"To realize that you do not understand is a virtue;
Not to realize that you do not understand is a defect."
I was reading a very long online conversation about shame, and some folks also spoke about the concept of healthy shame. I am of the mind that there is no such thing as healthy shame, but there is such a thing as shame, and there is such a thing as acceptance. When we carry shame of any kind, growth is almost not possible. Have you ever experienced feeling exposed and feeling bad about yourself? Have you ever felt that you were afraid to tell someone something about yourself; that if you did you may not be accepted? Those feelings are aspects of carrying shame. I think we all carry such feelings at some times. Hopefully, we don`t very often, and hopefully, we are able to recognize when we do and do the necessary feeling and thinking to transform our shameful feelings into acceptance of ourselves. We all make mistakes. We all unintentionally hurt people, and sometimes we do so intentionally. Every mistake is correctable in some way or form, with awareness and with taking responsibility, and with allowing us to move forward recognizing that it is about learning and growing and forgiving us so that love can flower inside of us.
Shame is often felt as a real visceral feeling. It is often felt in our bodies through feeling bad about us, through feeling a heaviness, a lack, and carrying a sense of self-deprecation. Because we often feel this in our bodies, it is through feeling in our bodies that we can shift out of shame into some kind of acceptance or self-love. I know a man who often cycles through phases of self-hate and loathing and gets lost in depression and shame. His mother was very depressed for much of his young life and his parents also divorced when he was around eight years old. There is a history in his family of keeping secrets, as in many families. It doesn’t take much for him to feel shame. The problem he experiences is that he doesn’t own that feeling. It is too much for him, so instead, when he feels trapped, he lashes out and tries to transform his sense of shame into blaming someone else for something. This is not conscious on his part most of the time. He lies to cover up his part in things because he feels so badly about himself. He then forgets what he said and so lies to cover up the first lie. A good way to know if someone is lying to you is when you just can`t make sense of what they are saying. Things just don't add up, no matter how much you might like them to.
When we are shamed when we are young, especially when it happens often, we begin to internalize this sense of shame into who we are. This man feels cornered when someone tries to pinpoint what he is saying and force some kind of honest confrontation. When he feels cornered, he no longer can own what his part was, and he then lashes out and no longer has access to his feelings because his self-loathing is too great, and he was caught. How does this man heal and begin to transform his shame into some kind of acceptance? It happens through sitting with his self-feelings. It begins with recognizing he made a mistake and feeling what that does to him and how he feels about him internally. He needs to recognize the shame he feels and then needs to see how often he might have felt that way and how much he tried to get away from those feelings. Mom was depressed, dad left, and this man might have felt responsible. If only he was a better boy, mom wouldn’t be sad and upset and dad would still be here. Add to this, dad or mom verbally blaming him for something he did. Children put these things together and internalize the self-blame. It becomes automatic. As an adult when he does something wrong or he is not proud of, he defaults to those old feelings. Being able to look back and see what happened and how it felt at that time and to separate himself from those old feelings becomes paramount to his healing. Then, feeling those inadequate and sad and bad feelings inside instead of attacking or running and owning what is his, and letting go of what is not, is the next step. Afterward, comes acceptance; this is what he did or said, or didn’t do, and being able to see it without the usual self-judgment. As he can begin to care for himself even with his mistakes, he can change his shame to something new and different...love and/or acceptance. Then he, and we can, can live whole, healthy and vital lives.
Shift Your Story/Shift Your Life:
Take a couple of minutes and just breathe deeply. As you breathe, breathe into your body and feel your breath move inside of you. Where does it move, how does it feel, and where do you feel any restriction in your breath, if you do? Do you tend to hold your breath, or let the breath move freely? Just notice these things. Now, take a moment and think about where and when you might carry shame, or have carried shame? What happens inside of you when you are caught doing something maybe you feel you shouldn’t be doing, or what happens when you feel bad about something you thought or you did, and so on? Many people feel shame about their fears or their anxieties, or things like that. Just see what comes up for you. As something comes up, again, just notice how you feel, and how your body feels as you think of the thought or experience. Many times these feelings of shame relate to families belief systems and ideas, and maybe yours don`t match in some way. Just notice again, if any old belief systems come up for you. Now, say something to your inner self which is comforting or supportive or helpful to you. Maybe you tell yourself it is ok, you just made a mistake, or it is ok to feel this way, or such as that. Just begin an inner dialogue with the shamed part in yourself. Take a minute to see how this feels inside of you. Do you feel some better, and less ashamed, or can`t tell, or not? When you begin to feel a bit of relief, notice how your breath is. Is it a little easier, freer, or whatever you may feel; everything is ok here. And if you can`t tell, that is ok too. Just notice. As you tune into your breath again feel your body and your breath within your body and come back to the present. Take a couple minutes to write down your experience. If you feel like sharing, I would love to hear from you.