From Shame to Shine

I want to talk about …shame.

Writing about it implies that it will be in the abstract. As in, that thing that is happening over there to someone else.

What if we could be shifted into the expression of shame, the emotion of it, for only a few seconds and then we could be back here sharing thoughts and ideas about that experience?

Not really what anyone wants to do and so we avoid it. We repress, deny, ignore, stifle the echo and evidence of shame any chance we get.

And yet, shame is the cause of more of our individual and collective challenges than any other emotion. It is a superpower unto itself. Witness Bruce Banner and the Big Guy.

For one thing, no one knows what will trigger it, when the Big Guy or Girl in all of us shows up. And for another, shame is slippery. Take instance, Walt Whitman’s 1890 poem, ‘The Song of Myself.’ It was a rather progressive little ditty of a poem extolling the virtues and pleasures the human body. In Victorian-era America, it was thoroughly regarded as the height of impropriety, downright salacious, and the antithesis of good taste. Everybody was reading it! Shameful or not.

Now, no one turns a head, and few acknowledge it other than for it’s outstanding contribution to American literature. What was shameful is no longer even worthy of a glance.

What then is shame?

For my own understanding of it, shame happens in every generation like a hyper-resistant virulent bug. It’s situational, it’s adaptive, and it’s aggressive. Shame is the final boundary, between what is and was accepted and what is and, from this moment forward, the new norm. Elvis thrusting his hips, Madonna singing about papa’s preaching, Presidents swearing they didn’t. Of course, they did. One lover accusing another of an indiscretion. A hidden secret, the disclosure of which, threatens the secure stable existence of a community. The number on the scale, in the bank account, and on the birth certificate.

Shame consumes; it is voracious in it’s appetite. It wants what it wants, and if it is allowed, it has the capacity to completely annihilate it’s host.

And yet, it is one of the 7 basic emotions. Why? In this magnificent physical expression that is the human body - the mind, the heart, the soul - why do we need such a potent destroyer as a part of the whole? 

I think shame is the human equivalent of a hurricane; after the 180 mile an hour gusts, what remains is more sturdy, permanent and sustainable. 

Someone once told me that the difference between guilt and shame is that guilt is feeling wrong, and shame is being wrong.

I don’t think so.  I think shame exists on a continuum, from the tropical storm to the class 5, from merely being off, different, or non-comforming to the mammoth proportions and consequences of wrong-doing.

I see shame as the final frontier of change, the last ditch effort of the psyche to get our attention, to beg us to open our eyes, and to implore us to make a choice - a final choice, from which there is no turning back. A beast, yes, and a true ally of our highest self.

Shame pleads with us, and it has always had only one ask:  is this your truth, yes or no? Is this what’s truly IN-side of you? Or, AM I only this thing that others think or say I AM?