In a previous post, I discussed the Mindful Self-Compassion retreat that I attended in the Yarra Valley recently, and how the emotion shame came up for me during the retreat. I wanted to dedicate a post to this emotion, as it is one we often don’t recognise in ourselves when it appears. And, it is probably the most difficult emotion we will ever have.
What is shame?
Dr Chris Germer describes shame as “an innocent emotion”, because it comes from the wish to be loved. When we fear that we won’t be loved, this is shame (not to be confused with guilt).
Shame = I am wrong, I am bad
Guilt = I did something wrong/bad
Because it isn’t easy to identify, shame can be difficult to work with. Dr Germer says, “shame erases the observer” as it has a way of dislocating us from our bodies, suspending us in time and space where we are unable to act rationally.
Shame is a common human emotion – we all feel shame, but it causes us to separate from others as if we are the only ones to have ever felt this way. For some, this means holding onto a secret for days, months, years, or even a lifetime where there has been significant trauma (e.g. child abuse). But, what sustains shame is silence
What can we do?
It takes great courage to break the silence because it will likely change things, and this can be overwhelming. The expectation is often, “I might lose this person”, or “they won’t like me anymore”.
Self-compassion is known as the antidote to shame because it can give us the love that we fear is lacking from others when we feel shame.
Ask yourself, “What is it that I would be afraid about other people knowing about me in this moment?” Is it, “I am incompetent?” or “I am a fraud” or “I’m not as smart / capable / confident as they think I am”.
Whatever it may be, approach it with tenderness. Say to yourself as you would a dear friend, “Oh, you’ve been feeling that you are incapable for so many years”.
Acknowledge, that all humans feel this way – it is natural, as it comes from the universal wish to be loved.
Rather than summing up this post, I’d like to end with a beautiful poem:
With That Moon Language – Hafiz
Everyone you see, you say to them, “Love me”.
Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise someone would call the cops.
Still, though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect.
Why not become the one that lives with a full moon in each eye that is always saying,
with that sweet moon language,
what every other eye in this world is dying to hear?