Carl Jung wrote " Shame is a soul-eating emotion". Brene Brown shares this perspective: “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change." And Rumi pontificates: “Soul, if you want to learn secrets, your heart must forget about shame and dignity. You are God's lover, yet you worry what people are saying.”
Is Shame Necessary?
To be clear, shame is a human emotion, a necessary neurological trait?, that guided us as children, teaching us the underpinnings of morality and of right and wrong. Yet as grown-ups, being hounded by shame is like carrying around a Marine-Corps-extra-heavy-duty-backpack inherited from generations past infused with additional weights borrowed from our social contexts, bringing us to our hands and knees with notions of our insufficiency and inherent badness. If we believe we are "bad to the bone", we will either turn that into a self-fulfilling prophecy or we will almost kill ourselves trying to obliterate the badness in ourselves while trying to let others know of theirs'. In either case, it will kill our spirit and our life-force. It will cut us off from our true potential.
Are there differences in Gender and Shame?
Yet, I believe it shows up differently in women and men (and as always - deep generalizations here, but still relevant). As women we often turn the shame back onto ourselves, becoming afraid of making mistakes, turning into perfectionists, and constantly second-guessing ourselves. We become good girls. For men, shame often turns to self-hatred, which then in turn, more often than not is turned outwards. It's that a-hole's fault, not mine, or I'm going to show the bastards. Either way, shame can give us an endless amount of fuel to perform well or to build empires. Neither of the the strategies, though is based on joy or having fun.
How do we become Shame-Less?
There are essentially two routes. The first and longer route is the one where we through mindfulness become clear on that we in fact are attacking ourselves and when we meet ourselves with compassion. We learn to recognize the "shoulds" in our language, and we eventually delight in catching ourselves in the act. It doesn't mean that our inner critic goes dormant, but we have a deeper understanding of the playing field. It's a pretty long route, but so worth it! Every time we reclaim ourselves from inner and outer shame, we are reclaiming a part of our soul.
The shorter route, for women, is what I call the Good Girl Detox, where we liberate ourselves through pleasure. We will still need the first route, if we want to metabolize our shame on a deeper level, but pleasure can truly be an amazing short-cut. Because when we reclaim our bodies and how we operate, and it is based on a deeper truth located in our bellies and in our jewels, we shift. We become powerful and the inner critic loses its choke-hold on us.
I teach tools on how we can learn to disidentify from our inner critic in my more advanced courses Eventually, I might do a whole separate course on shame just to deal with this emotion, since it is so pervasive, today more than ever. Yet there are some ways we can started here and now:
Here's this week's tip:
Write down ten 'bad things' you tell yourself about yourself, the things you suspect, or hard-core believe, are "truths" and weave in some shoulds. For example. "I'm a loser". "I should save more money", "I'm never going to lose this extra weight". "I should have made it by now". "I should be a better leader/mom/partner/sprinter...". "I'm never going to meet someone". Go deep, find where the inner critic hurts you. And then learn how to disidentify with these "truths". Judgements usually have a kernel of truth, but they come served with a huge side-order of viciousness, which makes them debilitating if taken at face value. And then find ways to cut the endless inner call to arms. Say Shhhhh.... when you hear the voice inside, or if it's coming through a partner or friend (And it's not our partners'/friend's/children's/parents' faults either. They will of course know how to press our buttons, but if someone said, "you have such ugly green hair," and you have either dark hair or no hair, the comment would just breeze by, you might even laugh at the person saying it, they only impact us because a part of us believe what is being said is true) increase in intensity until we are able to ask these voices to go and f-k themselves. As an alternative, or try both, put a hand on your heart, take a breath and then say, I've got you, or I love you, or You are ok. And then breathe again.
And then do at least three things this week that are pleasurable. Things that fill your heart with joy and put a smile in your eye and in your walk. 3 things that turn you on. The best antidote ever to shame. Pleasure, if allowed, trumps shame all days of the week!
Have a shameless and a good girl-detoxed week!
Love and truth,