People talk about shame many times in a superficial way – from a perspective of privilege. The shame of losing a race, the shame of failing a test, the shame of getting turned down by a prospective date. These are entitled shames. In these instances, we think we have experienced shame, but we are not even close to the deep dark shame that exists for many.
Shame is a very complicated and deep wound. We are indoctrinated into shame early on in life. There is deep shame rooted in the feelings of not being enough – not being accepted for who we are – for our authenticity and uniqueness. If we were raised with narcissistic parents, we were rewarded for giving emotional support to our parents, but shamed for needing that emotional support in return. We then began a pattern of giving away energy without ever getting our emotional needs met in return so that we could be loved and have our basic needs met for food and shelter. The flow of energy was imbalanced and unhealthy. That is one form of shame we can experience. There are many others – deep, dark and paralyzing.
When I think of shame – I think of people shamed for their very existence. For instance, the migrant workers who courageously risk their lives to come here and pick the fruit we eat -their bodies broken from horrendously difficult conditions – so they can support their families at home – shamed by structural violence. I think of the woman who was sexually assaulted and carries the shame of being violated – who now has the task of working through the trauma that was forced on her – her life forever changed. I think of innocent children physically and mentally abused by unconscious parents – courageously making their way into adulthood – trying to survive – trying to make sense of life when there was no sense in anything they experienced. I think of young boys shamed for showing emotion – carrying the scars of having their authentic expression being ridiculed and shut down. I think of the shame of financial abuse inflicted on women leaving abusive relationships – access to joint bank accounts shut down, losing their homes because money is withheld from them, bearing the stigma of financial incompetency that was not their fault, but rather a result of their partner’s illogical need to get even and debilitate them – just because they don’t want to be married to someone who abuses them anymore.
If we are going to talk about shame, let’s get real about it. We are terrified to go into the depths of shame – yet we need to probe those depths in order to truly heal. What are the deep dark secrets we have been avoiding by filling our days with constant purchases and activities – not allowing ourselves the time to sit and just be in order to let the things that need to come to the surface rise up for acknowledgement and healing. It is in sitting with our emotions and feelings from those horrific experiences that we will find our most profound answers. It can seem terrifying to face the unknown, yet on the other side of that fear and terror is liberation.