Shame

Many ADD children grew up in families in which putdowns, disapproval, personal attacks and threats of abandonment were commonplace. Punishment and frustration from teachers and taunts from peer groups added to a sense of worthlessness. As an adult, the person with ADD judges himself mercilessly and often tries to be perfect in a desperate attempt to shield his shame. He feels deeply ashamed of being “different” due to ADD as well as of being a sexual compulsive — a “deviant,” if he becomes one. Chronic, relentless shame is devastating. Mired in feelings of worthlessness, defectiveness and despair, he is full of doubt about his very validity.

Shame and sex addiction are natural partners. The more intense the pain of self-hatred, the stronger the drive to find a sexual behavior that offers relief from internal pain and emptiness. For the sex addict, the answer to his inner problems lay outside himself in the “magic” of sexual desire for or from another. He confuses sexual desirability with self-acceptance. He is trying to fill the void that has been at least partially created by shame. He simply cannot bear feeling empty inside.

ADD temper problems or problems with rage also may stem from this chronic shame. A rage-filled person is desperate to keep others far enough away that they won’t see his sense of defectiveness. A shamed person can think only to defend himself from real or imagined attacks by cruelly attacking the other person. And rage works. It drives people away and so protects the person from revealing his shame.

But this device of using rage to keep people away is very damaging to a person’s self-esteem. Rage breaks the connection between people and so increases the shamed person’s shame. A rage/shame spiral can result. Social isolation lends itself to engrossment in sexual fantasy as a way to ameliorate loneliness.

The person who is shame-based sees himself as deeply and permanently flawed. He “knows” he is not like other persons. He “knows” he is different. He “knows” he is so bad he is beyond repair. He “knows” he will never be able to join others in a world of productivity, balance, self-respect and pride.

Shame and Perverse Sexuality

An early-life sense of shame for being “different” and fear of abandonment can influence the sexual development of an ADD child. Parents who may have been unstable themselves and who had no knowledge of the special needs of an ADD child may create a shame-based home environment. The messages that the ADD child who has chronic behavior problems, hyperactivity, aggressiveness and learning disabilities receives at home may include:

  1. You are not good;
  2. You are not good enough;
  3. You don’t belong;
  4. You are deficient and disappoint us.
  5. You are not worthy of love.

Shame and sexuality become closely connected. Children shamed early in life may become sexually compulsive or develop perverse fantasies as a way to feel better about themselves. Fetishism may occur. Sadomasochistic fantasies and enactments may become paramount. Exhibitionism may be developed and acted on.

Exhibitionism can easily be a chosen perversion for the person who is shame-based. The person who is shamed, instead of hiding, calls attention to himself. He may expose himself in public, in an automobile or by standing in a window. The ADD child may have suffered from a lack of recognition of his real and valid feelings, wants and needs by parents and teachers who expected him to be other than the way he was. The exhibitionist seeks to redress this lack of recognition. He also uses his perversion as a strategy for dealing with shame by displaying what he really wants to hide — himself.

Sadomasochistic fantasies and enactments are common among shame-based people who have difficulty imagining that relationships can include mutual respect, dignity and pride. People who have grown up with shame, like many ADD people, often believe that fulfilling, exciting relationships must be shame-based. Men pay hundreds of dollars to see dominatrixes who physically humiliate them and repeatedly tell them something is wrong with them. The submissive man, fearing abandonment, tries to please the “mistress” by becoming whomever she wants him to be, no matter how humiliating or dehumanizing her demands may be. The reasoning is such: “If anyone saw the real me, they would be revolted. I must please the mistress by being a person she would be proud of.”

Pleasing the dominant parental figure is a way of undoing the pain of having a parent who couldn’t be pleased. The S&M enactment thus turns trauma into triumph because the masochistic man succeeds in pleasing his dominant partner.

Self-abuse is a common result of shame. Here, the person who is deeply shamed engages in masochistic behaviors that damage him. Seeking out the services of a dominatrix who may beat, whip and verbally humiliate him is one such way of self-abuse.

The other side of the S&M coin is the desire to humiliate and administer pain to others. Shame is a threat to a person’s basic sense of being. The shamed person feels small, weak, vulnerable and exposed. He may find this self-hatred to be unendurable and in order to survive psychologically, he transfers his hatred on to others, treating them with disdain and contempt.