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Why Shame Is Not Your Problem

by Annie Kaszina on September 19, 2017

Saying that “Shame is not your problem” is a bold statement. Particularly from someone like me who has spent rather a lot of her life bent double under its heavy burden  Still, it deserves to be said. Shame truly is not your problem. However it is, most likely a burden that you carry.

In reality, Shame is the burden that other people – emotionally abusive people – have foisted onto you. They do so for their own reasons – mostly power, control and natural malevolence.  In this article, we shall look at,

  1. How Shame really works.
  2. Why so many emotionally abused women suffer with it.
  3. How unaware they are of the full extent of and damage caused by Shame, and
  4. How you start to reclaim your – innate – worth.

“He made me feel so small.”

Today was one of those days when Life provided me with the perfect “Aha” moment (or, more likely, I was free enough of navel-gazing to register it.) On my way into my favorite coffee shop to write this, I stopped to buy a make-up brush.  As the woman on the till scanned it, she observed,

“I just couldn’t spend the money on a make-up brush.”

I opened my mouth to reply, “Well, I thought it might do a better job than my current trowel…”

However, before I could get the words out, she continued, “I don’t often wear make-up. However, one time, when I was going out for the evening, I made a real effort. I put on a whole face of make-up and, you know, I looked really great.   I felt great.  Then, I went downstairs.  My husband took one look at me and said, ‘What the hell have you got on your face? I won’t be seen out with you looking like that’ I went, in a moment, from feeling great to feeling 2 inches [5 cm] tall.”

I said gently, “You need to change your husband.”

That one exchange told me all I could ever want to know about him.  The man is an emotional abuser uses Shame like a baseball bat to hurt, humiliate and diminish his wife.  

How Shame Really Works

Shame is the baseball bat that is used to beat the hell out of a person’s psyche.

Let’s suppose that that poor lady on the till had done a very, very bad job of applying her makeup. Would that justify her husband – or, indeed, anyone else – speaking to her like that?

Absolutely not.

If a person loves you, they are meant to consider your feelings.  At all times.  If they choose not to consider your feelings, then they love the sound of their own voice more than they love you.  You don’t humiliate the living daylights out of someone and make them feel like they are the bad one. (Hence my advice to “recycle” the mangy, marital mutt.)

Why so many emotionally abused women  feel so ashamed

Why did that lady tolerate being subjected to The Shame Treatment? Chances are, for the same reason that you and I did. It felt “normal” to us.  It was an integral part of our upbringing.  We were trained to feel ashamed.  One way or another, we spent years (and years, and years) around people who acted like they had the right to bludgeon us with words.    

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege to work with women whose early home life was far more hellish than mine.  Nevertheless, some of my mother’s best bons mots still shocked them.  Favorite utterances of my mother’s  include:

  • “Your friends must love you!”
  • “You’re old enough and ugly enough to…” ( do whatever she thought that I should have done, and I would have done – if only she had given me the updated version of her “Handbook For Raising A Shame-Strung Child”.)
  • You’re nothing without your make-up.” (Hence the trowel and/or make-up brush in later life.)

Interestingly, while my lovely clients could see marks of the baseball bat in Mother’s words, they rarely recognised the  full effect that  the baseball bat of Shame had had on their own psyches.

“Why not?” you might ask.

Because familiarity breeds blindness.

How unaware we are of the full extent of and damage caused by Shame

This month the problem of Shame has been very much on my horizon – both my own and my clients’. Once  it has a toehold on one area of your life, it soon seeps into every area of your life – without you even noticing it.  Deconstructing Mother’s – token – bons mots above, you can see that her adroit use of Shame had a profound effect on,

  • My beliefs about anyone ever finding me lovable.
  • My disastrous failure to measure up to “reasonable“ expectation,
  • My (lack of confidence) to expose my un-made-up face to anyone (except my dog).

Earlier today, a lovely client and I spent a happy half hour comparing Shame Notes about,

  • Relationship failure (comprising both intimate and family relationship breakdown).
  • Perceived personal worthlessness and inadequacy.
  • Perceived irreparable brokenness (i.e. “Someone has broken as me can never have a good relationship”).
  • The anticipated, loveless future that Shame posits as the only possible reality.

My lovely client’s despondency lifted slightly as we looked at the impact that the horrible presence of Shame in such key areas of our lives.  Then I took it a step further.  I asked her had she ever opened her fridge door and felt Shame.  She looked amazed and then said, “Yes”.

We established that it was possible to feel Shame over (in no particular order)

  • The fridge.
  • The dishwasher.
  • The bathroom
  • The laundry-basket
  • The wardrobe.
  • Body shape and size.
  •  Clothes
  • Appearance
  • Achievements
  • Home
  • Garden
  • Education
  • Children
  • Reading
  • Social life – or lack of same
  • Distress.

In short, you can feel ashamed about anything and everything that features in your life.  But only because you have learned the basics of Shame so well that you can apply them to anything, and everything.

Still, the more my client and I talked about how our electric appliances and other inanimate objects could serve as another trigger for Shame, the more we both hooted with laughter at the absurdity of the situation.

How you start to reclaim your innate worth from Shame 

Start laughing. 

Nothing compels you to take every last thing in your life seriously. You are so much more than whatever perceived (or real) mishap has appeared in your life.

Laughter is incredibly liberating.  The more you can laugh at the feelings that have held you hostage, the less power they have over you.  That is why any emotional abuser hates to see you laughing – without their permission to do so.

Learn the lesson 

Mother trained me to feel ashamed about A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G. She was obsessively tidy. I am not.  So, for a long time, my own domestic disorganization triggered splendid tidal waves of Shame. (However, that was only ever one cause among many.)

Then, one day, I woke up to myself.  If I didn’t like the Shame, I might as well do something that the environment that left me feeling ashamed.  Ain’t that the truth?

Shame is not your problem

As I understand, Shame is used by primitive people to keep the trusting souls in their power on the “proverbial straight and narrow”.  Allegedly. However, the truth is that it sucks as a strategy.  Good people will remain good without regular clubbing from the Baseball Bat of Shame. Bad people do not respond to a fear of judgment by responding better.  You – are a good person –  otherwise you would not be searching your soul enough to read this.  You absolutely do not need Shame.  You already suffer from an excess of accountability, making E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G your fault.

You don’t need Shame in your life.

One effective way of dispelling Shame is to learn the lesson.  If I feel Shame over my disorganization, I can simply organize the drawer, cupboard, or electrical appliance that triggers that Shame.  If I feel shame over something that has happened in my life and/or family, then I can acknowledge what is going on, and then work through the feelings and the story I tell myself.

That is exactly what my lovely client is doing, also.  She was amazed to realize how deep the seam of Shame in her life has been.  Now her eyes are open. She’s onto Shame, now. She has realized that the opposite of Shameful  – for nice people – is Shame-free.  Not Shameless.  (Shamelessness describes the bad behavior of emotional abusers.)

The problem of Shame does not deserve to have a place in either my client’s life or yours.  If you have been struggling with its manifestations, then you, too, want to embrace the lesson not the problem.  The time has come to get laughing and get learning. If you need help, there is absolutely NO Shame in that. You deserve help, support and happiness as much as anybody else.

 

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