“Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried, than before – more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle.” (Charles Dickens, Great Expectations (Ch.19))
If ever there were a time for need of more understanding of the word “shame” and other emotional descriptors, it is none truer than in our millennial life.
As we look at recent headlines we struggle to decipher how atrocities come to be in a time of greater human intelligence and massive information. We are set-to-go to be educated more readily than ever before. At a tap of an icon on a cell phone we are drawn into a world of news and social media that communicates worldwide like wildfire. In a nano-second we glance at a live reported mass shooting as it resonates how despicably shameless a human’s conduct can be. We live it, suffer, watch, or wonder how mass atrocities so widespread and systematic of a violent act, happens against fellow human beings.
Shamefulness is a direct cause from shame. It becomes less of a gage to being a better human if compassion is not the universal motivator. The Latin term of compassion “co-suffering” is an ability to ease human suffering, not afflict it with catastrophic injury physically, spiritually, emotionally or painfully to one another. Shame is a mighty emotion that can create havoc within us.
Shame can surface as pain, anger and attributed to behaviors like low self-esteem, self-hatred, and even loss of personal dignity. We are ashamed when we are are mostly embarrassed or guilty by some action or characteristic personally exhibited.
The talented British comedian Stephen Fry writes in his book Moab Is My Washpot, “It’s not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame, and self-loathing-they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.”
Shame is good as Fry tells us, but wisely encouraged when it is not evil in its disguise! Instead it means an enlightenment toward a better accepting of our insecurities and building up to a higher sense of self-esteem and relinquishing the pain driving shamefulness to live less joyfully.
A display of shameless destructiveness as a beacon for social justice is a code of conduct that emanates illegal or immoral. To write sensibly about eliminating violence is impractical here. If defining the act of shamelessness, as one of the sanctities toward human decency, or regard for others’ rights or feelings then it may be done. Shame and its grammatical constructs can make us comprehend where shame-base behaviours are born or created. We have a choice, to accept or not to accept the concept in which shame drives us.
If we are living within a shame base-self, we can allow ourselves to tread upon our personal humanity as if we are on a trip to discover who are we truly? And why not get to know ourselves? It is not shameful to be honest and understand behaviours, often unbeknownst to us, if coming to us by way of a stimulus we didn’t ask to be part of. Scenarios we have lived out or living, can make us exposed to a false belief making us shameful to be who we are.
As reported from Counselling Fundamentals 101 in describing the four major types of characteristics that affect a child, shame often comes to us in childhood in various ways: “physical, which involves bodily harm inflicted on the child; neglect, which involves the absence of parental care; psychological or emotional, which involves actions that cause mental anguish or deficits; and sexual, which involves behavior intended for the offender’s sexual pleasure… “
Clinical Affects of Shame
Many costs to our humanity are attached to shame and its prevalence to who we are. Gershen Kaufman PhD, presents a clinical experience in his book the Psychology of Shame.
Dr. Kaufman tells us that “shame is important because no other affect is more disturbing to the self, none more central for the sense of identity. In the context of normal development, shame is the source of low self-esteem, diminished self-image, poor self-concept, and deficient body image. Shame itself produces self-doubt and disrupts both security and confidence. It can become an impediment to the experience of belonging and to shared intimacy… It is the experiential ground from which conscience and identity inevitably evolve. In the context of pathological development, shame is central to the emergence of alienation, loneliness, inferiority, and perfectionism. It plays a central role in many psychological disorders as well, including depression, paranoia, addiction, and borderline conditions. Sexual disorders and many eating disorders are largely disorders of shame. Both physical abuse and sexual abuse also significantly involve shame.”
Whether clinically examined by a student or by peoples’ interest with a desire to understand the psychology of shame in the degree of complexity to its simplicity. Taking a look at Dr. Kaufman’s book, as so eminently described, he presents chapters as a societal dynamic and shows its impact on culture; examines the role of shame in shaping the evolving identity of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, and expands his theory of governing scenes.
However we choose to define shame for ourselves, it comes in varying degrees, whether we like it or not. It is part of our human make-up. We live within a consciousness that drives us to feel it or not to feel it.
How we manage our shame is up to us. If we find that it has created a degree of self-punishment or wish to cause self-harm, harm to others, or we have an inability to share it with anyone, then seek confident professional help. Speak to a friend, a family member or family doctor. The choice of course, is standing up to the illusion we are shameless therefore possibly creating serious emotional discord, rather than live feeling less shameful, and worthier of a more enriched life.~
Quotes on Shame
“You see, this happened a few months ago, but it’s still going on right now, and it ought to make us feel ashamed when we talk like we know what we’re talking about when we talk about love.” (Raymond Carver, Where I’m Calling From: New and Selected Stories)
“Once you talk about your shame to others you no longer feel shame” (Prabakaran Thirumalai)
“Family secrets can go back for generations. They can be about suicides, homicides, incest, abortions, addictions, public loss of face, financial disaster, etc. All the secrets get acted out. This is the power of toxic shame. The pain and suffering of shame generate automatic and unconscious defenses. Freud called these defenses by various names: denial, idealization of parents, repression of emotions and dissociation from emotions. What is important to note is that we can’t know what we don’t know. Denial, idealization, repression and dissociation are unconscious survival mechanisms. Because they are unconscious, we lose touch with the shame, hurt and pain they cover up. We cannot heal what we cannot feel. So without recovery, our toxic shame gets carried for generations.” (John Bradshaw, Healing the Shame that Binds You)
A Poem by Maya Angelou
Still I Rise
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.