By Amber Johnson, See the Triumph Guest Blogger
The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom
Many know Maya Angelou for her thunderous and powerful words. Her influence on the arts of the 21st century is nothing short of astonishing. She was successful, ambitious, wise, motivational, and inspiring. She was also a survivor of interpersonal violence.
In her poem, she discusses a bird being in a cage singing from freedom. There are many things in life that can serve as cages. One of the most imprisoning emotions interpersonal violence survivors can encounter is shame. One way to think about shame is the belief that you are incompetent because you define yourself by how others define intellect, skill and ability. People may feel ashamed when they feel they don’t amount to other people’s definition of success.
Particularly during the holidays, shame experienced by IPV survivors may cause reluctance to celebrate the holidays with family and friends. IPV survivors may fear that others will view them as personally incompetent. Experiencing domestic violence in a relationship can be embarrassing and demeaning, which can leave survivors with lingering feelings of low self-worth. Leaving a violent relationship can also leave persistent feelings of defeat, unwillingness to fight, and self-blaming. As we go through the holiday season, it is important to understand that we determine our own self-worth.
Why is this important now? The holiday season symbolizes the end of the year and time with family and friends. This is time where many people reflect on life, goals obtained or not obtained, and love. A natural response to shame can include withdrawal, avoidance, and self-hate, leading to more isolation and loneliness. It is important to understand that the shame can make feel caged. However, this is a cage in which you can break free.
How we respond and deal with shame when experienced, determines our ability to move forward personally and socially. Spend time with a friend or family member you have not seen in a while over the holidays. Remind yourself why you did everything right by leaving a violent relationship. You are a survivor and every day you live, you are proudly singing. Though shame doesn’t go away overnight or through the holidays, keep singing. Keep singing until you are free from all the shame you feel. You are free.
Amber Johnson is a doctoral student in the Department of Public Health Education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Amber’s current interest focuses on the health consequences of shame endured by women on a systemic level, particularly among racial/ethnic minority women. She is interested in Community-Based Participatory Research and establishing effective partnerships with community members. She also seeks to find ways to lessen the differential power of researchers and community members. She will be on track to finish her PhD in May 2016.