There are three ways people attempt to overcome shame. We move away from the stimulus, by disappearing into our own lives; move towards it, by trying to prove ourselves, attain perfection, people-please; and move against it, by using anger and trying to shame others. All of these dig us into the hole deeper, and move us farther from our present selves. They remove a little of the pain, only for it to come back later.
(What is the alternative to being present in the moment? Being stuck in the past, in failed past tactics for dealing with problems.)
These strategies do not work. They attempt to disconnect from the pain, but we must feel it, accept it and let it go. With a woman who tries to do her down, Brené Brown repeats her mantra: Don’t shrink and be small for people, don’t puff up and get arrogant and cocky, just stay on your sacred ground. Actually, that sounds quite perfectionist. In shame, trying to respond rather than react after the woman pushes her buttons she says to herself do not talk, text or type. She has to bring matters to consciousness and soberly assess what the facts really are.
She says, face the shame and heal it with conversation; and with laughter, not as defence or deflection but recognition that I am not alone in this.
I am ashamed of my ways of dealing with shame. My mother taught me to people-please, to pretend to be the way I ought to be; to hide away; to be perfectionist. I am hiding away in my reclusive state, and ashamed of it, because I should not need to.
Much of this has been unconscious. It is all what I do, or what I ought to do, just the way the world is and reality is. I need to bring it into consciousness because otherwise I do not see what a burden it is. In order to go out to work, to face the world again, I need to turn my life around, and like a supertanker with a relatively small rudder I see what a big deal that is. Suddenly that expression is particularly meaningful. It’s huge.
Shame at my effeminate self made me attempt to make a man of myself, joining the territorial army (just about the place I least fitted) and then a woman, by having my testicles removed. It would have been a small price to pay to be normal, to have nothing to feel shame about, if it had worked.
Shame keeps me hiding away.
From Dr Brown’s assessment, self-esteem, considering my gifts and qualities, will not ameliorate shame by itself. Now, it seems that I am ashamed of everything, of all that I am and that I do, and even that I should be so shamed and so incapacitated by it. I fear being shamed if I go out, and then ashamed of not going out. These are powerful buttons for others to push. I am ashamed of what I do to resist feelings of shame. I am ashamed of my life, of the little I have made of it.
I deserve better.