Lena Dunham’s “rage spiral” against sexual abuse allegations

By: Laura Moss

Diplomate and Director of Communications for NAMA


Co-Director, Growth Central


The socially complex sexual abuse allegations that are being brought to light from Lena Dunham’s book, “Not That Kind of Girl” makes for an important discussion on culture, feminism and how “rage” fits in to the picture. I write as someone who experienced sexual assault and manipulation at age 12 from another who had roughly the same age difference to me as Lena Dunham had to her younger sister and as someone who denied that impact for many years thereafter.

This is not a Conservative issue. Not a Liberal issue. But it is interesting from an Integral POV. This means taking in the whole picture from the point of view of human development and the evolution of consciousness. A way to look at things from multiple points of view, at once, and discover how it relates to the development of one’s self, one’s body and our culture at large.

Dunham thinks it is the Conservative mafia who is stringing her out to dry. But what I would like to propose is that it is her own people: her liberal publisher, parents, and confidants who have let her down.

Rage is a severe degree of anger that shows up when one feels their existence is being threatened. The amygdala part of the limbic system in the brain (which is the fight or flight survival system) gets triggered and before someone can respond in a reasonable, rational, and logical manner from the pre-frontal cortex, one spikes to irrational, reactionary behavior. This part of the brain has been very effective in saving our human tushies for millennia. We owe it a great debt and huge respect. We would not be here without it. It is intended to do just that: save our human body from the threat of extinction. It is not intended to save our perceived notions of who we are, our personal narratives or validate our egos. It is interesting to me that Dunham uses the term “spiral”, a “rage spiral”, because that indicates that she is self-triggering, internally. We all face times in our lives when people accuse us of injustices, wrong doings, or just being plain bad, but unless there is something inside- a trigger thought, we call it,- that in some way believes there is some truth to the accusation, it does not alert our threat system, our amygdala. So what inside Dunham is the culprit of this now self-perpetuating downward, “rage spiral”? Simply put, shame. In an interview with The Guardian, Dunham talks about her shame and even states that her writing is a way of ridding herself of shame. But shame is a much deeper, more complex state of being that cannot be exonerated or resolved through a TV series or writing a humorous book. Shame drives human behavior and it’s hardly recognizable to the individual. It has symptoms: anger, rage, acting-out, addiction, cutting, lack of boundaries, risk taking and more. Its dark, seedy and gets us to do and say things we would never dream of doing without it and then tricks us in to believing it’s just who we are, who our personality is. Shame eats at the very core of our self in a way that is so awful we can’t even distinguish it from who we are. It’s like a tumor on our self-esteem. Until, rage shows up. In our modern day society, rage and intense anger reactions are showing up all over the place, story after story, as the external answer to internal shame. Rage is the antidote and defense mechanism against intense shame. It sounds more to me that Dunham’s work is an expression of a guilty conscience, not a therapeutic answer to shame.

Many of us read these passages posted on various news sites and have our internal moral radars go off when we hear of a seven year old child probing her one year old baby sister’s vagina and “finding” pebbles. Some readers are skeptical that Dunham found the pebbles instead of putting them in there herself then getting scared she couldn’t get them out and yelling for Mommie. It is important that we not shrug off our internal moral radars and ethical compasses in the name of them being the Conservative mafia. Have liberals gone so far as to hang the idea of having boundaries out to dry? Has Feminism contorted and distorted the rules for women so much that we are truly an anything goes, desire-driven species and society? And isn’t this type of thinking also called narcissism? Can’t “curiosity” have boundaries and respect for one another and still be cool?

Let’s be honest: if this were a conversation of a 28-year old man brazenly, nostalgically and humorously talking of his childhood which consisted of probing his six years a junior sister’s vagina, masturbating next to her in bed, bribing her with candy for kisses and perversely using fear-based tactics of winning his little sister’s affection and attention, I am pretty sure we would call that manipulation, control and sexual abuse by him or even domestic violence between siblings. The feminists would be all over dominating that conversation, were the older sibling a boy. Just call a spade, a spade. If we tell the truth, the real truth, we have a shot at healing some shame. But if we continue the false narrative, we are perpetuating it.

When someone starts engaging their shame, in a truthful and honest way, it looks more like a reckoning, not a humorous book. As young women, we enjoy the fruits and perks of feminism. We get to date multiple people at a time, engage in casual sex, dress and act as we like and then blame men for noticing. We get to use our 8-mm film cameras to express the self we think we authentically are. But what is harder, more challenging and much more deeply rewarding is to turn that camera inward and apply a self-reflective lens. Stop being defined by the ideals of feminism. Stop joining in the war between liberal ideals and conservative values. Just stop, period, and take a honest look at what our deeper self is saying. When we start being honest with ourselves about how our actions, unconscious, harmless and reactionary as they may have been, have affected and harmed the very people we were trying to love. We begin to see beyond the joke or the entertainment value and take responsibility for how those actions may have affected someone else’s sense of self, defined their self identity or shaped their personal narrative in ways that we may never see or fully understand. When we truly reach this depth of acceptance and altitude of scope, it will be be humbling, terrifying, and drenched in shame. The shame will not be expressing itself through the TV series, jokes, funny books, self-deprecating or idealistic identities, or any other vehicle for which shame can attach itself. It will be in the full light of day. The shame won’t be hidden anymore, laughed off anymore, deflected anymore, acted-out anymore or enabled anymore. And you know what else? There will be no rage in sight. No anger. No triggers. No spirals. Just humility. Just empathy. Just compassion- for the harm that we have done to others, purposeful or not, as well as the harm that has been done to us, purposeful or not. Just humanity, at its greatest and finest hour.

So I challenge the liberal media to look beyond its own ideals that are sometimes self-contradictory and full of hypocrisy. I challenge the conservative voices of this country to move beyond the blame game. I challenge us to look toward personal responsibility and a deeper wisdom about what is OK and what is not. I challenge us to tap in to a greater moral conscious and listen to the voice deep down that may be saying something like, “Yes, its is wildly inappropriate for an older sibling to put herself upon her younger sibling in these ways or to violate her body. No, we cannot align with the narrative that it didn’t mean anything or shape lives. Yes, parents play a huge role- a lesson to be learned by all parents. And no, we cannot be passive or dismissive when teaching children boundaries and respect for oneself and others. Yes, right and wrong does sometimes exists. And no, you don’t have to be doomed to live a life of shame just because you did something inappropriate or harmful. Yes, personal responsibility is good. No, a little humility, and shame, won’t kill you.”

There is a way forward, a greater conversation here to be had here about moving onward and integrating deeper, seemingly contradictory, truths about ourselves, others and our culture.