Many of us have a knowing that who we are right now isn’t all we are meant to be, that we are here for a purpose and that often that purpose seems elusive to us. We may feel that whilst we are not broken we are stuck in a “groundhog day” kind of loop that can feel like we are flatlining or stressing through each day, each week and each year.
This lack of purpose can make us feel as though we are living as a fraud/pretender/imposter and it can rob us of any real connection to ourselves and others. We are hardwired for authentic connection and will spend our lives consciously and unconsciously searching for it. It’s what gives meaning, motive and sense to our lives.
The role that shame plays in all this cannot be underestimated. It is not just the big ticket items in someone’s life that begets shame. It seems to be the bedrock on which we all unwittingly programme how we live, love, parent and lead. As I look around me I observe a culture steeped in shame. It’s rampant. In a nutshell, it begins in our families, it’s inter-generational, it’s based in our communities and our society, it’s in our education system, our legal system thrives on it, our boardrooms and corporations peddle it, and our governments legislate it.
So, we are marinating in it. There is no escape really; we exist in a shame-based society. It’s like a silent and invisible epidemic that cloaks just about all of us consciously or unconsciously.
It’s our fear of allowing ourselves to be vulnerable or to be seen, really seen, that is the main driver underneath shame, and this can be quite debilitating.
Shame hijacks our sense of worthiness, and in doing so lays down the groundwork for us to build fortresses around ourselves, and then we have to learn how to survive without the core essential part of ourselves that was shamed into silence. We do this through judgement of ourselves and others, perfecting ourselves and others, and numbing ourselves.
Once built, these fortresses have to be manned and that can be exhausting and unrelenting, and can manifest as any number of physical and emotional/mental illnesses. Depression, anxiety, bullying, withdrawing, eating disorders, aggression, addiction and so on have been strongly correlated to shame.
There’s good news, though! These fortresses can be dismantled, and we can all learn how to build shame resilience.
As Dr Brené Brown says, shame survives on two things: secrecy and silence. So, the more that we are able to shine a light on it, the less it has a hold over us and the freer we can become.
Perhaps the next time you catch yourself judging or perfecting yourself or someone else, or the next time you reach for something to numb the day, you might now notice a shame gremlin at work just beneath the surface.