Shame on You
Last week, the Real Men Feel podcast I host explored fears. I’ve been experiencing a lot of fear over the past few weeks with family health concerns, financial concerns, and an ongoing job hunt at the forefront.
As I settle deeper into the feelings behind these fears… I find shame. Shame is not something I consciously explore often, if ever. Thanks to some wonderful synchronicities a book I bought over a year ago called “Letting Go” caught my eye yesterday and I began reading it. It is by Dr David Hawkins whose most well-known book is “Power vs Force” and in that book he calibrated various emotions on an energetic scale of consciousness. Full Enlightenment is at the top at 1000; this is the energy of Jesus Christ, the Buddha, and Krishna. Peace is at 600. Joy at 540 and at the bottom is Shame. Shame is ranked at 20. It is barely survival and close to death.
Hawkins describes shame as: “Characterized by humiliation, as in ‘hanging your head in shame.’ It is traditionally accompanied by banishment. It is destructive to health and leads to cruelty toward self and others.”
As I was willing to feel my own shame: My shame of being afraid, my shame of judging my own emotions, my shame of being unemployed longer than I ever expected, my shame of not providing for my family, my shame of being a burden… I even felt shame as people sent me emails, messages and voice mails about how my work has helped them. I felt shame in receiving that.
Hawkins says the mechanism of letting go, “…involves being aware of a feeling, letting it come up, staying with it, and letting it run its course without wanting to make it different or do anything about it.” That matches very much how I’ve described allowing emotions to be felt in the moment they arise, but perhaps I’ve often been judging those emotions and not just letting them run their course without resistance.
I decided I was willing to dig in deeper today; where did this shame start for me? I discovered I began experiencing shame when at a very young age. My father was an alcoholic. My house was loud and scary at times; my parents divorced when I was five-years-old. My dad also suffered from Bi-Polar Disorder and I saw his emotions get judged and, from my eyes, punished. I quickly learned to stuff my own emotions. Around the same time, my parents were divorcing, which involved court battles in addition to police and lawyers visiting my home, I was molested by our next door neighbor. I didn’t dare tell anyone for fear of being the next man to be kicked out of the house. Though I wanted help, support, and love – stuffing it all felt safer. Shame felt like the way to survive. I’m sure those were the seeds that grew into depression and suicide attempts that would surface repeatedly for me for many years to come.
According to the book, “Letting Go”, and as experienced in my life, we can only stuff emotions for so long; eventually they are going to come out. For me, if I got teased or bullied at school, all my fear and shame would boil over. I cried easily and often; which brought more shame. I wanted to disappear, to no longer exist, when my emotions could no longer be controlled. I did well in school, but that too resulted in being bullied and harassed. I felt shame for my emotions and for my talents. This all felt like a no-win game. Shame is all about giving up to me, giving up on me.
I need to forgive myself. I need to forgive the bullies and tormentors. They were dealing with their own stuffed and repressed emotions in the best way they knew how. I honestly don’t even remember a time when I began crying as a kid and that increased the bullying. I actually remember other people realizing they went too far perhaps, maybe they thought they were joking and having fun, but I had so much pain bottled up it didn’t take much for it to pour out of me. It was really my own judgment, my feeling ashamed over my own emotionality that would often have me run home, hide, and wish I was dead.
Now, as an adult, when I get praised for being open and sharing, I notice there is resistance to receiving it. I ask myself, why? There is a hint of shame there. So today I really let myself feel it and let it go. I’m willing to be seen. I’m willing to be me. I’m willing to let go of any shame I have over being me too. As a child, when I did well on a test or was acknowledged by a teacher, there was always a backlash from other students. I would be called names, threatened, sometimes forced to let people cheat or intentionally not do well. I felt shame for being smart. I was ashamed of doing well. Then I would judge any emotional reaction I had to this scenario which brought more shame. I couldn’t win. I didn’t know what to do, so I shut down. This cycle of being smart, playing dumb and attempting to hide my emotions continued through high school and into college. Hell, since I’m feeling all this shame right now, I guess it never ended.
We can’t think our way through emotions. We have to feel them. I spent hours today feeling the shame of being a frightened little kid – not to torture myself or dredge up the past, but to release it. Releasing that shame lets me continue to grow as a person. Otherwise, I get concerned that I have to stay troubled and fearful to have anything to share. Sometimes I’ve wondered if I didn’t have Real Men Feel or this column with GoodMenProject.com would I not be scraping the bottom of the emotional barrel as I have seemed to in the past month. My logical mind says, of course, that isn’t true, but then this twisted sense of shame rises up. People reach out because I’m a mess. I have to keep some version of my story of being depressed and suicidal so that I have something worth sharing. Screw that!
We cannot release anything we aren’t aware of. So can I be of service to others without a drama-filled life? Can I be open and authentic when I’m not feeling so-called negative emotions? Boy, I sure hope so! My pledge to myself is that no matter what the future holds for me, I’m not going to be ashamed of my reactions or responses. Now that I’ve allowed myself to explore and feel my old, buried shame – I can confidently say, piss off, shame!
The journey to allowing and expressing all of your emotions is not an easy one. I find it is even harder for a man because the traditional view of masculinity doesn’t have much room for emotions. What it does have is a whole lot of shame. I invite and encourage you to be willing to feel the shame of being more than any traditional, stereotypical, or “safe” version of you. There is an old saying of feel the fear and do it anyway. Also, be willing to feel the shame of your fears and do it anyway.
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