By Jodi Gaines
Shame……Why do I feel it? And how can I unshackle myself from it?
Shame rears its head everywhere in western society, in every demographic from childhood to old age. I feel shame because of who I am. I don’t have the right appearance, the right clothes, the right partner, the right family or friends, the right career, the right amount of money.
I feel shame because of what I have done or failed to do in relationship to others — unkindness, broken vows, addiction, alcoholism.
I feel shame because I believe something was done to me — molestation, abuse, neglect, abandonment. Or taken from me — health, money, reputation, status.
I perceive that people and conditions have caused my shame. Or that I myself must have done something wrong so that I deserve to suffer shame. Either way, I perceive that I am a victim. And I remain a victim, because my perception attracts persons and conditions that mirror my self-perception right back to me. What I think, what I give energy to, I create. If I am ashamed of who I am, then I will bring to myself circumstances that tell me my perception is real. I project my shame upon you so that you will validate it by responding in ways that keep it alive within me. It is the dance that we do so that I can remain imprisoned.
What if, instead of choosing to see myself as a victim of shame, I choose to view myself as a creator of my experiences? What if I could see that my experiences are teachers that lead me to understand, with love for myself, that my life merely is what it is?
To do this, I first identify, without judgment of myself or others, that I feel shame. I deny neither the emotion nor the situation that triggered it.
Second, I look at what my shame does to me. How does it benefit or damage me? Does it allow me to blame others for my experiences or to check out of my own life? And who or what do I become when I carry shame? Do I become heavy, vulnerable, angry or aggressive? Do I wish to withdraw from the world? Or do I seek to take revenge on it?
Finally, I acknowledge that I can choose how to view and respond to my life experiences. I get to look at the things in my life that I feel shameful about. I feel my hurt, but I see that I brought that hurt to learn from it and to evolve from it.
If my shame stems from who I am, I learn that I must first forgive myself for feeling less-than, for needing to compete with you, for resenting you and the world which I erroneously viewed as perpetrators. If my shame stems from your harming me, I learn that I must also first forgive myself for viewing myself as your victim and for bringing you into my life as a perpetrator.
When I unlock the forgiveness within, I shed my shame like old skin. The weight has been lifted. I can breathe, I can pause. I no longer look at you with resentment but with compassion and even gratitude for the growth that our relationship or interaction has catalyzed.
If my shame stems from harming you, I learn to step up, to acknowledge my part and to make amends without making value judgments about myself, you, or the situation. I can honestly say that I am sorry I perpetrated against you and that I will not treat you that way again.
When I unmask my shame and see the treasures lying beneath, I can look at my life and yours with open eyes, forgiveness, love and compassion. I can offer you those treasures instead of shame and resentment. When I take responsibility for shedding my shame rather than holding you hostage to it, I am kind, I am receptive and I am love.