We are living in some tough times wouldn't you agree? The terrible loss of our military men and women in the middle east, the devastating Northern California Fires that have resulted in loss of homes, belongings and communities, and, of course, the Covid Pandemic.
So how are people handling these difficult situations? As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist I have always been fascinated by the human condition at the core - thoughts, feelings, behaviors, actions and intent. I've been thinking about this a lot and have been witnessing multiple incidents of this shame and blame game. Well, I don't wanna play that game! I also don't want to ignore what's happening to people and how they are being treated so I thought I'd write my first blog on what shame is and how you can stop playing the shame game. Remember it takes two to play a game and its really not as much fun playing by yourself now is it?
Lets talk about shame .....Shame is one of the most debilitating emotions you can feel and has the most devastating consequences. Shame isn't at all like anxiety or fear where you can feel the jolt of energy sweeping through your body. Shame is subtle, yet deep, and feels like wrapping yourself up in a blanket in the corner in the dark, hiding forever from the light. I always tell my therapists the difference between guilt and shame is that guilt says "I did something wrong" and shame says "I am bad". I don't wish that feeling on anyone, but we can't ignore the fact that people are being shamed and judged.
According to Harriet Lerner, shame comes from EVERY system we belong to including family of origin, medical, government, religious, teachers, doctors and even therapists. Unfortunately, at some point you have or will experience not only shame but the judgment that comes with it and I want you to know where it comes from because it is always put on you by someone else. Remember back when you saw a parent swipe one of their fingers with the other one? What they were really doing was taking the shame off of them and putting it on to you! Remember that next time someone tries to shame you.
There are three reasons why people shame other people:
A misguided attempt to be helpful - using shame to get people to obey and conform
Anxiety driven attempts to get comfortable with yourself. When anxiety is high and resources are scarce shaming begins. A person doesn't just wake up and say "I'm not feeling great today, my self esteem is really low so I think I'll go shame someone then I will feel better about myself".
When people are a member of dominant group and consider themselves an essential human