BREAKING UP WITH SHAME
Exposing our hidden selves
Shame, which is an underlying sense that we ourselves are somehow bad or wrong, is a well grooved inner pathway for most. Some people might first default to blame, which is simply shame projected outwards onto others. Why do we carry around with us this sense that we are, or could be, bad or wrong? Why is it that when other people disagree with how we are, or have opinions about how we should be, that we nearly immediately go into self-defense in the form of hatred or rejection of ourselves? Shame is one of the most pervasive and debilitating feeling states. When we feel it we tend to freeze, withdraw and judge ourselves. We think thoughts along the lines of “if only I could be better or different than I am, then I wouldn’t be deficient, or bad or wrong, and people would love and include me.” Talk about one of the most painful states of being in which there seems to be no good way out. From the perspective of shame the only answer is for you to be different or better than you are in order to be loved and accepted. This is battle that you will always end up losing. You will lose because your sense of being loved and included is outside of you, and you will forever be chasing it because being loved and included is the most primary of all human needs and wants.
We have endless strategies to avoid feeling shame. One of the most primary ones is to stay hidden, to not allow others to see who we are, to put up fronts and be inauthentic so that people won’t judge us. If we don’t let people see us then they can’t reject us or tell us that we are wrong. If there is no one “real” at home inside of us for people to see then we can’t be accountable to being “wrong”. If we just stay quiet enough, keep the peace, pretend to not know much including knowing who we are or what value we have to contribute or share, then we can avoid the painstaking judgment of others. That is until we can’t. There will be a time when someone judges us, when they disagree with us, when they perceive some kind of insufficiency in our actions or beingness. There is no hiding then. The cloak is off and we are exposed. This is when the shame gets in. We might react in anger, recoil in self-defense, or completely cut ourselves off from our own heart. We are left with the feeling that we are bad and wrong, and often beating ourselves up about it or lashing out at others.
You might be wondering where does shame come from. It’s simple really. It comes from a belief that you are bad or wrong. Where did the belief come from? The belief in badness or wrongness is such a pervasive societal belief that you would be hard pressed not to have pick it up somewhere along your human journey. Maybe someone told you were bad or wrong when you were growing up. Perhaps you learned it socially through peers groups, in school, or in your family. It’s actually not so important where you picked up the belief, rather what is important is that you identify the belief living inside of yourself. That you see it and recognize that you are now the source of it. You are the one that keeps that belief alive, active, and true for you in your own psyche.
NEVER BEEN WRONG
What if you’ve never ever been wrong? Seems like a bold question, eh? Would you believe it if I told you that you never have been? For a moment you might feel some relief at that thought, but most people will go on to validate for themselves how it’s not true. They will conjure up all of the times they’ve been bad or wrong in the past. They will reinforce the belief in their wrongness or badness for themselves. Most people don’t really want to believe that they are right and good. When I speak about right and wrong as it relates to us as beings, I am not talking about detailed or factual information. Yes you can be inaccurate about facts, or in recalling certain details, or about information. What I am pointing to rather is who you are, including the things that you do and say. If someone is frequently found to be insisting on their rightness by needing to be right about facts and information it’s often because they feel deeply wrong inside as to who they are. It’s simply another shame avoidance strategy.
Imagine for a minute if you could really embrace non-badness and non-wrongness. If that could really be a reality for you. How would you feel? For most I would imagine that you would feel some sense of freedom. It would be the end of self-doubt, the end of self-hatred and the beginning of an availability to life that you might have never experienced before. See most of what we believe to be bad/good or wrong/right is based on what other people think or what culture/society says we should be like. It’s not based on our own knowing. If it was we would all just be being ourselves and wouldn’t think twice about it. But almost no one is being fully and authentically who they are all of the time.
Let’s talk about actions and things we say. First of all people who love themselves and know that they are right and good don’t harm other people. There simply isn’t motivation for it. Doing harm to others is an outward expression that comes from a deep sense of self-hatred and self-rejection (i.e. shame). Believe it or not, and it’s of course up to you to choose for yourself, but there are no actions or words that are bad or wrong. Yikes. You might disagree and you are more than welcome too, however the shame cycle never ends for you then. You perceive some action or word as wrong in another. You project that wrongness onto that person who now feels shame from your projection regarding their words or actions. In response they act in some distorted fashion in order to not feel the shame. Same goes for your own words and actions. What we perceive and feel we create. The cycle continues unchecked into infinity.
So then what about learning? How do we learn if we don’t feel shame? How do we up level and become more refined, loving and aware creatures towards ourselves and others? Well again believe it or not, we don’t have to be bad or wrong in order to learn, and learning doesn’t mean that we are/were bad or wrong. People can give their opinion to us, of something we did or shared, without us going into shame. We can both stay open to the feedback and then decide what we want to do with that information. Is there something constructive that we could learn from that person’s information without going into wrongness? Could we just receive that information and note it or integrate it. Perhaps there is nothing bad or wrong about what we did or didn’t do, but only learning to be had. Also what if when you shared your experience of others with them you simply shared impact rather than judgment. What if you took accountability for how you feel about what occurred while still providing information to another person about how their words/behaviors impacted you. This is a high level skill yet it is learnable.
We are all constantly learning and it doesn’t mean we are bad or wrong. When you get this you can break up with shame. While at one stage of your development perhaps shame was a good learning strategy for you, it’s also one that at some point quits serving you. It limits your growth and keeps you disconnected from yourself, which in turn helps and serves no one.
Dr. Amanda Love, Chiropractor, Network Spinal Analysis & Somato-Respiratory Integration, Boulder, Colorado