Hide and Seek: The Power of Awareness
Shame & Guilt
In my own narrative, which marks the beginning of this book, I recounted a childhood incident where I had accepted and internalized a young girl’s hurtful words, “You’re weird.” I had consumed those words, and in doing so, I lost my equanimity. Yet, my story does not conclude there. I promptly retreated indoors, where my aunt and mother engaged in conversation. Sensing my discomfort, my mother inquired, “Are you okay?” Reluctant to reveal my humiliation, I feigned composure and replied, “I’m fine.”
We often associate shame with significant events, such as addiction, bankruptcy, divorce or incarceration. Many of us may believe that we don’t carry shame in the baggage of our past. However, the simple phrase, “I’m fine,” in my response, speaks volumes about the shame I harbored. It can be very subtle. Those two words encapsulated my acceptance of rejection, pain, and worthlessness. I wasn’t fine, but I couldn’t bring myself to unveil my true emotions to my mother. I started hiding my perceived worthlessness and failure. I longed for acceptance.
Hiding and a quest for acceptance begins with the act of crafting a veneer, an artificial, constructed identity, in reaction to core fear. This fundamental fear revolves around our sense of worthlessness and inadequacy.
Our ego strongly yearns for love, appreciation and acceptance from others. Anything that doesn’t align with that outcome or perception – and could lead to rejection – is covered in shame. It is never talked about, never revealed, never shared. It could be our depression, our loneliness, our mistakes. It could be someone else’s opinion. No matter, we must not be found out. If our shame is revealed, we will not be loved.
Shame is woven around mistakes, perceived weakness and imagined insufficiencies. When shame takes hold, we instinctively want to conceal our transgressions, shielding them from the light of day. It compels us to hide our failures, lack and dishonor, lurking in the shadows of our memory.
Guilt, on the other hand, emerges from our intuitive core, the seat of our conscience. It manifests as a sense of dissonance, a loss of inner harmony. Guilt holds the seeds of regret, which can be useful in guiding our choices and actions. Guilt serves a purpose – it nudges us towards realignment and encourages us to modify our future behavior. In contrast, shame tends to fuel our ego’s ‘protect and defend’ response, amplifying our feelings of inadequacy. It’s a pervasive thread woven through the fabric of our self-worthlessness, exacerbating our sense of separation from others. Shame becomes an isolating force, driving a wedge between us and those around us. It is our embarrassment.
When we carry the burden of shame, we never want to show ourselves to others, as we always feel that we have failed and view ourselves as a failure. We hide our past, our defeats, our unworthiness, our self-judgment and self-rejection away in the silence of shame. Relationships suffer as the other person never can really know us. We are always presenting to them what we think they want to see, never the fullness of ourselves.
Shame is not solely an internal construct; it can be imposed from the outside. Society may subject us to body shaming, or friends and adversaries may attempt to shame us to exert power over us and control us. These external forces often exploit or ignite a sense of worthlessness.
We tend to bury shame deep within our subconscious, hoping to keep it hidden, yet that leaves it unresolved. Paradoxically, what we suppress, resist, conceal, and distract ourselves from ends up wielding power over us. It becomes a secret life we lead, influencing our thoughts and actions. Shame can drive us toward self-destructive tendencies and self-sabotage, fueled by an overwhelming sense of un-forgivability and unlovability. It has to be hidden with a veneer.
However, the first step in addressing the shame within us is cultivating awareness. We must shine a light on the darkness of our past actions. Acknowledging that we once acted in ways our conscience deems unacceptable is crucial. We must remember that those actions reflected who we were at that specific moment in time, and we have evolved since then.
But shame is not just about action. It is mostly about how we reject ourselves and hide ourselves.
It’s okay. With a neutral, non-judgmental awareness, we can explore the energy of shame, allowing ourselves to confront our fear of rejection and feelings of insufficiency. Through practicing awareness and seeing deeply into this emotion with compassionate acceptance, we can ultimately free ourselves from the grip of shame and allow Self-compassion to heal the wounds it has left behind.
Resolving shame is indeed a profound journey that hinges on deep introspection, self-acceptance, and trust in our relationships. It requires us to peel back the layers of self-judgment and secrecy that shroud our true Selves. To be authentic with others, to befriend or partner with someone in a meaningful way, we must first embark on a path of Self-discovery and Self-acceptance.
This process begins with acknowledging the roots of our shame and understanding that it often stems from societal conditioning and past experiences. As we unravel the layers of self-criticism, we can start to recognize our inherent worthiness as human beings. In the end, all action leads to wisdom.
Embracing self-acceptance means coming to terms with the fact that we are all evolving and growing. It also means recognizing that we are not defined by or identified as our past actions.
Trust, both in ourselves and in our relationships, plays a pivotal role in this journey. Trust arises from acceptance. Building inner trust involves learning to feel safe within our own being through acceptance, knowing that we can be vulnerable and authentic without judgment. This inner safety then extends to our relationships, enabling us to open up honestly to others and trust that they will accept and support us – as we are. In this space of trust, honesty flourishes, fostering connections built on authenticity and a deep understanding of one another’s true Selves. Ultimately, the resolution of shame is a liberating process that allows us to step into the world unburdened by the weight of secrecy and self-criticism.