A guest blog by Minnesota OULAkin Christina Cyrus:
I had an epiphany today. Shame is a controlling and destructive emotion.
In the past two weeks I’ve:
*Been working through feelings of shame associated with childhood memories.
*Had honest conversations about the shame we feel when we experience normal emotions like envy or competitiveness.
*Reflected on the shame we feel about our bodies.
*Reframed an experience with shaming for my 6-year-old daughter.
The signs of shame have been abundant and it is time to for me to reflect on what the universe is trying to show me.
I’m sharing my reflections with you in the way I process best: writing.
Shame is an effective tool. People use shame to get others to fit into their ideal, subscribe to their beliefs, or meet their wants or desires. We see this DAILY and that teaches us that shame is a way to reach goals and/or get what you want.
In companies and organizations we work in, a shame culture is evident when there are behaviors like gossiping and bullying. At times, the shame is outright, like public criticisms and reprimands.
Marketing uses shame to tap into our insecurities and get us to buy what is being sold.
Governments use shame to get constituents to buy in to policy.
So far, you may be thinking, “Right on! Down with the Man!”. Well hold on, because this is where it gets uncomfortable.
The use of shame to control does not only come from faceless or abstract entities like companies or governments. We learn to use shame with those closest to us.
Think of teachers who use the concepts of “good” and “bad” with students when describing behavior.
Think of parents who use comparisons or assign value to actions or behaviors when raising children.
Think of those closest to you: friends, partners, others.
The last subset had me really reeling in my thoughts. I immediately thought of two experiences. One where I was the shamer and one where I felt shamed.
I have a very good friend. She, more often than not, is non committal when making plans. If plans are made, she has frequently cancelled them. I would get so frustrated and tell her she was being flakey. There it is. Did you catch it? My beliefs are that if you say you are going to do something, you should follow through. I name-called (flakey) and shamed her for her actions to get her to behave (control the situation) in the way that I thought was “right”.
Time for a reframe. What I realized years ago is that she believes and values honoring herself and her needs. I realized that I don’t have the right to make my belief, her belief. The only person I had control over was me. So, I either decide that this was a non negotiable for the people I call friends and let the friendship go OR I accept who she is and her beliefs and adjust my expectations. Both options having to do with my beliefs, desires, and actions; versus trying to control her actions with shame to get her to do what I wanted.
Another experience I had was a message I received. I have been sharing my experiences that I believe may be valuable or helpful for others publicly; while not mentioning names or identifying information. Someone who was a part of my life story said that they had not shared experiences from our time together because they didn’t feel it was productive and out of respect for me. They asked if I could be mindful of that.
I couldn’t figure out why this message was triggering me. Today, I realized why. Shame. The way I read the message said “these are my beliefs and values and how I have acted and you should also act in this way”. I felt shamed. As if the stories I was sharing were disrespectful because the sharing of them didn’t align with the values and beliefs of what this person thought should be shared.
I don’t write this to make you feel shame. Did you go there? Maybe thinking “I’ve said or done similar; I must be a terrible person”.
YOU ABSOLUTELY ARE NOT.
Shame has a place, as do all emotions. Shame helps us with our moral compass. It tells us what is acceptable and appropriate within our interactions with others. It helps us establish boundaries. I believe shame becomes a problem when it is used in a toxic manner to discipline, control, oppress, or exclude. Whether this is in the thoughts we tell ourselves or interactions outside of ourself.
If we think about our bodies, does shame have to be the motivating factor? Perhaps instead of “this is what society tells me I should weigh” we think “the weight I am at now is putting stress on my joints and I want to maintain mobility in my later years”. Same end goal but different motivating factors.
So what now?
Shame is a huge part of our wiring as humans. We can’t just say “ok, I’m done with that” and become some instantly evolved version of ourselves.
We have human emotions and that is ok. It is NORMAL.
The goal is awareness. Once you shine light into the dark shadows it is virtually impossible to unsee what lurks there. It is when we hide and shy away from these types of conversations that shame gains more power over us. Awareness is a gift. It allows us to step back from situations and pause. What am I doing? Why am I doing it? What do I want? Is this the way to go about getting it?
The universe was putting all kinds of signs pointing at shame in my path recently. Now, I’m aware. Now, I will be mindful of the way I may unintentionally (or intentionally) shame others. Now, I will be aware of situations where shame is being used to get me to change my values or beliefs. Now, I have the gift of growth and higher vibrations.
Let’s have a discussion. What are your thoughts about this topic?
Christina is a mom, teacher, nurse, student, and Oula instructor. She enjoys thinking, discussing, and connecting about human experiences. Especially those that are not often discussed in a public setting.