Take The “Me” Out Of “Shame”

“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” -Brene Brown

In my early sobriety, my sponsor explained to me what her definition of shame was – “The feeling that something within you is fundamentally flawed or inherently wrong.” This was the first time I had heard a definition of shame that strayed from the concept of guilt. The idea that shame could burrow itself into someone’s being so deep that it was no longer tied to a specific consequence was a heavy thought.

Since this revelation, I’ve met scores of people that experience shame in their day-to-day life. The more I looked for it, the more it appeared. It became clear how shame is used in politics and religion to gain control and how shame is often the common denominator in family systems that have experienced generations of dysfunction.

Humans have evolved to be altruistic. Part of being altruistic is to demonstrate empathy. One way that empathy is demonstrated is by experiences of guilt and shame when our actions impact others negatively.

Shame in this regard is instinctual. But like all instincts, it can become corrupt when triggered in excess. A child that is repeatedly blamed for their parent’s emotional state. A wife that loses her identity in a marriage. A woman that loses autonomy of her body. Weaponized shame erodes the soul.

In a world that thrives on shaming people into submission, it can be tough to view shame as a choice. It takes at least two active participants to perpetuate shame, one to insinuate it and one to accept it. Shame can be returned to its sender at any time and for any reason. We are under no obligation to accept external shame from anyone.

So, what do we do once shame has weaseled its way into our souls? It’s not something we can think ourselves out of. The only release is to share it with a safe, empathetic person. Once the light of empathy has hit the darken corners of our secret chamber of shame, it begins to dissipate.

Today, I can take the “me” out of “shame” and leave nonsensical “sha” for the wind. If the cause of my shame is an action that is in violation with my ethics, it is up to me share and amend the cause if possible. If the cause of my shame is not in violation of my ethics, I can simply return to sender and remove myself from the equation.

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