Shame is a soul eating emotion. – Carl Jung
Most people are unaware of how shame affects their personal lives, and is such a major driving force throughout societies around the globe. Shame plays out in all sorts of shapes and sizes: Feeling ashamed within and outside of ones own community over the darkness of their skin tone; parents disowning their gay child out of the fear of being ostracized within their own community; the shame and hiding from when someone is trying to cover up how they are not a part of the “perfect family”; the shame a child carries into adulthood from having always been told that they are stupid and worthless; the shame and self-blame of victims of sexual abuse. Alyson Stack, a M.S. Marriage Family Therapist and Registered Intern, whose practice largely serves patients with food and body image issues, as well as addictive and compulsive behaviors, said “The shame created by engaging in eating disorder behavior is analogous to parasitic toxicity- it continues to eat you away.” Her words are applicable to all forms of shame. I firmly believe that there is nothing positive or productive about shame. I believe this to also be true for the people who have committed some of the most heinous of acts, because it keeps them stuck in repeating old behaviors and unable to face and transcend their darkness. I think it is helpful to isolate shame as a single entity, and understand how its many different forms stem from the same beast.
A woman looking at herself imprisoned by her own shame. © Laurel Johnson Photography
In the book, Psychology of Shame: Theory and Treatment of Shame-Based Syndromes, Gershen Kaufman, a contemporary scholar on shame, goes over the splitting of the self that can occur with shame, “Contempt turned against the self is the principle means by which splitting occurs. Splitting is actively maintained by negative identity scripts that have become so magnified that autonomous partial selves split off and then coexist within the same individual.” Kaufman’s words about the “splitting of the self” definitely spoke to my own journey towards wholeness. I have learned that it is incredibly important to understand the various ways of how shame is oppressive and socially constructed. Through gaining awareness about the roots of shame, someone can step back and not personalize their shame as much.
The world would be an incredibly different place without shame being so imbedded within most societies. We must give ourselves the permission to stop beating up ourselves and “others,” literally and figuratively, so that we live in a more loving and peaceful world.