The Mask of Shame
I am going to discuss a flawed and uncomfortable topic, a feeling that relishes in itself, loathes itself, and yet can free us of all injuries- that feeling is shame.
Here, I have decided I will share my views and stories of shame in hopes to break the dangerous silence shame yields. I certainly cannot expect my fellow human companions to be comfortable sharing some of the most intimate aspects of their lives if I am not willing to do the same. So let us begin!
Shame is saying hurtful words you don’t mean. Shame is unwillingly consuming every potato chip. Shame is isolating yourself. Shame is hating your body, hurting your body. Shame is taking another drink when you know you shouldn’t. Shame is wrongfully blaming someone else. Shame is being someone you are not. Shame is caving into your demons. Shame is disrespecting yourself.
Rarely does shame appear as authentic shame. Shame is sneaky and subtle. We seldom think to ourselves, “Oh, that’s shame I’m experiencing.” We aren’t conditioned to think that way and that’s okay. Talking about shame takes away its power, so the less we talk about it, the more powerful shame becomes. If we recognize shame in the midst of action, we might save ourselves from more heartache. Shame is a bundle of unwelcomed feelings. It encompasses the feelings that coincide with self-hate and self-doubt. Shame has only one duty, to destroy. That is why we need to take control of our vulnerability and share it on our own terms rather than letting shame deciding when its time.
Shame can wear many masks, or in other words, it can present itself through various emotions and behaviors. For instance, my personal shame manifested as anger, sadness and envy. My shame-anger was felt and sometimes displayed in social settings, in which later I would have much remorse and often have to make amends. My shame-sadness was typically felt while alone, in which I would unproductively reflect on all my flaws and faults. My shame-envy (and arguably the worst of all) was felt while alone and with others. During this complex state, I would unjustifiably push and pull others along with me.
For a cringe-worthy amount of time, I hid behind my shame-mask, denying that it even existed at all. I swore off the idea of carrying shame around, because, well, it felt shameful- and it was shameful. But let’s be clear…having shame is not shameful, but allowing yourself to wallow in misery day in and day out is shameful. Every morning I would wake up dreading the day, annoyed at anything I could find, and went to sleep for the cycle just to continue. I knew something was wrong, something was missing. And for a long time I let my days go by, going through the motions on auto pilot until one day something inside of me pleaded and begged for forgiveness, only at the time I didn’t know that the forgiveness was for myself.
Confronting shame is not pretty, comfortable or easy. In fact, confronting shame is messy, raw, and sometimes brutal. Is dealing with shame really worth it then? Wouldn’t it be better to keep shame comfortably buried under a rock? Reconciling our shame ultimately leads to a life full of acceptance and connection with others, but unfortunately, shame has a mission to disconnect us from others. In fact, psychologist Dr. Brene Brown often describes shame as a fear of disconnection. We are afraid to share the vulnerable parts, the shameful parts because we fear they will scare others away. In this dreadful moment, we hide, disconnect and put on our masks. We run for cover. How dare we let fear motivate us.
The only way to successfully silence shame is to talk about it, acknowledge it. To experience shame is to experience the human condition. To feel shame means to be human. You are worthy enough and strong enough to work through your undeniable shame and once you have done that you will be welcomed with connection and empathy, the opposite of shame.
Talking about our personal shame allows us to feel connected because chances are the person next you can wholeheartedly relate. We do not know how many others are feeling the same if we don’t talk about it. It is likely that if we share our shame stories we can help someone else dealing with the same issues. Being vulnerable with others takes away the shame. The instance we talk about shame it is no longer shameful. When we work through our shame, we allow our true authentic self to manifest in ourselves and in our relationships.
Desirae is an intern therapist finishing her Master’s of Arts in Counseling Psychology at the University of Central Oklahoma, where she also received her bachelor’s of arts degree in psychology. Desirae has experience working with individuals and families on several issues including mood and personality disorders, trauma, substance abuse issues and grief. She also has experience facilitating group therapy. Desirae believes treatment should target all domains of life and strives to provide a warm atmosphere, where open communication and transparency is welcomed and encouraged. Therapy can be uncomfortable, so Desirae enjoys emphasizing that clients and therapists are just regular people who find comfort in reorganizing normal, everyday experiences. In her free time she enjoys spending time with her younger brother, reading and trying different restaurants.