When anyone’s shame is triggered it can erupt in emotional paralysis. Shame is a very difficult emotion to crawl out from under. Shame makes people feel very small and then all they want to do is hide, crawling inside the nearest hole. A hole is not a place that nurtures either healing or growth.

Shame has an important purpose. It’s to pinch us to do better, to recognize our dark sides & to be serious about doing better.
Shame is like religion in that regard. However neither is shame intended to drag anyone down to the bottom of the sea with
feeling wretched. Too often shame becomes a burden that weighs too heavily and becomes a trap instead of an inspiration
to improve.

It’s hard accepting mistakes are a part of the process of growing up for all of us. We can only grow by learning from our mistakes, not by being buried in shame. I believe that the 20’s are developmentally meant to be a time of foolishness & mistakes. It’s a time for exploring, pushing boundaries & risk taking. Mistakes & doing bad things is a part of growing up & the process of learning. How else can we learn to define ourselves & decide who we want to be?

At first, I really admired Barbara Bush as first lady because she wore false pearls & was unapologetic about being overweight. Then I read an interview where she said no one should have regrets. This is ridiculous if you are honest with yourself….no one lives without regrets.

So to grow up well is to solve how to make shame bearable. Actually it is our work to sort out how to make the pain, suffering & shame that is a part of life bearable, not to sink beneath it.

Shame is an ordinary part of living for all of us, no one escapes & keeping in mind it’s greater purpose is to nudge us into being better human beings.

It’s the middle ground of not drowning in shame nor ignoring it & pretending it’s not there that we want to find, in order to grow. Growing up is honestly facing painful situations & that work is usually about ourselves. It’s taking responsibility & learning from mistakes that makes life work. I believe that one of the really important aspects of healing that Alcoholics Anonymous offers, by gathering people to share their terrible stories in a group and it’s the process of sharing that softens the history of painful mistakes.

Sharing your mistakes creates an intimacy. Think of your own friends, the ones you know the least about their bad times are the most superficial. When people withhold secrets of things they are ashamed of there is distance created by the process of secrecy. The evidence for that is the recent Korean movie Decision to Leave where the detective keeps his yearning for a suspect a secret & his wife is the one who moves on.

Shame can be an attack from within ourselves or an attack from outside of us. Shaming on social media can be devastating. When it is undeserved it is even worse because there is no greater, more complicated context offered.

Cathy o’Neil in her book The Shame Machine: Who Profits In The New Age Of Humiliation blames shame on the corporations that profit from humiliation like the pharmaceutical industry that benefits from those with addictions, the weight loss industry which preys on those with eating disorders & the cosmetic industry as well. These industries love the algorithms that optimize traffic and so the internet has become a powerful machine of shame formal of us to contend with.

So step back from shame & ask yourself is it a pinch from within or without to do better or is it an unfair self torture or ugliness from the outside world? You have to make a distinction to learn how you can benefit from it or to disregard & hold yourself apart from the ugliness. Take time to think through your feelings of shame in order to benefit if there is a pearl of wisdom to grab onto or determine if it is a distorted reality that is deeply dangerous.

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About the Rhoda Mills Sommer

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