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This past weekend, at an art gallery (plug!) I was doing some psychological diving into visiting individuals to help them access their feelings about an accomplishment that was important to them. I noticed that several of my subjects’ accomplishments involved incidents that were shame related. It made me think: WE’VE GOT TO STOP SHAMING OURSELVES! No one can make you feel anything unless you give them the control over your shame! That applies to me too, of course.
Lemme break it down a bit first: Shame is a painful feeling about how we appear to others (and to ourselves) and doesn’t necessarily depend on our having done anything. You cannot have it without others being around, or at least around in your imagination. Here’s some more dets on shame. And some more info on overcoming shame.
Let me tell you (obliquely of course, this shitz confidential!) the stories I heard in the gallery, and see if you can relate. Try to see how the shame is self-inflicted, grows until people can talk about it and how you can kill it. Exposing your shame kills it!
Subject #1 was feeling good about herself for not stopping her boyfriend from manipulating her by saying negative things about her job. Okay, while this was CLEARLY abusive from the asshole boyfriend judging by the way she described it—his criticism was very direct about putting her down because of her job. The real issue here is why she allows someone to talk to her this way. I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that if she told this dude to take a walk, a similarly armed douchebag would quickly take his place. Important note here is if you met this woman socially or just anywhere, you would be completely surprised by all that. She presented herself as smart, self-assured – super pretty.
Okay, her job wasn’t what a lot people would brag about, but still anyone who works hard and earns a living deserves respect. They are putting food on the table and not stealing or scamming innocent people (hello white collar criminals!). I tried to reinforce that most important thing for her was to feel fine about her job. She had nothing to apologize for. She seemed relieved to hear that from someone outside herself. I think her bravery – it took her some time to decide to talk to me about what was on her mind – is what made her feel stronger. Just voicing what you’re ashamed of, and putting it out in the open can reduce the shame immeasurably because when we hold it in, it can blow out of proportion.
The accomplishment of Subject #2 was getting her thank you notes out a week after her birthday. We were like, “Whaa??? You think a week is a long time in thank-you land, are you outta your mind?” This one was discussed more to the group since it was less delicate in nature.
With a little delving, we found out that when she was ten years old, one of her aunts chastised her for not sending a thank you note for the birthday present the aunt sent and never gave our subject a gift again. All I’m saying is, the whoops and hollers about, “What aunt would treat a ten year old like that?” And, “You didn’t do anything wrong!”, I believe gave our subject a release from a lifetime of overly-prompt-thank-you-note-writing-compulsion.
This is a safe place right here to voice some of that shame. Let’s hear it!