I’ve hit a big-ass wall in my journey towards self-love and that wall is called shame.
Nothing that significant even happened to awaken it, just an email that referred to a situation that makes me keel over whenever I’m reminded of it. I get this intense knotting in my stomach as if someone just punched me in my gut and I can’t think clearly at all.
It wasn’t until I spoke with my friend and co-counselor that I was able to put the word “shame” onto my experience. And in the process, I discovered all sorts of shocking things about myself that I honestly did not think were possible of me. What my shame self tells me: I’m undeserving of empathy. What I did was unforgivable and I should be punished. I’m a bad person. And not only am I bad but I’m attached to seeing myself as bad. I am incapable of even cultivating the intention to have self-empathy or to forgive myself.
This is a cognitive distortion that is unfamiliar to me.
My inner dialogue, when I’m unhappy, usually sounds something like this:
Self 1: Blagghhh!!! [Insert complaint about life or the world or other humans]
Self 2: OK you’re triggered right now, take a deep breath. OR I love you OR You’re not feeling well right now.
But with shame, it’s like this:
Self 1: I’m a bad person.
Self 2: Yup.
There is a certain degree of absurdity to it even to my semi-rational mind because empathy is something I’m capable of generating or if not capable of, at least interested in generating, for every other single human being on this planet. I have empathy for Trump, for the people who kill lots of people, for the people whose actions have hurt me however deeply. And yet, I can’t manage to offer that same thing to myself. Because somehow I’m more fundamentally bad than alllll the other humans?
Whodathunk shame was this powerful.
Some quick thoughts on shame and joy:
Whereas sorrow and joy seem like they can be friends and hold hands together, shame seems fundamentally incompatible with joy. Sorrow is a natural extension of love. Shame squashes any inkling of love. Joy feels like opening and receptivity. Shame feels like secrecy and shut-down. In being counseled about my shame, I imagined myself wanting to go away and never come back. I imagined wanting to take this situation that I feel ashamed of and putting it in a small, locked closet in the corner of my room.
Unfortunately, that first option is not so desirable and the second option conflicts with the laws of how I understand reality sooooo in the meantime, I plan to take time each day to explore the edges of this shame. I think trying to tackle it head-on will likely lead to feelings of collapse that won’t be productive. We’ll see if I can gather up enough love in the universe to shine on it.
And here are Miki Kashtan’s ponderings on shame and love, which refer to James Gilligan’s book, Violence: Our Deadly Epidemic and Its Causes. She wonders if overcoming shame might be “an essential condition for a violence-free society.” Wow.