When the seed of shame is planted, the roots of toxic, negative feelings about yourself spread and impact your very identity as a person. You must dig it out, no matter the depth of pain that accompanies your self-revelation. Until the exorcism, you will think of yourself as worthless and unlovable and not entitled to joy and fulfillment.
Strong words. But shame is a fierce obstruction to love and without love, life is a barren slog. Shame degrades you, seeping into your pores, corroding your self-image and preventing you from practicing loving kindness to yourself and others.
Sometimes shame comes from a misguided childhood, scalded by parents’ taunts – “you are so stupid” – when nurturing understanding is needed – “it’s okay, mistakes happen.”
Sometimes shame comes from “our bad self” who we blame for being unaware of social norms or falling short of ‘acceptable standards’ of behavior or making selfish decisions that leave us wallowing in guilt, feeling basically flawed and undeserving.
I couldn’t begin to imagine the shame and regret that followed my divorce. Watching my kids flounder in confusion, shifting loyalties as they ricocheted from parent to parent, I took on a disproportionate amount of the blame for their unhappiness despite a hundred and one reasons to think otherwise. The shame and regret I felt put a damper on my ability – and this is interesting, my willingness – to enjoy life’s joys for years afterward. I couldn’t release myself from my feelings because they were literally defining me.
Life changed for the better when I accepted that mistakes, failures and yes, divorce, are part of the human experience. I opened myself to the painful process of talking about the shame I felt, revealing it, confronting it, and dissolving it.
Ridding myself of shame’s abscess was like a Mohs procedure, the micrographic surgery to remove the tumor of a pre-cancerous growth. The surgeon scraps around the affected area attempting to get all the bad stuff with minimal invasiveness. The patient waits around until the test is completed.
“Nope, didn’t get it all, there is more around the edges, we’ll have to keep digging,” is what you don’t want to hear.
Another scraping is performed and on and on until they get it all.
Shame is like that cancerous growth. If you don’t get it all, slowly it will grow again and if it spreads widely enough, employing the metaphor to the brink, you will die.
We must learn to nurture ourselves with caring and compassion for our own existential feelings. And accept that others have free will to be open or closed, loving or unloving — that you are not the cause of their feelings and behavior. I look back at my missteps and see them for what they were: steppingstones on the path to who I am now.
Today, thirty-three years into my marriage to the soulmate of my life, I’m much better at caring for myself, which is hard to do for most of us. I’ve given myself some slack for untoward behavior that took place decades ago. And there’s a lot more room for me to experience life, lovable, loved and loving.
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