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  • One of the great problems in the world is also one of the most invisible, because

  • by its natureit asks to be hidden and saps our ability to spot its symptoms. But, to generalise grossly,

  • few things so undermine human well-being as the sickness of shame.

  • The guilty feel bad for something specific they have done; the shamed feel wretched simply for being.

  • The affliction lacks borders. As shamed people, we don't connect the myriad ways in which

  • our behaviour and feelings are driven by a base conviction of our own abhorrence.

  • We just take it as a given that we are disgusting. We lack the capacity to imagine that our shame

  • has a history and therefore, perhaps, a future that could be curtailed. A first step in untangling ourselves

  • is to get enough distance to spot and name the problem. We might make use of

  • a little questionnaire. Out of 10, rate how true the following statements feel:

  • I don't deserve to exist. I am defective. I am unworthy of being known and loved.

  • I am a mistake. I deserve to be abandoned. I should not be. Anything over an eight

  • starts to indicate the problem, but if there were an option, most of us in the shamed camp

  • would want to award ourselves a hundred or more. This is the windswept barren land of shame,

  • where many of us have been living all our lives, often without enough mental well being

  • to know this is where we have been relegated. We should probe at where our shame collects.

  • Take outline of a human figure. What are we ashamed of? Our mind?

  • Facial appearance? Physique? Genitals? Anus? We were not born ashamed.

  • We should summon up the voices that gave us our legacy and which we have then internalised and blended with our own:

  • You'll never amount to anything. You're the family idiot. You disgust me.

  • Others may wonder why people around us behaved this way. The answer is clear enough to the shamed:

  • because we deserved it. We wouldn't be truly shamed people if

  • all it took was a few simple questions to shake us from our conviction of our detestable identity.

  • We were shamed because we were and are defective. Our caregivers weren't mean; they were

  • above anything elseperceptive, even brilliant. They could spot things that later, kinder people cannot.

  • They had the true measure of us. Shamed children don't blame their guardians.

  • We protect them for a weird but logical reason: so as not to feel entirely alone. We prefer

  • to think well of our caregivers than to take on board how badly we have been let down

  • with all the convulsive rage and sadness that would entail.

  • The consequences of shame are written across our lives.

  • We don't allow other people to get too close to us;

  • they would only be appalled if they knew the true us. We're not so good on physical intimacy.

  • We get scared all the time (bad things happen to bad people). We don't like parties (why

  • would anyone be pleased to see us?). We have a lot of secrets, for most of what we are

  • is unacceptable to other eyes. We go in for addictive behaviour to escape our self-hatred

  • then feel even more ashamed of ourselves for the unholy things we've done. What is the way out of shame?

  • The same popular answer is to tell ourselves that we are beautiful and good. But that won't easily convince us.

  • There may be a better, more oblique strategy to bypass the defences of the shamed.

  • We should stress not that we are wonderful, but that every human being who

  • has ever walked the planet is in their own way radically imperfect and broken when observed from close up.

  • We may be a bit wrong, but soblessedlyis everyone else who is and has ever been.

  • We can be stupid, perverted and uncouth, but that is wholly normal.

  • Rather than implicitly upholding an ideal of goodness by telling ourselves that we do after all measure up to it,

  • far better to throw away ideals and all notions of achievable purity and goodness.

  • This is where the problem started. Better to accept that we are, as a group,

  • entirely crazy and ill-tempered, wicked and odd, but then to stress just

  • how much this is a reason for mercy and kindness (rather than censure and condemnation).

  • Let us stop judging ourselves and others by unreal standards, that is how we made ourselves ill;

  • let us laugh and comfort each other for the absurdity and horror of existing in human form.

  • The primary sin of those who made us feel ashamed was not so much that they spotted our flaws,

  • it's that they forgot their own awfulnessand then had the gall to blame us for our own.

  • We should give up on fascistic perfectionism in order to make

  • a generous home for our cracked reality in our own and in the collective imagination.

  • That'll be the start of our way out of the problem of shame.

  • At The School of Life we believe that confidence is a skill we can all learn. Click now to learn more.

One of the great problems in the world is also one of the most invisible, because

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B1 UK shamed shame ashamed problem conviction behaviour

The Problem of Shame

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    Evangeline posted on 2018/08/10
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