Anthony Goulet wants you to know that in moments when you struggle with shame and are ready to sabotage an opportunity, a relationship, or simply deny a compliment, remember the people in your life who are going to miss out on being blessed through you.
I am grateful that author and lecturer Brene Brown has brought about some clear definitions that I believe bring us an important paradigm shift in how we view shame as opposed to guilt, because there is a huge difference between the two. In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown wrote,”Guilt = I did something bad. Shame = I am something bad.”
A colleague of mine who is an exceptional counselor has a sign on his office wall that reads: Shame Is Emotional Abuse. It’s visible to anyone who enters his office. The first time I read his sign my mind was flooded with the thoughts of the countless times someone told me, “You should be ashamed of yourself.”
Before the ripe old age of twelve I listened to countless adults tell me, “You should be ashamed of yourself.” After the age of twelve I heard countless adults tell me, “You should be ashamed of yourself.” Before I was twelve years old I listened to the adults. After 12 years old I only heard the adults. Listening was no longer necessary because I began to fully accept the directive I was given. I became ashamed of myself. I became ashamed of myself for any reason and no reason at all. If you couple this with the countless times I was told that I would be dead or in prison before the age of eighteen, it’s a miracle I didn’t start using drugs and alcohol way before the age of twelve. So there I was, an innocent child, fully indoctrinated in shame and the worth that accompanies it, which is no worth at all. I remember one instance at age 13 where I was in after-school detention for a myriad of reasons. I was mopping the floors of the school and a teacher stood in front of the mop bucket and said, “You should be ashamed of yourself.” I stopped mopping, put the mop handle under my chin, and replied, “Don’t worry, I already am.” She didn’t even respond to my statement, but she did say, “You should get used to doing what you’re doing right now, either in prison or in a factory, that is, if you manage to live that long.” I just kept mopping and thought to myself, Wow. So now people who mop floors for a living are beneath you too. Being soaked in shame made the acceptance of being dead or in prison before the age of eighteen as logical because that is what I believed I was worthy of.
Over a period of several years in my adolescence I had many counselors, social workers, and other qualified adults who came along to help me. They wanted to scare me straight, or give me some tough love, while others wanted to wake me up to being a real man. Those people with possible well-intentions were full of shit in my mind as an adolescent, and now within my mind at the age of 43, they still are. I think back upon their words and approach, and I still fail to see how it can be accepted as effective. It’s funny that I’m still waiting to understand some of the things adults told me I would understand when I’m older. What I did understand was shame, because that is what they used, and as my colleague has on the sign in his office, it is emotional abuse. Even when the word shame wasn’t used, their help flowed in the same river of shame like all the other adults I listened to and heard for so many years. Today, it would astound some to know how many of our young people who are so thirsty for hope, healing, and inspiration, continue to be given tainted waters of shame, labeled as help. In any group of young people I work with I ask them, “How many of you have ever been told you will be dead or in prison by the age of eighteen?” One young person raising their hand is tragic enough, but more than half of every group of young people I work with raises their hands when I ask this question. And sometimes all of them raise their hands.
I’ve never witnessed anyone scared straight, but I have witnessed many who were loved until they rose above the inadequacies and insecurities that others imposed upon them. As for the tough love I was offered, well, what I think is this: If it isn’t unconditional love, it’s not love. Love has nothing to do with being tough, but everything to do with true strength and courage that lifts us above the gravity of shame. We rise with love because love is light.
With the help of some very special people, who took me to some very special places, I began to once again see myself as the miracle, blessing, and gift that I am. And because the ugly smears of shame were cleansed off of my lenses, I could once again see others as the miracles, blessings, and gifts that we all are. Even today, as I continue to share the message that you are sacred, a blessing, miracle, and gift, shame will rear its ugly head in sneaky ways. Shame is so sneaky that it can take a spiritual principle such as humility and turn it into a weapon we use against ourselves and each other.
If we are not mindful, even if we strive to be spiritually minded, the long term effects of a shame-based mindset can cause someone to take all their blessings of talents, gifts, opportunities, loving relationships, deem themselves unworthy, and walk away from it all. Now, through the lens of shame, this person who is striving to be a spiritually minded can deem themselves unworthy, sabotage every blessing being offered to them, and call it humility. That is a sneaky and not-so-uncommon maneuver of the self-sabotage shame can cause. If the Creator of the universe Who hung the earth on nothing and created you in love deems you worthy of something, and you turn around and decide against the Creator, love, and your true self, that my beloved is the complete opposite of humility, that is straight up arrogance. There is nothing humble about deciding against the Creator. Each time we deem ourselves unworthy of the love we are created in we are deciding against God and our true selves. The decision to decide against the love we are, need, and deserve is deciding against ourselves, and this decision is only made in shame, never in love. Shame is fear’s first cousin and is emotional abuse. Living in shame is using the same stick that others used to beat us with to measure our worth, ensuring that we always live down to those standards of the beatings we endured and then internalized. We have to throw that stick away and know that whoever imposed this lie upon us was wrong.
My uncle, Tome Roubideaux, who is a loving mentor of mine told me of an exercise that I have applied whenever shame rears its ugly head. I look in the mirror. On the left side of me I envision all the reasons why I could beat myself up and feel shame. On the right side of me I envision all the reasons why I could pat myself on the back and feel proud. After I take a good look at both sides, I look beyond both of these extremes. I look deep within my eyes, knowing that beyond right or wrong; good or bad; shame or pride; there is something much more. There is the God of my understanding Who has declared me innocent, and the Creator of my understanding, when I am willing to understand, is simply love, and created me as sacred, a miracle, blessing, and gift. The moments I don’t act in accord with what I am are the moments I forget what I am and Whose I am, and then I cannot see others as the sacred miracles, blessings, and gifts we all are. In humility, when we accept ourselves as we are created, we are available to give and receive all the gifts we are given to bless each other, and make this world a better place. Shame locks us and all that we have to offer this world in, but love sets us free and awakens others from nightmares that need not be.
Remember that we are given blessings to be a blessing. In moments when you struggle with shame and are ready to sabotage an opportunity, a relationship, or simply deny a compliment, remember the people in your life who are going to miss out on being blessed through you. Even in moments where shame has you feeling unworthy, accept your blessings regardless of how you feel. Be mindful that each blessing you deny yourself is a blessing your family, friends, community, and our world will never know. In shame we block ourselves from ourselves, each other, love, and the Creator. In love we remember that in humility we are exactly as love created us, just like itself – a sacred blessing, miracle, and gift.
I will continue to sing songs of gratitude for your existence and pray that you see yourself the same way the Creator sees you – as the miracle, blessing, and gift you are.
No, you should not be ashamed of yourself. What you should do is remember truth A and truth B:
Truth A: You are a blessing, miracle, and a gift.
Truth B: Someone’s inability to see you as a blessing, miracle, and gift will never change truth A.
Someone is waiting for you to agree with God, declare your innocence, and share all the blessings you have to give so that they too can remember the light that the thin veil of shame hid from them.
~ Walk In Beauty,