Escaping From the Prison of Shame
“Shame isn’t a quiet grey cloud, shame is a drowning man who claws his way on top of you, scratching and tearing your skin, pushing you under the surface.”
The other day, a friend opened up to me about her insecurities. In our intimate conversation, I offered her my understanding. The world of shame is one I’ve known well.
After sharing a few stories with her, she looked into my eyes deeply, hers full of a mixture of sadness, surprise, and relief. She said, “I’m surprised you say all this. I just always thought of you as having zero self-esteem issues. I thought you’d always had self-confidence.”
In-between those lines, I heard the words she didn’t say: I thought I was alone.
In my journey of learning about self-acceptance and unconditional love, I’ve learned that the world, our world, is teetering on the brink of lunacy.
So many of us are walking around hating ourselves.
We think we’re alone because our stories are different, because I hate my thighs, you hate the way your lips move when you speak, and he hates his inability to speak with confidence when he wants to.
We all walk around playing these virtual reality games in our minds. We exist in a world of what we think are other people, but they’re really just pawns in our delusional representation of reality.
I’ve lived in that world, and I bet you have too.
Shame is a prison in all our minds.
This world is much like the famous the line from Hotel California that gently reminds us: “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”
The world of shame is a shield that lies in the corner, always ready to be picked up on our first shred of fear. And when we pick it up, we enter that world. It’s the world of staring at yourself in the mirror and feeling disgust. It’s the world of sitting there, paralyzed, going over your actions from a previous moment and wishing for another chance to not be so stupid, so cowardly, so not like the perfect person you desire yourself to be. It’s a world of jealousy, resentment, and self-destruction.
If I was in some other unpleasant state, like a stomach ache, I’d tell everyone around me. I know it would probably affect my behaviour, my mood, my aura. I’d have no problem sharing this fact with my loved ones, my coworkers, or even strangers on the street.
Here, we come to a strange and disappointing fact: we are much more willing to communicate about our physical experiences of discomfort than our emotional ones, our mental ones, our spiritual ones.
The reason lies in this simple truth—when I have a stomach ache, I know it will go away. I also know it has nothing to do with my authentic self. When I hate myself, however, I don’t know that it will go away. I begin to function as a different person in a different reality. My perception of myself and the world completely changes. I believe all of those lies I tell myself about how I’m not good enough. I go for the ride.
What my friend sees of me and what you see of me is the part that continues to open, over and over. I know I am pure love. I know that unconditional love is reality. I know that, when I let go, I swim in bliss. I know that’s always waiting for me.
That doesn’t change the fact, however, that I get closed off all the time. It’s a worldwide phenomenon. It’s a disease. It’s a disease of people silently hating themselves, of silently wishing to be different.
I lived in that world for most of my life—the world where I wasn’t good enough and people were cruel. I see people every day who still live in that world. Sometimes, I take a head-first visit, triggered by some environmental thing that my emotions from the past are intimately tied to.
It’s a place we’ve all been. It’s a place we’ve watched myself go and watched others go to.
When you watch someone else descending into shameful chaos, you can be more reasonable about what’s really going on. Obviously, the person across from you isn’t any uglier, stupider, or less competent right now than they were yesterday when they felt good about themselves. You, as the observer, see that your conversation partner is just going for a ride into a world of delusions.
When it happens to us, however, it’s much more difficult to stop. We take every thought and embrace it as the truth. Unconditional love and spiritual truth is still there, waiting for us to accept it as our reality, but our thoughts of shame and separation form a tight shield against reality.
Without love, we starve. We begin to act like fish out of water, struggling against our starvation.
And this isn’t occasional. For some people (like my former self), inner battle is a constant, never-ending reality. These people have never tasted the truth about themselves. They have only ever felt shame, fear, and anger.
I think we can start dealing with this viral, consuming disease of shame by removing the illusion that it’s not happening to everyone. It happens to everyone, until it doesn’t. Until they make a purposeful effort to begin perceiving themselves another way.
We must accept that it’s not our fault we’ve been conditioned into shame. Then, we need to talk about it.
Take a vow today. Do it with me (because I need it as much as you do). Take a vow to speak openly about these delusional experiences, these trips into the world of pain and suffering, these self-hating, people-judging moments of insanity. Even once, just today. Take a look at all the drowning people around you, grab a hand, and swim up to the surface, as hard as you can.
Be authentic, be brave, and most importantly, just be yourself. Love yourself, flaws and all.
That is how we can change the world: one moment of vulnerability at a time.
(Photo by Sam Judson)