The Face of Contempt | Part 1
Contempt – intrusive, ever-present, almost impossible to pin down. But that’s exactly why I need to talk about it.
After several false starts, I’ve decided to begin with my 1988 piece, Woman, Stand Up! I want to paint a verbal picture of the most challenging and freeing work I’ve done as an adult recovering from PTSD. If you’re new, you can get a sense of my childhood by reading any or all the following key posts.
The damage done to me by childhood trauma showed up most intensely when I was in my 40s: deep depression, difficulties in my relationship with my husband, and debilitating intestinal problems. Healing meant going back and beginning to look at, write about, talk about, weep about, rage about, and relearn everything from the beginning. I’m still on a healing journey. The kind that happens even as old scars and wounds try to take me back to the ‘good old days.’
My major task today is to keep talking—in print! Not in coded language, not just in my journals, and not indiscriminately as though I can say whatever I wish. The focus is on me, not on others who might serve as handy scapegoats.
At first I could hardly believe it.
Who me? Filled with contempt and self-contempt? I’m not a proud person, right? I don’t have contempt for myself, do I? Yet I wince when I read Woman, Stand Up! It’s all right there, carried along in my words.
Contempt: My Personal Enemy #1. Not my father or my mother. Not the shopkeeper. Not my church or my cultural context. Not any of the people I used to blame—including you—for whatever I didn’t like in myself. Even though contempt is also ‘out there.’
Do I wish to take back my words in Woman, Stand Up? Never. What isn’t visible cannot be healed. (Thank you, Henri Nouwen!)
So there it is—out in the open in 1988, before I knew I needed deep healing from contempt. Not simply from depression, shame, sexual abuse and all the rest of it.
Don’t get me wrong.
I love what I said in 1988. Standing up was and still is what I need to do most of the time. Sitting down, shutting up and giving in because I’m making too much of a ruckus or feeling scared is exactly what I need to avoid most of the time.
Still, my words give me away. Like a broken record they keep repeating themselves:
Of all the things I might be,
you can rest assured that I AM NOT
‘like all those other women.’
And I’m proud of it!
It’s sad. My truthful, long list of things I didn’t do is actually My Adult Version of Rules for Good Girls Now Become Women Who Want Men’s Approval.
Behind each item lies contempt for other women. More painful yet, contempt for others is a signal that I’m also contemptuous of myself. I don’t like saying this or thinking about it, no matter how far along I’ve come in my recovery. I want to be known as someone who loves myself, just the way I am!
OK. To be perfectly honest, I want to be known as responsible, lovable, different, dependable, nonthreatening, respectful, friendly, agreeable, fun-loving, modest, intelligent, witty, empathetic, a great listener, a good speaker, industrious, and most of all—humble and accepting of my place at the table. Thank you so much for inviting me to sit with you at the table! I’m so honored and grateful. How can I serve you better?
Would I say and do all this if I didn’t love and accept myself just the way I am?
But I’m not finished yet. When I look into the mirror of my words back then, I see one more truth. I also had contempt for men. The very men I wanted desperately to impress so they would approve of me. They may not have noticed this, but I do. And what good is contempt without manipulation?
To be continued.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 January 2015