Shame is a soul eating emotion. ~Carl Gustav Jung
Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change. ~Brene Brown, I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame
Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike. ~J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
If we turn away from our own pain, we may find ourselves projecting this aversion onto others, seeing them as somehow inadequate for being in a troubled situation. ~Sharon Salzberg, Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection
When we live with complex trauma in our minds and bodies, relating to others in ways that are not harmful is complicated and challenging. We need to be incredibly self aware, to be able to analyze when we feel activated if what we are feeling is because of the other person or because of our past or some combination of the two. And there are times when we stumble and fail, and our trauma gets the best of us.
We may feel shame when that happens. Shame that we lost our shit, again. Shame that we are “broken.” Shame that we can’t just be “normal.”
In addition to this, many of us carry general shame around the abuse or neglect we experienced. We may feel it was our fault or we could have prevented it somehow. We may feel embarrassed about what was done to us. We may feel “tainted” or “damaged.”
And of course there is the guilt that quickly turns to shame around the harm we caused another person in the present.
Shame is a part of living with complex trauma. Shame for the past. Shame for the present. Shame for a future that only looks bleak.
This shame isn’t ours to carry, though.
It was not our fault, what happened to us.
We are not responsible for the actions of others.
We are only responsible for our own actions.
With this truth that we are responsible for our actions, and any harm we may cause others, it is also true that we need to have compassion for ourselves, compassion for the young children living in us who didn’t get compassion or love, compassion for the ways we are still in the midst of processing and healing, compassion for our humanity and the reality that we will each fuck up.
What matters, to me, and according to Attachment Theory, is not whether we cause harm (because we all will), but rather the ways we work towards repair, atonement, amends.
It is how we handle the aftermath of our “losing our shit” that matters.
Shame would have us hiding out. Pretending what happened didn’t happen. Not addressing the harm. Ignoring it.
Shame would have us defensive. Making excuses. Placing blame on others for our own actions.
Shame would have us causing further damage to the relationship, both with the other and with our own integrity, values, and Self.
Shame, and all the aspects of our complex trauma, causes harm. To our Self. To our relationships. When we are able to connect to our shame, to get to its roots, to find ways to calm it and soothe it, to offer it and ourselves compassion, we begin the vital repair work in our relationship with our Self.
As we are able to repair our relationship with our Self, to find compassion and understanding for the whys of the ways we are in the world, we also create space to work on the repair in our other relationships.
Having compassion for our Self and the harm we have caused another does not “let us off the hook.” We can never use our own traumatic experiences as an excuse to allow us to harm others or to not make the important repairs necessary to rebuild and strengthen our relationships.
This compassion doesn’t make it okay to be abusive, neglectful, or to try to ignore the ways we have damaged another and our relationships.
This compassion does give us a lens to look through, at our Self. To see all, or at least some of, the hurt we carry within us. To see the ways this hurt comes out and impacts others in our lives. To see where our work is, where we can begin the next layer of our own untangling and unraveling.
We will each inevitably cause harm to the people we love. This is, unfortunately, currently part of being human. However, while it is inevitable we will cause harm, it is our choice what we do after.
If we choose repair, with both our Self and the other, we are making the brave, and terrifying, decision to break generations old patterns and cycles, to take down the status quo one relationship at a time. This choice not only brings change within our smaller world, it has ripple effects that will create change in our greater social structure.
The more we are able to intimately, and vulnerably, relate with those we care most about, the more the way we look at relationships with all other humans will also shift. These shifts will also impact and influence others.|
One relationship at a time.
One fuck up at a time.
One repair at a time.
This essay was originally published to my weekly(ish) newsletter on January 20, 2020. It has been edited and revised for publication here. To receive my most recent essays, you can subscribe here.
We will be exploring shame and how it impacts us and our relationships in Embodied Writing :: Too much, not enough, & shame. We begin Monday, January 27, 2020 and registration will close on Sunday January 26 at 10pm PST. To learn more and register, click here.