Shame is the ghost inside me…
One of my beloved students said this to me today. We are in the final weeks of the Delicious Body class, and it gets so real at this stage. Which is to say, it’s just so darn clear that so much of our lives are just big distortions of reality.
We all have so much pain on constant repeat. Thankfully, this class is a great tool for getting out of it. But, around week seven of the journey, it becomes wildly obvious just how much pain is driving our lives. For some, it’s not necessarily overwhelming pain 24/7, but perhaps a low-grade, looming idea of misery, grief, despair, or anxiety. And when we take a good look, we see this is not true about reality. Reality (or life) is not necessarily a place of suffering and pain, but it’s true about how pain-bodies eclipse our experience. It’s true about how we were raised, how we absorbed conditioning and we can even boil it down to a good case of guilt and shame running our lives. Everybody is working with some form of guilt or shame. In practice, if you aren’t excavating the deep shame and guilt—a sense of unworthiness—then you are not looking.
Let’s define this more specifically:
- Guilt is the idea that your actions are causing another pain. It’s a terrible, suffocating, toxic pain to carry around.
- Shame is it’s much bigger brother. It’s the idea that your very being, your person-hood, causes pain to others.
So, I didn’t get the guilt part growing up. I did, however, live and breathe the shame. I was taught that my core personality—which is intensely passionate, a number eight on the ennegram they tell me—was a terrible problem to others. Match that with severe PTSD episodes from the violence of my childhood and you got what my mother jokingly called “a monster” as in “you have to excuse her, she is a monster.”
And that guilt or shame playing on our systems is behind the inability to find, express, or speak for what is true for you, because shame and guilt tell us to hide, keep secret, keep quiet. It’s the ghost inside us, hiding.
When you can’t find, express and embody what is true, you live in constant compromise. Worse, you live in constant self-sacrifice. Worse still, you feel like there is no way out. As you all know, this is not freedom or fulfillment. It is, however, how we almost always live.
We have this guilt and shame, and then, of course, we project these on others, so we start to blame and judge. There is no way for guilt or shame to feed if we don’t have the people our person-hood or actions are hurting. Then, of course, we sometimes get to release this ping-pong: enter the HERO. We walk around and around and around these roles endlessly. We feel guilt, we make others feel guilty, we rush in and save the day, find a way to make everyone feel better because the guilt and blame are so uncomfortable. And around and around we go.
I would say this is tragically boring, but it’s so painful, and it’s how almost everyone is living.
Victim → Perpetrator → Hero → Victim → Perpetrator → Hero → Victim → Perpetrator → Hero → Victim → Perpetrator → Hero…
…versus getting off the freaking cycle!
To get off the cycle you need to notice the shame, the guilt, the blame. That isn’t so easy. It’s a ghost body, always asking you to hide, always suggesting avoidance instead of awareness, and always projecting on others.
But then you also need to notice choice. You need to notice you have a choice inside this cycle.
Now this is a fully challenging thing I’m talking about here. It’s really hard to look back in honest reflection and notice you actually have a choice to do something differently.
One of those things is to come out of hiding and actually express the guilt or shame from awareness:
I need a supportive space for me to “out” this shame I keep feeling. I need to expose that I feel like there is something so wrong with me, and that I can’t even tell you what I need because this is overwhelming me. I feel quite sure I am hurting you if I ask for what I need.
The recognition of choice is empowering, even in hindsight.
What is the shame saying, or what does it feel like?
Who is the victim?
What choice could you have made for it to go differently?
And that disconnects the cycle of blame, shame, etc.
Once disconnected, that shame ghost becomes something more solid, more tangible, something you can directly see as total bullshit.
It surfaces; it gets exposed.
Once exposed, it can be understood.
Understanding will bring out the history and source of the shame/guilt. You will remember the one thousand times when a parent or teacher or influencer shamed you, or accused you of making their lives hard.
Then we can hold it with compassion.
And then it begins to transform.
My beloved student says he used to heat up and sweat when he felt he was fucking something up, like his body was squeezing shame out of his pores. And how all the adults in his life had different opinions on what was right, and so he was always wrong, he could never figure out the rules. And was never allowed to be himself.
Doesn’t that sound familiar?
Because we all have a bunch of guilt, or shame or a bit of both, or a ton of both, asking us to Ghost our authentic self.
Except that ain’t freedom.
So, it’s time to transform that shit.
Do you need support? All the tools you could ever need are over here.