I am human, I can’t help it.
We are human, we cannot help it. But for some, the sheer act of being born is shameful. For some, guilt is embedded in their culture, in their home environment, in the privileges, backgrounds, gender, disability, sexuality, etc…
How can we build ourselves up when we come from a foundation of guilt?
How can we embrace our self-worth when we are ashamed, in some cases, of our very existence in this world?
First, let’s take some of the power back!
Shame is an ungrateful emotion, and the more soul you feed it, the more it will feed.
I propose that SHAME it is the capitalism of emotions. It takes more than it gives and leaves destruction in its wake. So the first thing we can do is stop feeding it. But how do we do this?
Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter in the 19th- century to illustrate dangers of guilt traditions and shame in communities. Hester Prynn, the story’s central character was brandished with a red A on her chest to signify adultery. She wore her guilt and her shame on her clothing.
As an outcast from her community, she wandered about as an observer, noting that those who were most uncomfortable with her were ones who had themselves done shameful things and had not been caught.
Hester recognized that though her guilt was on display, her shame was a personal struggle that had nothing to do with the guilt. By forgiving herself she was able to overcome her shame. By the same token, the guilt lost its potency. She had made things right with herself and the opinions of others didn’t have the same weight. .She developed compassion for the people who did not wear their guilt or their difference on their chest because she knew they suffered from something worse, shame.
She developed compassion for the people who did not wear their guilt or their difference on their chest because she knew they suffered from something worse, shame. By hiding their guilt they were hiding their truth.
Guilt Versus Shame
Guilt is external, Shame the internal.
What is your experience with guilt?
Guilt unexpressed becomes shame, and it slowly erodes the heart, spirit, and mind.
What is your experience with shame?
My experience with shame began early, having a controversial personality from day one, I felt like who I was wrong somehow. I followed my own path, I had my own ideas about things and this made the adults around me uncomfortable, but why was this?
More recently I had a self-revealing interaction with my grandmother
- “Why do you have to be different?”
- “I don’t think it was a choice.”
- “If you’re going to be different don’t pretend that you aren’t. You should own your difference.”
- “I do, own it now, I like that I am different”
- “Well, you don’t have to be so different!”
The message here is confusing, but it made me laugh to hear such an obviously contradictory message from someone with whom I placed a lot of importance on in my formative years.
I think the most important part of that interaction was my response. I was surprised to find that I wasn’t ashamed of being different or “weird” anymore.
Shame & Guilt Traditions
My grandmother’s generation believed in the stiff upper lip. That the unexpressed self is socially appropriate. Emotional expression inconveniences others and yourself. They confuse self-expression with dwelling on your problems. But the more we ignore our differences and what makes us unique, the more shame we seem to feel.
The outdated notion of a stiff upper lip seems to work for Maggie Smith characters, but might not be the best approach to life.
Isolation from one’s self is difficult to repair when haunted by regrets, guilt, shame, and never knowing whether you compare to the measure that was set for you.
In which case, is it true that you have two choices, to discover the answer through comedy, and being open bout your faults, releasing the power that shame holds over you? Or to accept the onslaught of the tragedy that comes from the soul-corroding guilt and shame?
Now it is not uncommon to express any and all feelings instantly through technology and social media…
But, is the social medium freedom of expression alleviating our guilt and shame or is it just perpetuating erratic behaviour and responses?