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

  • because by its nature, it asks to be hidden and saps our ability to spot its symptoms.

  • But, to generalize 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 behavior 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 that this is where we've been relegated. We should probe at where our shame collects.

  • Take the 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 internalized 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 behave 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 else, perceptive, 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 behavior 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 defenses 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 so, blessedly, is 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.

  • That's 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's stop judging ourselves and others by unreal standards, that's how we made ourselves ill.

  • Let's 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 awfulness, and 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,

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B1 UK shamed shame ashamed problem conviction human

The Problem of Shame

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    Evangeline posted on 2021/06/08
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