I came into this world carrying a rock. It was a rock called shame. I have continued to carry this secret load for many years. It was an unquestioned part of me. My mother conceived me outside the framework of her culture. Probably in a one night stand. The news of my conception was greeted with horror, shame and fear of ‘what people would say’. I know things may go a different way now but this was an insular northern town in 1961. My mother was ‘encouraged’ to leave town, leave friends, leave her work, everything she knew and run away to have me in secret. She never went back. She made a new life for herself until she died at 42. I imagine her walking the windswept beaches of her exilic island, dragging the burden of shame behind her. Until it crushed the life out of her. As for my family from the small northern mining town, I did meet my uncle many years later. I was a big surprise to this big, brassy, funny market trader, dripping in gold chain. He knew nothing of my existence. Nor did anyone else in the family. I had been a dark secret. Because of shame. His response to me contacting was interesting
‘I’ve got no money if that’s what you want’.
This by the way, is a common trope. When the non-legitimate outsider turns up at the door, the insiders always think they are there to steal and disrupt. And yet all they want is to finally be seen.
I came into this world carrying a rock. A rock called shame. As far back as I can remember I struggled with breathing. My childhood asthma nearly squeezed the life out of me and I spent tracts of childhood pinned to my bed. As I grew older I KNEW there was something wrong with me. Shame tells you, you are not like others, you are especially unacceptable and prone to rejection. So shame acts as a jailor, keeping you from doing anything to make a bad situation worse. My adopted parents were excellent at also passing their sense of shame and fear onto me. If you carry shame from others you somehow become complicit in their fears. These fears would surface in language like
‘If you don’t turn the lights off we won’t be able to pay the electricity bill. And whose fault will that be?’
‘Look what you have done now, with your behaviour, your driving me into the mental hospital’
So I carried this rock of shame. I learned that I had to keep my pain, trauma and ‘bad’ feelings quiet, to not bother anyone. They had enough to deal with without my problems. So I was complicit in the shame game. I was terrified of putting a step wrong and being punished. I lived a secret live which I couldn’t share with others. Under these conditions, basic desires for things like food, somehow become elicit and out of control. These ‘lapses’ in turn just add to the fear of punishment and secrecy and shame.
When you carry the rock of shame, you will massively over react when others say or do things that trigger fear or the open sore of shame. If you are still shaped by shame you will have a ‘flight or fight’ reaction in response to what feels life threatening. I have often reacted in irrational and explosive ways to any hint of rejection or getting into trouble or being abandoned, again. Imagine you are crushed under a stone, struggling to breath and someone puts just a little more weight on the stone?
So how can those of us under the shame rock climb out from under and start to lead our own lives, breath our own air?
- Accept that we need a power greater than ourselves to take this rock off us. You may describe this higher power as God, Christ, the universe or by another name.
- Ask this power to take the rock off of us. I find it helpful to remember Christ on the cross, standing in a place of total shame and soaking up the stain of shame over humanity. The main idea is that something bigger than us is doing the heavy lifting.
- To collaborate with this process we start to drop our own expectations that we have to control any outcomes. In particular we are not responsible for fixing others, solving their lives or saving them. All these imperatives fall on us when others are in shame because they can’t care for themselves properly.
- Stop trying to fix others.
- Start listening to, caring for and making space for your own needs.
- When you drop the rock of shame, you will be free like never before. You won’t feel responsible for controlling others reactions as if its all your responsibility. You will find out what you want and above all you will start to find your voice and influence in the world.