The Shame of It All
Enough already! Why do we so often feel not good enough, not thin enough, not smart enough, not young enough, not rich enough, not _________ enough (you fill in the adjective)? How frequently do we compare ourselves to others, scrutinize our thoughts, even beat ourselves up for not saying or doing the correct thing? Are we as a society, shaming ourselves from the moment we wake until we fall asleep?
The word shame brings with it a nasty sensation. I’m reminded of the Netflix series “Shameless” and how unethical and despicable the main character is. Shame just makes you feel like a dirty, bad person. It brings to mind a slew of negative emotions all centering around dishonor, humiliation, embarrassment, and guilt.
While shame encompasses many of those feelings, it is quite a unique emotion. It differs from guilt as we feel guilty when we believe that we’ve done something bad. However, we feel shame when we think that we are bad. Sounds a bit dramatic? At first I thought so, but now I’m not so sure.
When we take the time to closely examine our self-talk and the motives behind particular actions we can detect if shame is a driving force. Why is it that we are doing a certain thing? I believe the answer will help determine if it was a product of shame.
Since I’ve started thinking about shame and all of its ramifications on our mind, body, and soul, I have observed shaming myself in multiple ways. Some of these are actually healthy – such as the voice that says, “Two squares the dark chocolate is enough – you don’t need to eat the entire bar.” But other forms of shame are toxic. These are the actions and thoughts that our ego thrives on because it keeps us feeling less than, not enough – and this gives power to our ego. A simple illustration of toxic shame would be telling yourself that you aren’t pretty enough or thin enough or personable enough to be loved by anyone. Got it?
My guess is that we all shame ourselves from time to time. And if we use the right kind of shame, it probably isn’t a big deal. But what about when shame rules our lives, drives our decisions, determines our next steps, and decides how we feel about ourselves? What do we do to stop shaming ourselves to death?
First, become aware. Be present and observe when shame starts to run the show. Are you going to that event because you feel it is what is best to do, or are you showing up because you feel that others will think less of you if you don’t? Did you sign-up for “Boot Camp on Steroids” because you want the challenge, or are you doing it because you feel like you need to fit into that size 4 dress? And did you buy that car that was way over your budget because you wanted to treat yourself or because you felt the need to impress others?
What if we were to wipe out all of the toxic shame? Let it know that it has no place in our life? Could we actually ignore it? Tell it to get lost? I think it is possible. But, it won’t be easy and will require presence, awareness, and perseverance. Still, I’m willing to take on that challenge, dismiss those demoralizing voices that can make me feel less than I truly am. But let’s not stop with ourselves. Maybe we can also be aware of how we interact with others and build them up instead of adding more shame to their lives. For when we shame others, aren’t we really only trying to make ourselves feel better?
Just for today take notice of anytime shame enters your life. Can you pause, catch yourself, and perhaps make a different choice? None of this work is easy, but one thing’s for certain, it is certainly worth the effort. When we do things because of shame we are ultimately acting from fear. However, when we act from love, that’s when we know we are on the right path! Allow the love in and close the door on shame.