Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.
It is always surprising how quickly we can go from feeling absolutely fine to being close to tears.
I was taking a walk around the park, just listening to a conversation between Tim Ferris and Brene Brown. Brene is a professor who focuses on the feelings of shame, self worth, courage and vulnerability.
Everything was going well right up until Brene decide to make a distinction between shame and guilt. For her guilt was a constructive feeling, where a person, after doing something less than appropriate, separates themselves from the act, for example if you were to stay up late drinking when you have work early the next day, a person who feels guilty would simply say that that was not the best idea and most definitely not something they should do again.
Basically, guilt is acknowledging that your behavior or action was stupid.
Shame on the other hand would look something like this.
I stayed up late and drank, I am a loser, pathetic, incapable of making any good decisions, what the hell is wrong with me, I do not deserve to even have this job.
Shame is quite simply abusing yourself psychologically, destroying your own self worth.
It was like being slammed in the face, I just felt the tears welling up almost immediately, I barely held them in.
Looking back on my life, I realize that since I was a child I have been shaming myself almost daily, as well as feeling shame because of what others have said to me.
Diagnosed with ADHD(a bullshit, made up condition by the way), well then I was too stupid to learn properly, why even bother?
I was constantly told I was too skinny and thin, which translated to my being unattractive, weak and powerless to defend myself on any level.
Right there led me to living most of my childhood feeling that on a mental and physical level I was broken and simply less than others.
I spent years hiding away in books, and then in my own imagination.
I would constantly live in my head, making up story after story, where I was the outcast, had a lot of power and had control fantasies which I struggle with to this day. But I also had many, many stories where I would finally be diagnosed with an illness and discover what was wrong with me, and would die painfully.
Looking back on it I think I killed myself thousands of times in my head over the years, sometimes in some heroic way, many times badly.
Luckily it never translated to my having any thought of harming myself in real life.
But even as I got older and stopped having such negative thoughts and became more confident, I still took a heavy toll on myself any time I would make a mistake. I have always thought of myself as being broken, and laid the blame squarely on my own shoulders.
I didn’t succeed in school because I am an idiot who cannot apply himself to anything, I have a bad memory and I am weak.
I mess up in jobs because I am too childish and do not apply myself, such a fool and just not intelligent enough.
In relationships, I ran away because I did not believe I could connect with another human on any meaningful level because I was stupid or not able to make emotional connections because I didn’t feel like other people. Most especially I see now because I had spent so many years desperately wanting to control other people so that I wouldn’t have to deal with failure that to just be open and vulnerable with another person was terrifying, it seemed easier to just view others in a purely sexual fashion and not have to deal with long term emotional issues.
Nowadays I suffer from sleep and digestive issues that I have largely and harshly blamed on my own self. Too dumb and irresponsible to get my life so rigidly controlled that my problems would just magically go away.
The same can be said financially, where I can never seem to get out of debt because of my own foolishness.
Basically I have been shaming myself since I was a child without fail. Is it any wonder that I have developed health issues?
I have been running from everything for so long, I don’t even know how to stop.
These days the only things I can think of that really bring me comfort are a really good fantasy book, cleaning and writing.
I know the cleaning is random, but I like seeing an organized space, something material that is accomplished by me right in front of my eyes.
And writing feels the same, although it is more of an emotional release.
Brene talks about giving ourselves permission to be vulnerable, I think writing does that for me. Just putting out there how confused and messed up I feel.
All I know is that from now on, I want to start thinking in terms of guilt instead of shame.
I want to feel that I am enough, that I am good.
And when I do stupid stuff, I should feel guilty, because I have values that I truly believe in, there is a kind of person I want to be, and when I do things that do not help me strive towards that person then guilt is appropriate. But feeling like I am worthless or that somehow I am just broken and cannot change is foolish.
Neil Gaiman said that “The moment that you feel, just possibly, you are walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind, and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself…That is the moment you might be starting to get it right”.
I think that this is the highest value I wish to strive for.
To open myself up fully to the world, not for attention or praise, but for myself.
We are all mysteries even to ourselves, and trying to hold things in and judging ourselves does not help us on our paths to self understanding.
And in the end, that is all we really have in life. A few years of trying to figure out who we are and who we want to be, and doing the best we can to make the two come together for a few moments in time.