Our society normalizes internal shame over things that are out of our control. And many of us subconsciously buy into this normalization, even excuse it as a necessary part of living in a social world. We are taught to be ashamed of our bodies, being powerful or sensitive, being an abuse survivor, our sexuality, the way we express ourselves, our desires, our past experiences, expressing emotions, what we have or don’t have, financial status…to name a few. This type of shame creates deep internal feelings that we are not good enough, that we are not truly lovable, that if we express our true selves or experiences we will be rejected…etcetera. This type of shame worms its way into the way we see and project ourselves into the world and into our relationships.
Many people who are Queer have dealt with extreme shaming about their sexuality and/or their gender expression. It seems to be, in my experience, that we have also had to learn how to battle that shaming. This is one of the many reasons we celebrate PRIDE, which absolutely rejects social shaming. The literal meaning of the word pride is: a feeling that you respect yourself and deserve to be respected by others. We have become stronger than our cis-straight allies at transmuting shame into PRIDE surrounding our sexualities and gender expression. But even with this extra backbone we have grown, we continue to carry feelings of shame.
I believe that when we are ashamed of parts of ourselves, we create situations that perpetuate the judgement that we most fear. We generate a verbal bully scenario, even with people we respect and care about. If we think about it, a bully can only say things that hurt us if we already have the seeds of self-doubt inside. It is human nature is to respond in a reflective way and that is usually what people do in positive and negative situations. When we enter a circumstance where something we are ashamed of is either voluntarily or involuntarily exposed, we hold such a strong internal belief that it is not going to be accepted that people will naturally see what is exposed as wrong. Why wouldn’t they, we do? Leaving lots of room for criticism and expressed judgement from others. This experience then waters the seeds that we carry, and the shame grows, as now we have evidence to feel the way we do.
Internalized personal shame restricts our ability to be open and authentic. It is a constrictive and fear-based perception of our being that weighs us down as we walk in the world. How can we be free to fully be ourselves when we carry the ideology that who we are is not acceptable? We can’t. How do we eliminate that shame we carry? It is deep and takes a lot of challenging work, honesty and introspection. Awareness is always the first step, we cannot do anything without seeing that it’s a problem. That most things we feel ashamed of are facts about ourselves that we give extreme meaning to. And that the meaning we give is not necessarily true. Debunking the validity of our shame is extremely important.
The realization that what we feel ashamed about has been spoon fed to us by others, about the way we are “supposed” to be, can be very freeing in and of itself. It is easy to debunk some of these ideas by simply learning about other cultures that don’t have socialized shame about size, shape, nudity, sexuality and gender expression. We can discover that not every culture perpetuates shame in this way. When we open our perspective, it always becomes easier to release attachments to feelings and thoughts that we once held tightly as truth.
Our social structure uniquely embraces shame and judgement as a way to promote capitalism and patriarchal control. When we start to question whether or not our shame has been a manipulation to make us buy more, diet more, not speak openly about our trauma, not show emotion, or even be successful or strong through femininity, or emotional and nurturing through masculinity…We can start to see the messages we’ve been spoon fed throughout our lives. Once we realize what shame is based in a social conditioning, we can start to heal it. This realization simply takes the power away from the meaning.
Some shame is acutely integrated into us from traumatic experiences. Traumatic shame is difficult to process alone, finding support for working through this is always recommended. Sometimes, awareness is not enough, sometimes it is. Once we are aware that we have given meaning to facts and created shame around a belief structure, that may not even be our own, we can move into owning who we are.
Owning who we are, fully, open hearted and aware results in less discord in the self. We lighten our load in life, becoming freer. Releasing our attachment to shame and eliminating the promotion of shame in others is a matter of evolution. We are holding ourselves and others back when we take part in the shame cycle. People flourish when they feel accepted and can express themselves fully. When we carry shame or shame others we are imposing weights onto ourselves and them. We limit our capacity to experience life fully.
It is possible to transmute shame into pride and acceptance of the whole self. It is possible to change deeply held beliefs and meaning. It is possible to release the shame cycle. The best place start to to practice this is within our relationships. We may even be surprised how invigorating this change is to our love life.
Dawn Celeste McGregor is a Writer and Coach. Contact Dawn Celeste at her website, expansiveconnections.com or Expansive Living on Facebook.