Shame can paralyse you and steal your time.
When I feel a sense of shame I am usually alone in my experience. It’s just me and my shame trying to duck out of view for as long as possible.
Shame also generates other feelings of an equally negative nature.
On the odd occasions that I have been part of a group that feels collective shame - we may have been witnesses to circumstances that cause us to huddle together in our shared sense of regret, then I find we all try to distract ourselves by shifting focus from the source of the shame to some other, any other, banal fact. This is an automatic response, it is as though it has been pre-programmed, we just do it.
Whatever the means that occur to make me shame-filled – thinking something improper has occurred, then I have an associated painful feeling filtering throughout my entire body. I usually don’t know where to look or what to say, the sense of humiliation or embarrassment becomes the only feeling that I am aware of at that time.
If the event is caused by the actions of someone else then, sometimes, it is easier to transcend the shame – unless the person is closely related to me. If my own self-respect or pride has been injured then I may have increased difficulty in passing through the ‘shame time’ in my life because, in my opinion, part of the means over overcoming shame is to acknowledge the situation that caused it in the first place, to identify why it generates those feelings. This is a process of assessing my relationship with the events and the people concerned.
This practice has, in the past, proved a major stumbling block for me because of what I believed about myself and my place or ‘value’ in all relationships. You see, I have always been reluctant to share intimate details about myself (this blog is not an example of intimacy but it is an example of sharing parts of myself) for fear of ridicule and censure. Early experiences left strong memories that were hard to remove.
Now I can easily think of an example where I remember thinking that I had really let myself down by the things I did and said. When I examined the motivation behind my actions I felt deeply ashamed. And before backing out of that situation and facing the shame I carried on under the cover of my embarrassment – this is not a recommended course of action – it only made things a lot worse and the shame became more deeply entrenched in my being.
I know how bad it is to feel as if you are wrong, and also know that you could alter the situation but you become paralysed with fear because you know you have to go through the wall of shame first.
I have wasted many years (yes, that’s right – when I look back I know that it totals up to years) of living wrong, of knowing I had the means to start again but feeling afraid of the doubt that was building up in me as I procrastinated and delayed my decision. As time passed I gained companion feelings for my shame, so it was no longer lonely, I added doubts and resentments to the package.
But one day I did release the shackles and after the period of intense darkness I inhabited there came a different time that was a mixture of both sorrow and gladness.
Sorrow because I took so long to move into what was undoubtedly a better way of living for me, and gladness because the shame was eventually over.
I am glad that I have a slightly better understanding of the power of shame and I am so glad that I know it is possible to move past shame ... repeatedly. I still make mistakes where I hang my head in shame but I believe now that I can get past them.