What is shame? Where does it come from? How can it be overcome? Is it possible to live authentically if it is in the picture? For most, answering these loaded questions is not easy or fun. Understanding the nature of shame and how it presents itself in daily life is a complicated process.
Feelings of shame are something everyone can relate to. Past history, life experience, and how we view ourselves in light of these things provide fertile ground for shame. What can we do about changing the filter through which we see ourselves so that shame can be sent packing?
Before we can answer that question we must first define shame. Freedictionary.com says it is a painful emotion caused by the belief that one is, or is perceived by others to be, inferior or unworthy of affection or respect because of one’s actions, thoughts, circumstances, or experiences.
Carl Jung refers to it as “a soul eating emotion”, which is spot on. I define it as that little voice that screams I am not good enough, lovable, or acceptable because of who I am. It is the inherent belief that despite anything I may do, I feel bad about who I am.
Members of the gay community are well versed in the shame game. Refer to the inferior part of the definition above. Fighting it is often a daily task for LGBTQ individuals. For many of my gay brothers and sisters, religion can be a common culprit of the source of deep seated shame thinking.
Feeling like something is wrong with you is reinforced by families who refuse to accept “the lifestyle” and a society which is adverse to anything other than the traditional. The coming out process is difficult.
Discovering you are homosexual creates internal stress and agony, especially for those who come out later in life. Sharing it with the world blows out the speakers. The choice to be authentic and embrace who you are is challenging enough. Adding shame to the mix intensifies the situation.
Simply put, the problem of shame relates to viewing our being as flawed. Along the way, unhealthy messages, false information, and negative life experiences are given priority and can eventually became our truth. Then comes guilt.
We experience feelings of guilt for a variety of reasons. Guilt is the cousin to shame, but not a sibling. Shame comes from who we think we are whereas guilt comes from the things we do, have done, or have failed to do.
This is the big kahuna for late in life lesbians, especially guilt over breaking up a family and the inevitable changes, heartache, and fall out after coming out. In this case, coming out is viewed an action. Done to others. Fair enough. However, living authentically is embracing your “who”.
Shame chooses others over yourself because you feel unworthy of love or inferior. Shame blinds us from the possibility of redemption and creates the belief that no matter what we say or do, our unworthiness will prevail. Not good. So what happens now?
In order to release shame based thinking, you have to investigate the source and begin creating a new internal dialogue. It is not easy and often painful but it is possible. There is hope.
The best way to confront and eliminate shame is to expose the source. Once the source is identified you can begin to heal. Healing takes many forms and varies depending on the situation. Often shame creates feeling of powerlessness. Taking back power is the best way to combat it.
On Monday night, my wife debuted her first show to a theater full of people. “Moving Through” combined dance, photography, and music and detailed her emotional life story. As she spoke to the audience, I knew she was shaky and terrified. Choosing to go deeper and share private details of her journey was the bravest thing I have ever seen.
As she spoke, I watched the audience begin to respond. Rawness and honesty was front and center. Literally. Shame and guilt did not have tickets to this show. By the end of the show, many were in tears and later shared how the show deeply affected them. Powerful and inspiring stuff here.
Speaking out loud helped quiet the messages from her past and was a major step in her healing process. In that moment, the truth of who she is was clear. She landed a powerful blow to old thinking and cut some threads from the quilt of the past.
Shame makes us shrink when we should stand tall and is a silencer. Truth is loud. Speaking truthfully and honestly lessens the grip and allows the light to flood in. Disrupting the circuit is one way to move through and decrease the shame dialogue.
The decision to refuse to give weight to the flawed inner whispers shifts the power to its rightful place. To you. Going toe to toe with the old messages may seem like an uphill battle, but you are the general and have all the resources and inside intelligence within you to win the war. Waging a war on shame will bring freedom and go a long way to cultivate happiness and promote peace in life.
Sharing experiences and stories makes it possible to break the chains of fear and shame. Be brave and brutally honest this week. Spend some time considering the impact they have on your life. Authenticity is possible when shame is kicked to the curb.
Choose growth over guilt. Be proud and loud about what you want your life to look like. Read that sentence again. Remember you are more than what you have done or what has happened to you in your life. Let go and see what happens.
More on how to squash shame: