Brene Brown says, “The less we talk about it [shame], the more we have it.” I have heard conversation after conversation around domestic violence, rape, gender, sexuality and other areas of human struggle and shame. I am not for one second suggesting that means we have healed the shame around these realities. I can’t even confidently say there’s been much healing at all. People are still so isolated from the help and connection that could begin the healing process – still bearing the burden of shame alone.
What I am saying is, we’re talking about them. That surely suggests some kind of movement, however imperceptible, away from shame. How long ago was it that we didn’t even talk about domestic violence? 50 years? It has not been very long since these topics were not discussed – not even in the safe arms of our friends and family. In every venue silence fueled shame and isolation. Only since the late 90’s have we had Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It’s been even less time that we’ve been publicly talking about gender awareness and sexuality openly. Fraught with fear, we remain silent.
What I desperately need to know is, when will the grassroots movement effectively abolish shame altogether? It starts with me. It starts with talking about it. A friend just shared with me her courage around publicly talking about the shame of childhood sexual abuse, and how through doing so she discovered that the shame wasn’t even hers. I venture to say it never is. Where the hell does shame come from, anyway??
I can tell you where my shame comes from. It comes from 1,000 – or 1,000,000 –overheard negative comments about some situation, condition, or belief that I find myself unable to escape. It comes from covert, and not so covert, messages from the media about the definition of pretty, successful, woman, desirable, acceptable. It comes from the judgments falling unconsciously from the lips of people around me – judgments about things they don’t understand, or they fear. It comes from those same judgments falling from my own lips about things I don’t understand and fear.
I don’t think people intentionally breathe fire on the hotbed of our cultural shame. I didn’t. I didn’t comprehend the weighty impact of my small-minded opinions, shared openly and so resolutely – about EVERYTHING. Even comments said in jest penetrate the cultural subconscious and are the breeding ground of shame, disconnection, fear, and self-loathing. They come back to haunt me as I find myself, through some life circumstance, falling in to the categories I previously judged or mocked.
We have diligently cultivated a culture of shame with every judgment. I have diligently cultivated a culture of shame with every judgment. Every judgment. I believe the only way we – I – heal this, and cultivate a culture of connection, of enough, of love, is to stop openly expressing our value judgments; to hold them in suspense and question until they dissolve back in to that space of alchemical possibility and re-emerge as grace, connection, compassion. The dissolution of shame will happen when we start making space for every experience, every circumstance, every nuance to be held with compassion. We. Me. It starts with me.
I wish I could speak the source of my shame – right now, to you. I wish I were a courageous pioneer who would at this moment name my shame publicly and create space for others – you – to do the same. I’m not there. I’m still tethered to my shame by fear: fear of judgment, fear of rejection. The source of my shame is something I rarely hear talked about. There is no public platform for awareness, and, even among friends it is highly unlikely to be a topic of discussion. I want nothing more than to bare my soul, untether from my shame, and connect wholeheartedly.
Can we talk about this some more?
And in the meantime, can we be so care-full with our words that we create enough space for every struggle to wriggle free from the prison of shame we wall each other in?
Photo credit: http://www.indiatimes.com/india/indias-shame-world-reacts-to-fb-post-arrest-47788.html