Despite popular spirituality and political correctness trends which condemn shaming, Jacob Nordby wonders if we have forsaken a vital guide.
SHām/ noun: “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.”
Recently, I assigned an exercise for my writer coaching group. I asked them to publicly announce that they had joined the Chapter A Week Club by posting a special photo badge to their Facebook profiles. Each week they will write a chapter in their book project.
I also agreed to submit to this exercise myself along with the group to help me complete the book I am currently writing.
I shared this fun accountability exercise with my public groups and most people laughed. But several were quick to take me to task over the use of the word “shame”.
“You gotta’ change that,” they said, and then offered watered-down versions.
Of course, there’s no way I will soften the procrastination penalty for either my members or myself. I want the motivation to write! If I don’t keep my word to the group and myself, I want the world to see me with a picture of man-panties on my head.
But their reaction got me thinking about shame and why we hate it so much.
It is perhaps the heaviest burden we bear throughout our lives—and it’s one we begin carrying as little kids.
Before we can even speak, we hear “NO!”, “don’t do that!” and “Bad boy (or girl)!” constantly. We begin drinking the poison of shame about ourselves long before we are capable of intentional malice. By the time we are self aware, shaming has been used to domesticate us and fit us into boxes which are acceptable to society.
Do you remember the feeling? Maybe you have carried a backpack full of inappropriate shame all your life and it has held you back from going for what matters most. I know I did. I also know how liberated I feel now that shame no longer rules my life.
Many of us are so terrified of breaking the rules that we go into a physical panic if we feel that anyone even thinks we have crossed a line.
Almost every religion relies on shame and fear to keep people in line. In some cultures, shame is so potent that people are expected to publicly grovel or even commit suicide to atone for breaking the code.
Good news! We are waking up and learning that Who We Really Are is innocent at its core. Many of us in the human rights, spiritual and personal development communities have swung far to the other side of the spectrum. We see people using shame against others and we are swift to clobber them. We are putting our old shame burdens down—and that’s a good thing. Or is it?
I don’t ever wish to use shame as a weapon or a way to control other people, but I wonder if we have gone too far in our quest to eliminate the negative stuff from life.
Does shame have a proper place in our lives, and if so, what is it?
From where I sit, shame is just one form of pain. Like all pain, it is a warning flag to tell us something is amiss.
I hate to watch people using shame on each other—or themselves—in hurtful, bullying ways, but I’m saying we need to put shame in its place. We need to understand that it is another gauge on our internal dashboard. It’s the zap we get when we aren’t aligned in some way.
Three Good Things About Shame
Like all feelings, we don’t do ourselves any good by stuffing it. In fact, the only way out of shame is through.
Properly understood, there are Three Good Things About Shame:
Shame is temporary. We get the “ouch!” of it when we have ignored our inner truth and done something hurtful, lazy or dishonest. This isn’t a permanent situation, because…
Shame helps us grow. We can quickly acknowledge our mistake, course-correct and use it as fuel to propel us on our authentic path with more joy and efficiency.
Shame is personal. When we allow others to impose their opinions on us or use shame to control us, we feel the internal lie. That’s their truth, not ours. By getting clear on what is true for us, we will feel the sting of disappointment when we aren’t walking our own talk. That is appropriate. But it isn’t healthy to allow others to punish us when we simply aren’t living by their standards.
The world is full of shame and shaming–fat shaming, racial shaming, shame about sexuality, negative comparisons about our success and status, and many more. It is time we trash bogus, harmful shame and only use the real stuff as positive motivation.
Proper use of shame might help us quit procrastinating, shred excuses and make things happen in life.
Bogus shame will do nothing but hold us back.
The question is, how can you know the difference?
But wait…there’s more!
Please give yourself full permission to stop reading now if you are satisfied that you know enough.
But, for just another $3.99 plus shipping you can get a set of these amazing tire-inflating knives and see a simple illustration of how the Shame Spectrum plays out in real life.
There are three main ways people deal with shame. I have been talking mostly about only one. Take a look at this graphic which illustrates how most of us slide back and forth on the Shame Spectrum rather than use it as transitional fuel
On the far right side, we simply refuse to acknowledge or feel shame. This is what happens in the spiritual community when people misunderstand the feeling and use concepts like “we are all innocent” to by-pass valuable inner guidance.
In the middle, we take the pain of shame on as our identity. In this situation, we will find ourselves saying “I’m sorry…” a lot. If those words come out of our mouths often, it’s a good idea to examine whether or not we are stuck in this feeling and see about releasing it in appropriate ways.
On the far left, shame is used to control or manipulate other people so we don’t have to feel the pain of it ourselves. This is what happens in society, religions and relationships–and it is perhaps the hardest mirror in which to look. If we find ourselves pointing shame out toward the world frequently, it is likely that we are refusing to process those aspects within ourselves.
Can you think of examples in your own life of how each of these three stuck-points has appeared? I know I can.
P.S. We already ran out of the tire inflating knife sets. Some things sell out fast. Sorry for any inconvenience.
You may also enjoy this recent article by Theresa Byrne, Six Tips For Feeling, Not Fixing
Photo Credit: Public Domain/Flickr Commons/ CircaSassy (text added)
Author’s Note: I am committed to unconditional self-love. For me this includes loving myself (and others) through patches of shame–loving myself and others into the always-unfolding highest versions of ourselves.