tremendous healing power of processing their feelings and experiences. This processing does not happen quickly, and takes much hard work and at times painfully honest self-examination, but it is the only way to heal the emotional wounds that cause the troubling symptoms in the first place. While arduous, this path leads to tremendous rewards. It results in a more contented and calm person, one possessing more insight and depth and better able to develop authentic goals and carry them to completion. It leads to the realization that you have far more choices than you ever imagined, because you have decided to live with awareness. People are surprised and comforted to discover that telling their stories and exploring their feelings, while someone listens intelligently and compassionately, constitute a powerful healing tool.

While my book is not psychotherapy and cannot take its place, it does invite you to move toward self-awareness—to see yourself not as a label or problem, but as a rich and unique person with many productive, unproductive, and neutral traits. Remember that we are all "package deals." Our positive and negative traits come from the same place, and the life challenge is to bring more balance and awareness to our personalities. You can use my book alone, share it with a therapist, or use it in conjunction with a meditative practice.

To find out more or purchase the book, you can visit my website.

Category(s):Control Issues, Self-Criticism, Shame

Written by:

Dr Aleta Edwards

I am a licensed clinical psychologist with 20 years of practice. I graduated with honors form the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. I love helping people and have enjoyed a highly diverse practice, working with people from all different backgrounds and ethnicities. I have much respect for different cultures, sexual orientations and spiritualities.

Mental Health News