Updated: Oct 11
This past few years I have thought a lot about the concept of shame. I understand we all think about this a lot. For many of us, shame has us in a vice grip on our lives, we allow it to control so many of our actions. After turning my attention to the power I allowed shame to have in my personal life, I thought it was high time I question its existence. It’s been a hard and arduous journey through these feelings and I thought maybe now I was in a place to finally talk about it with others.
In the middle of 2020 I was newly disabled and dealing with a lot of very intense emotions about my life. Shame became a heavy weight I allowed myself to carry, I thought I deserved it. I suddenly realized there were a lot of things rustled up inside me when I no longer operated in a way I felt contributed to society or made me useful. I hinged a lot of my worth on productivity and being helpful to others. It was odd, I had never treated anyone else with these standards, I even spoke outwardly against this need to be productive and functional. No one should be made to feel like a cog in a machine but, I sure directed a lot of ableism onto myself when I most needed kindness and grace.
While in the thick of processing, I saw Dr. Robert Plutchik’s ‘Wheel of Emotions’ and noted that it did not include shame. This led to a very interesting and deep conversation with my best friend, that I still think about pretty often. We talked about how shame has always been manufactured from an outside source. We create it from a place of wanting to hide ourselves, therefore it's not truly an emotion that can be created solely from within. Maybe that is why it wasn’t included? Now, hear me out, many of our emotions come from outside sources, many of our emotions are learned behaviors. Shame is a very real emotion, it being left off of some guys wheel could have been an oversight or oversimplification BUT from that day on I did treat shame, and therefore self hated, very differently.
I started to realize, in this stage of capitalism and endless consumer wants/guilts, we have been most led away from quiet, simple life. We have been led away from the model of communal living. We have been led away from self soothing. We have been led away from pleasure. We have been made to feel ashamed for taking up any space. I was feeling shamed because I could not provide for myself in a way that “society” told me was acceptable. I was taking space without paying for it. This made me realize, how we were living removed from ways that once functioned quite differently, ways that we could once provided for each other. We have ultimately been led away from ease. I realized where I had been led away from the things that make me content, all in an effort to make my individualism more profitable. I noted how much easier it is to shame an individual than it is a collective force. How often are we feeling shame with another person? A whole lot less than when we are shamed into our own dark corner.
I thought about how we often feel shame when we do not have a big goal to go after, or haven’t found our big “purpose.” They sold us this idea that we are responsible for something other than our own happiness. They need us to feel this so they can carve out those big empty spots within us.We are not meant to come to this planet to work for a company, there is no way I will believe that. Why has our purpose been manipulated and led away from finding happiness and contentment? How come so many of our life paths don’t lie beyond making a profit?
Now, a lot of these issues can be attributed to capitalism as a whole and that is a much larger subject than is in my immediate, individual control. I can, however, decide how I am going to interact with my reality and choose to experience myself differently. Getting to know yourself is one of the most rewarding adventures we will ever be on.
Now when I feel shame I asked myself why? Do I need to be feeling this? Is it coming from a place within me or from some outside source? Should I be worried about the opinion of someone else? Probably not. I think about what part of my behavior has made me feel this way, and why. If it is something I should change and have power over then I can choose to do so. Obviously if I am being a jerk and it makes me remorseful then I can change my behavior. In some cases I have the power to avoid feeling that shame in the future. If I am ashamed because of something I cannot control or something that I know I can learn to love about myself then I am going to approach that work differently.
I want to be making changes that aid in my becoming the best version of myself for me. I am not trying to change into the best version of myself for this broken society, for someone else, for late stage capitalism. I am changing to embrace the person that I am and learning to love the me that might not “fit in”. I am consciously allowing myself the space to be the different than what I was taught or what I expected to be when I was a teenager. Are we not trying to attract the people that are actually like us? Why then should we mold ourselves for relationships that we know we do not fit?
Now, we must be realistic with ourselves and get to the bottom of why we are allowing shame to dictate our lives. This reminds me of when people have spoken about not being affected by insults that are not true. If you tell me I am a terrible painter, I don’t have to feel ashamed. It has nothing to do with me, I am not a painter. I can use that same logic when thinking of insults that do affect me. If you tell me I am a terrible writer I can be sad and then remind myself that insult is also not true. Art is subjective, not everyone is going to love my stuff. I don’t need to stop being myself because one person did not like it.
This is hard. It’s difficult to see beyond the single thousand people you see online or in your social circles but please remind yourself that there are billions of people on this planet and therefore a potential for billions of opinions of you. Are you meant to hold every single one of those opinions as facts? Of course not! You are meant to hold on to one opinion of yourself, your own. That is the opinion that we are meant to shape.
We must allow ourselves the true change we are seeking, unaffected by the shame we may feel from outside sources. This is not easy work. You have to start asking yourself, why? Why are you feeling this way? Does it really have anything to do with you? Does this change who you are? So often it doesn’t and you can allow yourself to move through that space with a little more ease.
Now, don’t sell yourself short. This shit takes a lot of work and a lot of practice and practice takes a lot of time. This is life work stuff. That's why we call it a journey. We don’t get to a certain point and finish feeling all types of shame. That would be ridiculous. Hell, I only started thinking of this stuff because of a life altering event. I only ask that you start catching yourself in these moments of doubt and allow yourself to break it down. Don’t let every bit of shame directed at you stick to your soul forever. Allow some of these things to fall away. Allow some of these things to be chiseled away later. It gets easier the more you do it. It gets easier the more you accept that shame is not actually connected to you or anything thing you are going after.
All this to say, it really helped me to think of shame as a fake made up concept that was created to control me and I refuse to be controlled by anyone. Life it too short not to enjoy the sweet quiet moments we have to ourselves and our loved ones.
Journey with shame in capitalism.