Shame & the novel Lost Memory of Skin

Shame. Lost Memory of Skin, toxic shame, for shame, dirty shame, dealing with shame
In 1980 I worked for a victim focused rape crisis center. I started the incest program for them when the only resources I could find were two books that had been written. Later, I had the opportunity to train in Philadelphia to obtain some knowledge of perpetrators.

Perpetrators of sexual abuse are marginalized by everyone. They only generate disgust. Yet, Russell Banks takes this subject on in his remarkable, new novel Lost Memory of Skin. He creates a character the “Kid” who despite his transgressions, that we can care about.

Thirty years ago, I believed that sexual abuse was more about power than sex for the perpetrator. I also paid attention to the victim’s experience of powerlessness. When a victim would come to my office I would offer them a variety of chairs to choose from, including mine. This was a humble attempt to begin to restore their sense of power.

So I appreciate the author’s validation that power is the issue for perpetrators. The truth that resonates in this quote: He believes that one’s sexual identity is shaped by one’s self-percieved social identity, that pedophilia, rightly understood, is about not sex, but power. More precisely, it’s about one’s personal perception of power.

Lack of power & identity is a huge problem for many, because in this world it can be hard to find your place. I remember finding it disconcerting when my ex sister-in-law would hide out by always focusing on any kids that were around. Not because of safety concerns, but because even while years went by, she could not have sustained conversations in groups of adults. She was never able to grow into a sense of herself & learn to cope with some discomfort.

Shame is the biggest stumbling block for anyone trying to change their life. This novel makes it abundantly clear how powerful shame can be.

Anyone who is truly stuck in shame needs to read this book!

    It could be helpful to watch the Kid as he gets himself unstuck.

    Shame does indeed pull people into the riptide of just feeling bad about who you are, without any end in sight. The Kid got sluiced into being a nearly full-time consumer of internet pornography & because he didn’t realize it was a bad thing & should therefore feel guilty for doing it which would have made him stop doing it, he felt ashamed instead: a bad person doing his typically bad things instead of a good person doing one bad thing. Or maybe two. Shame is part & parcel of a raw emptiness inside.

    Who climbs out of the emptiness & who doesn’t? Anyone who is able to climb out has to begin to believe they are worth it. I believe anyone can do it if they try to. There is absolutely no doubt about that.

    What a treasure of a book to capture so many hard truths within it’s pages!


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