My assignment: To write about my feelings surrounding responsibility and blame. It’s been much harder than expected. I keep missing the mark. It took a book and the words of another to capture what I could not.
“I think back on my childhood, the word shame serves as an umbrella. It is the sense of being completely insufficient as a person, the nagging feeling that for some reason you’re defective and unworthy. That is how I felt all the time (Manning 51). To read more about Manning: http://brennanmanning.com/
There is was. Shame. How could I have missed it? I can not remember a time in childhood that wasn’t painted with shame. It colored every part of my world. It colors it now. Guilt is different. It is my conscience way of telling me when I have done something wrong.
Shame is much uglier. It’s not guilt related to choices I’ve made. It is the sense that who I am is wrong, flawed, unworthy. This feeling is so unpleasant, I’ve devoted years of my life to avoiding it.
Uglier still is the fact that being flawed is part of being human. Maybe this explains why I often resent being human. The intrinsic imperfection of human nature feeds my sense of shame. My mind struggles to tango with this dilemma and always loses. I feel crazy inside. Shame is to blame.
The awareness of how this insidious feeling has altered my perception of my world is enough to make me cry. Instead of naming shame and seeing it for what it is, I have often engaged in blame which is my shame focused outward. It’s easier to find the flaws in others than it is to face the gaping hole of unworthiness that festers inside me.
From what I see of the world and people around me, this shame is pandemic. Shame is simultaneously based on the truth and a lie at the same time. I shift between shame and transcendence but rest more in shame than the latter. Shame is familiar. It is the worn and stained t-shirt of oblivion. It’s messy, ugly and comfortable all at the same time.
Who would I be without this sense of shame? What inner worlds might I conquer? These “what ifs” feed the shame by giving it focus and purpose. I am never all that I want to be. Shame traps me in the feeling of fateful powerlessness. It cuts me off at the knees before I begin walking. It traps me in a state of crippled emotion. Feelings float without a solid anchor: phantasms of my psyche that scare the life out of me. Hell feels real. The shamed part of me lives in it.
This ball of self-pity wants to pick up everything in its path as it rolls downhill at break-neck speed. The impact that it could have on others as it recklessly bounces out of control gives me pause. Shame isn’t felt in a vacuum. It taints the world around it. It taps into all the shame others feel and magnifies it making the collective shame greater than the sum of its parts.
There in the shadow of shame, I see clearly. Shame is the gaping hole in my self-esteem. It is also the gaping hole in my relationships. My sense of shame seeks solace in reasons that justify its existence. Conflict with others is based in shame. This awareness hurts. The arguments I have with my husband have been less about him and more about shame, my shame.
I shudder with the pain of shame. It cracks my facade. My shame-based sense of self begins to break apart. Reason wants to take over. It wants to find a step-by-step plan for redemption. Emotional me just wants a cure. It never wants to feel this way again.
Shame is old and familiar. It will probably always hang around. Maybe at the very least, I can try and make peace with it. I can learn to see it for what it is. I can let it play on the edge of my mind and choose to ignore it. It’s what I’ve learned to do with some of the other, crazy parts of myself. Why not put shame out to pasture? Life beckons. Shame has been getting in my way.
In the eternally sunny pastures of my mind, I build a fence around a meadow for Shame. It is a wild stallion that can never be tamed. Best to keep it safe from harming itself. I chase Shame into the fenced meadow and latch the gate.
Shame races around the edges of the fence. It snorts and raises itself on its hind legs. It wants to escape. It is afraid. From a distance, I watch and wait. Shame gets tired. It stops its futile display of fury and closes its eyes to sleep. Shame has a boundary. Life within it isn’t so bad.