There Is Nothing Shameful About Shame

Shame is a debilitating ordeal that we often impose on ourselves. Unlike simple embarrassment, it does not come and go with the redness in our cheeks. It reaches to our very core with its potent and paralytic toxin that seems to make the worst parts of us glow in the dark and turns the best parts into grotesque gargoyles that make us want to become invisible.

Shame isolates us and requires us to hide or withdraw from life. We want to disappear or cease to exist. The feelings of shame can be so intense that we carry them over into our interpersonal relationships, work becomes difficult, and intimacy becomes impossible. We lose interest in reading, football, eating, and even family. Or, perhaps we go the other way and overindulge in sex, drugs, or food. We cannot escape into a parallel universe where our shameful deed does not exist, but that doesn’t keep us from trying. However, there are realistic ways of dealing with our shame right here in this universe.

Like all challenges, there is light and redemption on the other side of the obstacle that looks insurmountable from your present point of view. It can be overcome. Granted, it makes you feel like a worthless reject of humanity with no reason to carry on, but therein lies your redemption…

Let’s start with a fact: Shame is a feeling; as such, it cannot be seen.

Nobody has branded an “A” on your forehead or forced you to wear sackcloth and ashes. You may believe that you look like you have two heads to the rest of society, but you don’t. Some will take the time to cast aspersions for a while, but none will dedicate their lives to it, at least not indefinitely. Shame is a feeling that lives inside of you, and that means that you have a measure of control over it.

It is true that you cannot control how others view you, but the most important thing for moving on with a meaningful life is to gain control over how you view yourself. Think about some of the people who have done or been accused of shameful acts. Bill Clinton, Martha Stewart, and others refused to be overcome by shame. They went head-on into public situations with their heads held high, and the world gave them the second chances they demanded. And they succeeded.

To a certain extent, your future is as resilient as you are. If you can shake it off, there’s a better chance that those around you can too. This doesn’t mean that you forget all about it or even completely forgive yourself. But, like physical pain or a disease like diabetes, you can learn to manage it.

Think of shame as a dog, and you’re the trainer. Right now it’s a big, hideous, deformed, and unruly Great Dane that pulls you around on a short leash. It barks at everyone you pass, bringing you unwanted attention and humiliation. It does not obey your commands, rudely sniffs strangers, relieves itself on their legs, and jumps on and licks everybody it encounters.

With nothing more than your own will, that disruptive beast can be transformed into a docile Chihuahua hidden away in a handbag. Why? Because you are the only one who “sees” the animal behaving badly.

The degree of shame you feel is often relate more to the fallout than the actual deed. Millions of people have affairs, for instance, but your affair with the Pastor destroyed your family, his or her family, and the whole congregation. Yet, the act itself was not any more shameful than others that had lesser affects. Or maybe you embezzled from a charity and brought public shame on your whole family.

No deed can be undone, and time cannot be turned back. Sometimes the best you can do is to own your sin, apologize to those you hurt, do better in the future, and let the chips fall where they may.

Shame is a form of guilt. You only feel it if you are a good person who feels badly about something you have done. If you feel ashamed, the good news is that you have a soul and a conscience to guide it. That also means that you learn from your mistakes and are already a better person. You can carry shame with you without demonstrating its foibles to the world. Once you have tamed your own feelings, then you can begin work of forgiving yourself and reclaiming your place in the social order.