There is nothing more awesome than the wonder in the eyes of an innocent child: The home of pristine visions and dreams for tomorrow. There is nothing grislier than the same child reflecting shame in their eyes. Shame is a powerful killer. Although no death certificate will list the cause of death as shame, a shame base and shame kills many individuals. Like the mental obsession of addiction, shame is founded upon a lie. Like the person living in addiction, a person living with shame must find truth or will progressively suffer until death. The solutions for addiction and shame are the same. As each problem defines its solution, the answer for a lack of power is power.
Guilt and Shame Not the Same
Often, we use the words “guilt” and “shame,” do we really know what these words mean? Guilt is how we feel about committing an offense, real or imagined: (We do bad.) Feelings of culpability especially for imagined offenses, or from a sense of inadequacy. Shame is the emotion that tells us of our weaknesses and limitations. A truly human experience, healthy shame is the psychological foundation of humility. Shame is how we feel about ourselves as a result of a bad act. (We are bad.) In other words, shame is a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety. This emotion is essential when a person needs to honestly reconcile with their past actions. However, shame becomes toxic when it’s transformed into the person’s identity. This form of unhealthy shame takes over the person’s identity, and the person becomes shame-based. The person believes that their being is flawed, that they are a defective person. Healthy shame motivates change to correct wrongdoings and evaluate actions and responses. Toxic shame leads to the death of true self. Often the true self is sedated through compulsive disorders and addictions. The false self is created from what the person thinks others want them to be. Toxic shame is spiritual bankruptcy.
“Shame is a soul eating emotion.” – C.G. Jung
Where does toxic shame come from? It lives in the eyes of a parent’s condescending glance, in the words of an overzealous priest, in the feeling of the improper touch, in the voices of cruel peers. Shame lives in the beliefs that we are bad, unwanted and alone; it lives in the lies of the mind. Shame destroys the body, mind, and spirit. Toxic shame comes from abuse - mental and physical abuse, peer groups, religious systems, culture, rejection from a close relationship, abandonment situations, dysfunctional families, and the family system.
“Where shame is, there is also fear." – John Milton
Often, feelings of shame are not identified as shame. The individual living with shame will have an overwhelming belief that he or she is a bad person deserving the abuse. At times, in an attempt to numb the painful feelings and memories, the person living with shame will turn to substance abuse. Often the victim becomes the abuser, and all is lost. Like building a house on quicksand, a life based on a lie will sink.
Healing from Guilt and Shame
There is hope for those individuals living with shame to overcome shame. Honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness are the cornerstones to change. A personal relationship with a Higher Power coupled with a spiritual program of action can and will defeat shame. God does not make junk! Forgiveness is essential to healing: forgiveness for ourselves, as well as for others. To quote Dr. Paul Oats, “Acceptance turns a victim into a hero.” It’s so important that all of us that are hurting know that we are not alone. True humility is understanding that we all have gifts as well as shortcomings. Most importantly we must all understand that love is more powerful than shame or addiction.
We must turn the light on in the dark room of shame, exposing the lies. We must learn to trust again. We must find a sponsor, therapist, friend or clergy member that we trust. We cannot recover alone. Make no mistake about it; overcoming shame is a process of recovery. It’s not easy to face pain, don’t try to recover alone. A Higher Power, a support group, and a trusted sponsor are essential to recovery.
Embracing Our Differences
We are all unique but not different. We are all beautiful but not perfect. We have a right to be, a right to live. It’s not our fault that someone hurt us. We have a right to dream dreams and to live dreams. Get childlike again! Feel the awesomeness and wonder that life has to offer. Embrace the rain and the thunder, then watch for the miracle of the rainbow. Remember that we all make up God’s rainbow: without you, the colors won’t be complete. We all must take responsibility for our own actions, but no child or adult is responsible for the actions of other children or adults. Addiction, bullying, discrimination, hatred, sexual, verbal, and physical assaults, bigotry, and alike all feed on toxic shame. These type of actions should never be tolerated by anyone! Shame is at the root of addiction.
Shame and addiction are killers, but each individual has a choice! You are not alone, and there is always help available. Please say yes to life!