There is an old saying which states that the truth shall set you free. Without the truth, you can’t live life in reality, in a manner that will bring you peace, happiness, hope and joy. But most of us naturally try and shy away from what we call our negative feelings like shame, low self esteem. In fact we numb them as best as we can. But there is one major problem with our attempts at doing this. You can’t selectively numb your feelings!
When perfectionism is driving us, shame is riding shotgun, and fear is that annoying backseat driver.
Understanding our feelings is no easy task. Most of us have felt the burden of shame at one time or another. Some of us may have been dishonest about our feelings – to ourselves and others – for fear we would be found out or others would know too much. Hurtful feelings frequently surface in healing therapy, and when we hurt, we feel bad. Words like miserable or sad can describe these hurtful feelings. Sometimes we not only feel bad, we believe we are bad. We not only hurt, we also believe something is wrong not only with our use of emotional escapes, but with the core of who we are. We feel something is lacking – we feel inadequate and empty.
That pervasive psychological feeling of chronic emptiness is often shame. The void is deepened by self-reproach and a constant longing to be filled. “So don’t hide from yourself, says Mark L Lockwood…You will hide both the good and the bad without even knowing you are doing it….you are on a journey to find reality, and thus an authentic self that will experience reality. You need more than your intellect, you need a body, mind, soul, emotions and your sacred, spiritual self as well”.
Where does shame come from?
For most of us, shame has its roots in our childhood. Emotional problems run in families, and many of us were raised in unhealthy families that did not function well at meeting our emotional, and sometimes our physical, needs. When parents are chronically depressed or overwhelmed in their struggle with an alcohol or other drug dependency for example, they are often unable to meet the emotional needs of their children. When children do not get their emotional needs met, they often feel shame.
Shame is fostered when a child’s emotional needs are not met, when that child is not allowed to grow as a valuable person free to explore personal strengths, test individual limits, and embrace himself or herself emotionally.
A nurturing family naturally provides for each member’s emotional needs. Children are accepted for who they are; they are cared for and respected. The individuality of family members is maintained. Parents are free to be adults, and children are free to be children.
Shame grows when children and adolescents feel abandoned or neglected, when they are not given adequate care to grow and develop and to value themselves as worthwhile people. These children and adolescents often mature with deeply entrenched beliefs of inadequacy and worthlessness.
Inadequate nurturing during childhood can take a number of different forms. For some of us it was blatant:
- being hit, pushed or slapped
- being coerced into sexual behaviour
- being abandoned for days at a time
For many of us, it was subtle and pervasive:
- being compared with high-achieving brothers and sisters
- being subjected to derogatory remarks about our masculinity or femininity
- being criticized about our ability to achieve or make it on our own
- being criticized about our appearance or weight
- being constantly reminded of mistakes we made
- being threatened that we would turn out just like our “no-good drunken father”
People raised with inadequate nurturing often learn to be vigilant around others lest someone else discovers their feelings of inadequacy. They may feel a need to hide themselves, their emotions, and their thoughts. It becomes important to them to keep secrets, to resist discovery, to avoid making mistakes. Mistakes are seen as the ultimate evidence of worthlessness. A mistake is not viewed as an isolated event, but it is generalised to describe the entire self: I am a mistake. My shame means that I not only feel bad, but that I believe I am bad, inadequate and flawed.
This sort of law of attraction styled reasoning promotes a vicious cycle where children who aren’t valued often mature to adulthood believing they are not valuable. To hide their feelings of worthlessness, they develop a rigid defence system. No one is to find out about them. Hints of inadequacy are cautiously guarded. They deny and distrust their emotions and no longer freely express their feelings, show affection, or feel comfortable with their sexuality. Chronic unhappiness, apathy, and anticipation of being found out take the place of feelings of trust and sharing.
In the end we have to work through all of these feelings. even if we don’t want too. Life gives exams and seems to insist that we grow through our pain in our pursuit of happiness. TO really be peaceful, joyful and ecstatic even, know that shame is on of those backseat drivers that is getting you there. It will push you to grow. And when you grow, you can transform your life, the lives of others and then the world itself. Don’t Stay Stuck ! You CAN heal your life. Gassho and Blessings.
Mark L Lockwood