Friday, April 02, 2004

The insidious nature of Shame

Friday evening. I have twice today been prompted to think about Shame and the role it plays in my life.

Shannin writes about her embarrassment over a habit that she isn't able to control as well as she'd like. I can so completely relate to this because of my binge eating problems. The embarrasment and shame that I feel about my inability to control my eating wounds me deeply because it's self directed. No one is ever as cruel to me as I am to myself, and how horrible is that? It is also self perpetuating, feeding on itself and growing with each hateful thing I think about myself. The worst part, I think, is the way that my shame drives me to hide my eating from the world, because that just further isolates me, and isolation is a potent fertilizer for someone who is ashamed of themselves to begin with.

After reading Shannin's entry, I went over to JuJu's place and she challenged all of us to identify how shame and embarrassment are stopping us in our lives. Gosh, my entire life is surrounded by shame and/or embarrassment. The fact that I'm still single. The fact that my house is a pigsty. The fact that I don't read enough real books. The fact that I don't weigh 125 pounds. The fact that I eat compulsively, as though the food is about to be snatched from me. The fact that I am terrible about keeping up with far away friends. And on and on. How is this stopping me? How is it not stopping me? I don't go out unless I absolutely have to. At social events for work, I stick with my friends and never mingle outside of those whose acceptance I am already certain of. I don't want to meet new people because I'm afraid they won't like me because of how I look and that hurts too much. I mean, I don't like me, so why should they. I am ashamed of who I am and how I look, and that shame frames every part of my interaction (or lack thereof) with the world.

Look at the words themselves: "embarrassment" and "shame" are so powerfully negative that they wither our core being each and every time we apply them to ourselves. I know that, for myself, it's as though I'm an animal, shrinking from the angry hand of my owner. I want to just curl up somewhere safe and not think or feel or hurt, which, of course, just perpetuates the problem. Isolation is the worst thing for someone who is convinced of their own worthlessness because there is no counterpoint to that opinion, no one to remind us of the wonderful qualities that we possess. That same isolation also perpetuates the cycle, leading us back to our comfort zones of self destructive behaviors.

What things am I not doing with my life because I'm ashamed of myself?
* I'm not walking outside because I'm ashamed of how huge my stomach is
* I'm not going to Bible study at my church or even staying for coffee after services because I'm ashamed of how I look
* I'm not going to Curves, which I just joined, because I'm too ashamed to have everyone see how uncoordinated and fat I am
* I haven't been to the doctor yet this year because I'm ashamed of my weight gain since last year and the fact that I've let my diabetes get out of control again
* I haven't found any volunteer opportunites because I'm ashamed of how fat and ugly I am and I don't think anyone would want me to be part of their organization

JuJu also asks us to consider what we can do to help others overcome their shame and embarrassment. I honestly don't know the answer to that one. I can't seem to do it for myself, much less others. Perhaps, though, through the simple act of sharing our stories, we start to chip away at the voice inside each of us that tells us we're the only ones, that we're freaks of nature because we are who we are and we feel the way we do. Just as a single pebble can create ripples that reach across a lake, maybe each of has the ability to create ripples in the lives of someone we've never met, through our writings and the things that we share. Could it be that shining the bright light of introspection into our own lives could strengthen the resolve of others in need?

I'm going to close with the words of Ellen Stovall:

"With communication comes understanding and clarity;
With understanding, fear diminishes;
In the absence of fear, hope emerges;
And, in the presence of hope, anything is possible."

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