“Shame is a soul eating emotion.”
― C.G. Jung
I could not help but notice that people really freaked out (in a good way) when I wrote about shame in my previous post (Epi 4) last summer. That post had infinitely more responses and reaction than any other topic I’ve written about. Honestly, I don’t think it was because it was my most phenomenal writing, I think it was because shame rarely gets called out. Now, I realize I’m not Brené Brown. (But I most definitely will quote her). I’m not any sort of research expert in the slightest. But I think its safe to say that shame is something we all want to talk about. So I’m gonna keep talking.
We arguably live in an age of more personal growth, “self-love,” and vulnerability than ever before, so you think by this point that shame would be a non-issue. Why on earth does it take a simple online post to reveal that we probably live with a lot of shame? I think that in spite of all the growth and changes society has gone through, shame remains this untouched dark sticky goo from our past that does not want to leave.
Shame is like mold. It thrives in the dark, damp, unseen places in your heart. It grows and spreads and gains traction when it goes unnoticed.
Shame cannot deal with the sunlight. The moment you pull your shame out, lift it up to the sky and show it to the world it has absolutely no power over you anymore. Because when it’s suddenly exposed to the daylight everyone can plainly see the disgusting, ugly mold that’s been growing. But imagine, for a moment, if everyone decided to get rid of the mold in his or her lives at the same time. Nobody’s mold would stand out as more damp, dark, or disgusting as someone else’s – because we all have it in some form or another. Humans are not all that different; in fact often our most shaming things are very familiar. By that I mean you aren’t that unique! (In every other way, yes you are!) But your shame is probably kind of similar to my shame. What fun!
But that is the real power of shame; it convinces you not to show it to anyone else.
I think the ability to grow and become internally strong depends heavily on your willingness to shame shame. (I know that sounds weird, so weird in fact that spellcheck wants to delete my repeated word). But I’m serious. Pull your shame out from wherever it has been so adeptly hiding and put it in the sunlight, I guarantee it isn’t as scary as you think it will be. And sunshine dries mold out. Shame draws most of it’s power from the very fact that it thrives in the dark!
‘Shame derives its power from being unspeakable.”
― Brené Brown
If you remember last time I wrote about shame, you’ll recall its deadly little triangle with fear and control. (If you didn’t, go read it now and then hop back!) Recall that fear is the emotion telling you not to expose that shame. It tells you all sorts of lies, “No one will accept you if they know that” “You’re definitely the only person who struggles with that.” “You are such a freak.” Etc. etc. And other lovely little similar messages of dread. Control is the intentional act of keeping that shame neatly tucked away in its deep, dark crevice. Control is not allowing it anywhere near the sunlight. Control tells you that living vulnerably is a living nightmare; God forbid you should ever do that!
Here is the thing that fear and control don’t tell you: mold grows and spreads. Shame won’t just contentedly remain in that dark corner it started in. Shame is ready to expand its territory, and fast. Shame wants to start affecting every aspect of your life. It’s pretty excited to jack up your relationships, mess with your self-confidence, and make you feel completely isolated. (What a fun friend to keep around).
So I was thinking about some of the actual ways shame spreads. How is it that it can easily become so controlling? How is it so prevalent that we can go months and years without noticing it at all? What are shame’s war tactics? Here’s what I’ve come up with.
- Shame plays the blame game (and is really really really good at it!) This is super fun one. Because the blame game sets you up perfectly to live in a victim mentality for all your live-long days.
(*Victim mentality is a belief system that governs your entire life. Some call it ANTS, or Automatic Negative Thinking. Victims feel like the world is perpetually unsafe. A victim mentality is one where you blame everyone else, or external circumstances, for what happens in your world, good or bad. Occasionally victims go on to victimize others. As the saying goes: hurt people hurt people.)
The blame game means it’s never really your fault. There’s always someone to point the finger at, always someone else who triggered you or offended you or caused you to react the way you did. The reason shame leads to blaming is because shame covers up your true self. If you aren’t living as your true self, there is no possible way you can take ownership of everything you carry: including your own baggage and mistakes.
I think a big one we see today is actually playing the blame game with circumstances. “Well, I’d be getting my Masters too if my parents were rich enough to pay for it.” Or, “I’ll start my business next year when everything else in my life slows down, I’m too busy.” Shame tells us we are inadequate just as we are. That inadequacy makes us justify our identity. In order to justify your identity and ensuing actions , which are never perfect, you need someone or something to lay blame on.
I’ll be honest; I thought I had kicked shame to the curb in my life. I swear I had deep cleaned my mold. But it’s a sneaky little bugger. It creeps back in and finds new ways to make roots in your life. Without realizing it, I began to play the internal blame game on almost a daily basis. Not with people, but with my circumstances. The biggest thing I’ve learned this year is that if you aren’t careful, blaming circumstances isn’t a far cry to living in self-pity. That’s a whole other mess we won’t begin to talk about right now. But just be aware, blame is a red flag you may have some unaddressed shame going on.
2. Shame pulls you out of the present. When you live with shame all your thinking becomes “what if?” and “I wish I hadn’t…” or “If I made a different decision then I wouldn’t be here now…” Really upbeat stuff, you know?
Shame completely prevents you from living in the present. It keeps you perpetually thinking about regrets from the past or fears of the future. It keeps you stuck. It seems like a lot of people are into the mantra “be present” lately. (Maybe it got big around the same time yoga did, idk). The only problem is that simply being present is much harder than anticipated! Personally, my mind wanders in like 2 seconds, I swear. I never would have recognized that this was linked to shame until I realized that all my past regrets and future fears revolved around shaming things in my life. Things I didn’t want to talk or think about, so I internalized them, and they began to rob me of the present.
I had this semi-depressing thought the other day. It was that I felt like I had “audited” life this spring. Like I had sat through my life, and although technically I was in the class, no one had my attendance marked down. I didn’t hand in any assignments. I didn’t take any tests. I felt like I had watched a lot of my life happening, but not been fully engaged. I was an observer of my own life! (No, I wasn’t a complete zombie for 3 months, but this shit happens subtly). It was a depressing thought because that is never how I want to live, nor is it something I was intentionally doing! Also it got me thinking about how many of us are living like this on a regular basis. Trapped by our shame, mentally focusing on the wrong time of our life.
Think about it, kids are experts at NOT DOING this. They do not have to sit down for 30 minutes every morning and meditate as they drink matcha in order to feel present. They literally live moment-to-moment all the freaking time. Kids don’t understand the deep kind of shame that befuddles the average adult mind. They have no concept of fearing their future, nor do they waste precious moments regretting the past. I love the fact that the bible encourages us to become like little children. Because that encompasses a lot, but I think the biggest thing is the ability to be PRESENT in every moment. If we are supposed to be like kids, and kids don’t carry around their shame everyday, then why the heck do we?
‘At the time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to the little children. ”’ (Matt 11:25)
3. Shame makes you hide. (I know I have this as the 3rd point, I honestly think this is the number one most devastating thing that shame does to us). I’ve probably touched on this one before, but hiding is something that needs to be addressed.
“Nothing silences us more effectively than shame.”
― Brené Brown,
Now that the dreaded Canadian winter is passed and it’s no longer socially acceptable to hole up with Netflix for multiple evenings in a row and blame the weather, we all have to get a little more creative with our hiding places. Ever heard the term “hiding in plain sight?” I think that’s a phenomenon that could summarize most of society these days. We hide behind our titles, we hide behind our jobs, and we hide behind our relationships. We hide behind makeup, plastic surgery, and our so-called “identities” within our social spheres. We hide behind social media (had to say that one, duh) because OH MY WORD do we ever hide our emotions behind technology! I could go on and on and on. Busyness, forgetfulness, shallow-relationships. Think of any excuse you’ve ever used to bail on someone who you probably should have seen – you probably hid behind that. Sometimes we make our hiding places look really socially acceptable and pretty! We justify disconnecting by covering it up with acceptable buzzwords.
Calgary, for example, is the best city for hiding behind a guise of busyness. It’s accepted, applauded even, to be “too busy” to connect with your community for long stretches of time. I’ve noticed every part of the world I’ve lived in tends to glamorize different hiding spaces. Some (cough, LA) tend to hype up the hiding space of beauty and outward success – no one will question how you’re doing internally if your externally ticking all the boxes for external accomplishment. I would encourage you to take note of where you live and what you tend to hide behind. An easy way to do this is just think about themes in your friends- what is the most common excuses people give to duck out of commitments? Being aware of your hiding places is the first step to eradicating them. It’s much harder to convince yourself that “you’re fine” if you catch yourself doing exactly what you labeled as “hiding” one week ago.
Find your hiding places. Air them out. Don’t let shame drive you into those dark spaces! Personally I find that if I’m operating in shame, the places I don’t want to be and the things I don’t want to be doing (ie. connecting with friends or even spending time alone ‘unplugged’ from the online world) are the very things I should be doing. Shame’s goal is to fear you into believing the opposite. Because if shame can get you living in your hiding spaces then you become just as moldy as the shame itself.
4. I personally believe that hiding (caused by shame) opens the door to all kinds of jealousy. Now there are a lot of ugly words in the English language but personally jealousy is my least favorite. We all know what jealousy looks like on people, and trust me when I say that nobody wears it well. I read an article were jealousy is described as a “painful desire for another’s advantages or possessions.” But it goes deeper than the stereotypical image of a little kid wanting their friend’s favorite toy. The second part of the definition rings a little closer to home for the special kind of shame-induced jealousy to which I refer.
“Jealousy also includes being careful or fearful of being displaced, being apprehensive of losing affection or position/ place.”
Remember that shame operates closely with fear and control. The fear of losing position or place is huge, and jealousy often becomes the means of control. I think its safe to say everyone has been on both sides of jealousy, although often you don’t really know if you’re a victim to it. I imagine jealousy as a corrosive substance; it erodes at your heart if it stays inside you long enough. It also causes burns and pain for everyone it spills out onto.
How exactly does shame create jealousy? Remember that shame tells you that YOU are wrong. Not that you made a mistake, but that you yourself are the mistake. There is something messed up within you, something intrinsically beyond repair. One of the (many) problems that come with that line of thinking is constant comparison. If I think I am messed up in one specific area I will immediately look to try and find others as equally messed up as me! It’s just human nature to not want to be alone. But remember how expertly we all love to hide our shame? So if I can’t find someone whose shame is immediately visible, not only does this compound upon my own shame, but it also creates jealousy within me towards everyone I see not dealing with my same issues. I’m jealous of their perceived perfect life.
Obviously this mindset sucks to have, but again, jealousy spills out onto others. If I’m jealous of someone because I imagine them to have no deeper issues, that does not create a healthy space for them to live vulnerably either! It does the opposite, in fact! Has anyone in your life ever placed you on a pedestal? It creates this weird pressure where now you can’t really open up to that person, because it would destroy their illusion of your perfection. Jealousy prevents intimacy in relationships, and ultimately hinders vulnerability and openness on all fronts.
Alright, so those are some of the war tactics of shame I’ve noticed. There are probably many more. Who knows, maybe in the future I’ll write about more. But that’s enough for now. So now that you see them, how do you react to them? How do you defend yourself against an enemy like mold? It creeps and grows; it usually goes unseen.
Spring cleaning time, people! Fling open the windows of your heart. (Wow, that sounded so corny I laughed out loud.) But seriously, the only way to combat shame is to bring it into the light. To be clear, I’m not advocating posting your deepest darkest secrets on social media or announcing them to all your co-workers.
Start small, please.
Invite your close friends into your moldy basement. Ask them to help you crack the windows open. Let a little light in, and let a select few people help you with the process. Choose people to be accountable to about your hiding places, people who will call you out when you retreat into them. Recognize where you have played the blame game in your life. Take notes on yourself: can you tell when you’re living in the present? If you can’t, phone a friend. Get someone who knows you well enough to notice when things are off. And lastly, and this one may be a touchy one… apologize for the jealousy. (Ummm, no. I’m not a 5 year old Amy!! Don’t tell me to apologize!) I know, I know. Many of us would rather just find new friends than humble ourselves and admit to something as seemingly reminiscent of high-school as jealousy. But seriously, remember how jealousy is corrosive? You can’t clean up a toxic spill without going to the places where it spilt. There is so much power in openness, so much power in humility and so much strength in vulnerability. Shame can’t truly be brought to light unless all the ways it’s operating in your life are also expunged from the darkness. It’s as simple as that.
So let’s live like little kids.
Let’s live unashamed.