Shame is generally felt as unworthiness, caused by how we perceive others to see us or think about us. Guilt is generally connected to something we have done that has caused problems regarding what others think or feel and what we think or feel ourselves. If we are brave enough to take courage and swim from these debilitating shores and face our shame, we open up possibilities of incredible creativity. We invite in the truth, to show us who we really are.
I wrote on this theme many years ago in my first book ‘Ms’Guided Angel’ ‘I recognise old patterns of shame emerging, I knew they were bound to appear now and again, they had a strong hold on me for many years and occasionally they would stick their head out from over my shoulder, reaching forwards to whisper in my ear. I hear that old familiar voice begging me to save its life;’
“What about me, what about me, your old friend called ’shame’ you know me well, the one who has protected you all your life, the one who has helped you shut down so you did not need to hear those nasty words, those painful truths and even those lies, remember me“
‘Sometimes it sits on a fence looking at me like vultures awaiting the kill, patiently knowing it is coming, ripe and raw, plundered from the kill of its innocence. So I study, I search, I take note of the stories that unfold around me. Knowing that somehow as I work deeper and deeper these stories have to change. Often the fear is there because I do not want to feel humiliation and shame. Better to stay small and quiet, not speak out than have to face some of those unbelievably painful issues. The red blushing face, the feelings of being humiliated by others, the gossip that may spew forth. The deadening sensations in the pit of the stomach even the sensation of near vomiting. And then there is the hope that no one has noticed this shame, as the face distorts while trying to hide the truth of what is being felt. But it is too late and those feelings begin to seep into the consciousness like a wave that empties itself out of the ocean depths.’
I know that shame exists in many of us, me included. I believe that though guilt and shame may be difficult to deal with they are great teachers in the art of humility and being humble. They are both extraordinary pathways into feeling deep into the core of ourselves and the teachings that come from within. They can take us out of body too easily, cause dysfunctions and addictions, but ‘spoken’ to with care and tenderness they will show us deeply who we are, offering many gifts in the form of love and compassion for ourselves and others.
How do we react to and become ‘friends’ with our own shame?
Shame can be a deep pit of despair if we allow it to be, it can consume us and tie us in knots. Trying to force our way out of it can only make it cling on harder, like a small hungry child needing more acknowledgement and reassurance, to push it away will not serve and that deep pit will grow ever deeper. My journey has always been to explore the areas of shame that I/we feel in our hearts and bellies. Whatever the story, where ever it comes from, there is a dance of healing to be danced. The journey is to take apart, very gradually, the stories we carry around shame, and see if we can gently unfold the edges to look within and to be kind to those parts of us that need a little more light. The seen and the unseen – where we hide and where we speak out, they can all evoke in us a sense of shame that is innately connected to our core-wounds, to our innocence and betrayals, the pain within and the longing to be free from it. Acknowledgement and acceptance of shame is the turning point, where we begin to take the action needed to move forward and not allow the shame to diminish us. To make friends with our shame and honor the journey it has taken to be able to look and see.
I saw her as a very beautiful woman who had been locked in a tower.
I saw her suffering because we were too ashamed to even admit we felt shame!
Her femininity was outcast because we could not bare to see so deeply into her, as a society.
Shame came to me as a beautiful woman,
No longer banished to an ugly tower,
She came to me as a beautiful woman
Free of the shackles and chains that would bind her,
Shame came to me as a beautiful woman
Full of her own creative wisdom,
Free to dance and sing with her own voice.
Shame came to me as a beautiful woman,
No longer cast out as a memory of dysfunction
The spirit of shame IS a beautiful one.
The feminine of our society, that energy that is diminished if it shows its face. The feminine, (not women,) where ever the feminine resides.
The soul is free of shame and the ego carries shame – the soul and ego need to fall in love – one cannot be in the world without the other. So we allow the soul to fall in love with our shame. If we are ashamed of others and their actions it is usually because it reflects something we feel within ourselves. The soul will accept any amount of shame within the ego and the ego must also allow the soul to receive and gently transform the ego to accept itself. It may be that we do not experience huge feelings of shame or be aware of them, but we may be acting out patterns and habits of behaviour that is still related to the original shame and its experience.
These things can relate to eating habits, to sexuality, to hiding emotions or fear of losing control. We may remain very shy and avoid any kind of embarrassing situations. It may be that our concerns about how other people perceive us or think about us, are way out of proportion, so we live our lives in fear of that and try to adjust ourselves to fit in with their perceived expectations. We may be living a very mundane existence without any creativity because that is a safer option.
Shame that manifests itself in the roots of destruction, the part of us that believes we are worthless and have no value, is the very thing that so many of us would bury as deeply as possible. Some would bury it with alcohol, food and drugs. Some with a superficial appearance of everything being ok. Much narcism is born under the guise of shame and for some they will live a life of depression and begrudge others around them.
Those who suffer shame often feel they need acceptance and love, they need people who value them, one person will never be enough. Yet the only one who can truly help us overcome this debilitating experience is ourselves.
I awoke one morning from a dream, everything seemed wrong and a voice in my head would not still itself. I reach for my note pad and scribble down words that simply flow out of me, looking for release, for freedom, so as not to be caged inside me anymore. I know it is the voice of a lack in self-esteem and I know that to know my self-esteem, I must know its shadow too.
Shame is believed to be the most disturbing experience individuals ever have about themselves; no other emotion feels more deeply disturbing because in that moment of shame we feel so deeply wounded within. People who experience traumatic events are prone to shame. It is associated with a desire to hide or to disappear. Even in extreme cases to die and not be here at all. A baby has the ability to feel shame very early on in its life, being caused by simply not receiving attention when he or she expected to. When a baby or small child does not receive that attention expected, the muscles in the back of the neck weaken and the head drops forward, as eyes look down to the ground. The emotion of shame has planted its seed. Many people will close their eyes when speaking to others, look away or look to the floor. This can become a life long habit if not addressed. Such a vast subject, especially as shame creates so much pain in our lives. So often the feelings from childhood haunt us. We can too easily believe that we are somehow not good enough, that we are wrong, defective or not strong enough. We can feel different intensities, sometimes experiencing fleeting shame for some minor incident, or we can feel chronic shame. The most intense being humiliation. Humiliation is painful and yet children are often humiliated by their peers, their teachers and even some parents. The scars of humiliation run very deep and in order to alleviate them, those deep core issues need to be addressed and self esteem reclaimed.
We do not always know our own shame, but some of the ways we can know we feel shame are through our shyness, discouragement, embarrassment, self-consciousness and/or inferiority. Shame is often triggered by expectations or hopes, being frustrated or blocked, disappointed or perceived failure and rejection or lack of interest from another. These may be the triggers but not the full story of why we feel it. We need to master our shame and not allow it to have that debilitating grip on our lives. It means being a witness to it; sitting in the eye of the storm and not being blown about in the hurricane.
Innocence can be reclaimed through this process especially as we begin to acknowledge those places that we feel deep shame. So often we try to ignore it, put it aside and ride above its painful wave. Yet it sits deep within us lurking in those hidden places.
In the pain of my own body I feel your eyes
Encouraging me to open more and share those dark secrets from
Searching for the unlimited stories that have lurked in the corners
Time forgotten on all sides
Ready to emerge to envelop me with shadows of dances not yet danced
And my feet move down into the ground
Spreading my roots into the earth
Saying hold me connect me support me
Here I go once more releasing the unnecessary burdens seeking fire to burn and rid me of the past and its melancholy
Surrendering to the fluidity of mighty rivers to wash away the pressure of having to live my life
To give it up is a timely and appropriate feeling
To live no more in dread of what may or may not come
My hurt, not yours, watch me yes
But do not rob me of my own power to heal myself
It is mine and given freely for me to use as I desire
Do not make yourself the rescuer do not make your self the healer
For that is you’re healing to let go of
This dance is my doing and mine alone
Simply see me and hold me in your gaze, see the darkness of me as well as my beauty
For here it unfolds onto the picture called ‘my life’
The painting rich of many colours and textures
I am maiden mother warrior and crone, the wise woman in each
I am all these things and will be all for you
Whenever you need the dance, the eyes of connection
The witness of our truth, I see you
From Ms’Guided Angel 2010
Carolines next book ‘Middle Earth Wisdom’ will be published with its own medicine cards in 2018.