The other day at my young adult group at church, we were talking about shame. It was an intense topic to get into; one often avoided even by people who are very close to one another.
Most of the individuals in our group haven’t known each other very long. Yet many people opened up and shared their own experiences with it.
For once, I decided I didn’t want to share much. But I listened, sometimes injecting a thought here and there. Through the course of the dialogue, something became very clear to me. When it comes to shame, every person thinks, on some level, that he is the only one who experiences it, or that she is somehow uniquely worse than everyone else.
Thinks that she is the only one who has trouble speaking up for herself when someone does her wrong, because she feels she isn’t worth enough to inconvenience someone else.
That he is the only one who hears a constant drone of, “You’re worthless, you piece of shit” in his head when life hasn’t gone the way it should have.
That nobody wants to hear her pain, because who the hell cares about her anyway?
That he is the only one who hates himself.
That, whether she even knows it consciously, she would rather be miserable than let herself believe she deserves happiness, love, affection.
I’m a student of psychology – literally in the college sense, as well as in the more colloquial sense. The field way of approaching the subject of shame is to look to the parents: what did they do wrong? When that fails, there has to be some other causative factor, like an awful teacher, traumatic event or something of the like.
Certainly we do learn a great deal from other people. Some psychologists say the entirety of who we are is based on our collective interactions with others.
But what if there’s more to it than that? What if shame is a part of the collective consciousness of humanity, something buried almost as deep as our innate instincts?
It’s worth noting there is a difference between shame and guilt. Guilt is what you feel when you’ve done something wrong; shame is what you feel when you believe there’s something wrong with you.
Guilt is healthy and ideally helps to maintain a moral, compassionate society. Shame is destructive — always and without exception.
It seems to me that this is one of the most immediate issues for humanity to face, because we cannot truly heal until we do.
It starts with a willingness to be vulnerable, open. That’s what I’m trying to do here: to be the change I want to see in the world.
Though I don’t imagine very many of you will go and expose your deepest selves on the Internet in writing the way I often do, some of you will do it through Facebook, others with close friends.
It doesn’t matter how you do it, but it matters that you start. It can be small, like genuinely connecting with someone you don’t know well, or large, like sharing something that has burdened you for a long time.
Healing comes when we stop believing we’re so horrible that nobody could ever love us if they truly saw us.
If you take a leap of faith and open yourself a little bit, you will be sending the opposite message to yourself: that you are worthy of love, and that you’re worth the risk.