Shame lurks deep undercover, like a snake in the grass that you don’t know is there but step too close to that which it’s guarding and it’ll rise up with with all it’s got. ‘No closer’ it says as you look towards the deep undergrowth, ‘what I’m guarding is secret, it can’t be shared’… It’s enough most of the time, for us to move away, to let it be and to avoid going back.
If you’ve ever felt that there’s something about you which is really dark, really disgusting, something which is different. If you’ve ever felt like you don’t fit, like everyone else is getting the plot and you’re failing at trying, there’s a chance that shame is the gatekeeper to that feeling, like a snake in the grass wrapping itself around what it’s guarding and holding on tightly.
For shame, the fear of exposure is deadly, so it’ll use everything it has to survive. Being a harbour for shame is playing it’s game, is conforming to it’s rules and steering clear of the threat it makes to harm us more deeply than the secret it conceals. The truth about shame is that exposure is the antidote, that through exposure of it’s secret we reveal the threat of the deadly snake as nothing more than an illusion, we begin to understand the misunderstanding. We bring clarity and light. But as with all things frightening it takes a burst of courage or blind faith to cross the threshold, to investigate more deeply and to reveal the truth.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali teach us very early on, that the fluctuations of mind are the root of our suffering. That through imagination, memory or misunderstanding, we create stories for our selves which serve to contain us, limit us or actually cause us to suffer. An example of my own shame and misunderstanding is around parenting:
The thought ‘I’m failing’ because I’m tired, grumpy, can’t keep up with the cooking / cleaning / school admin etc. x infinity (!) begins to cloud my vision, I then begin to see new demands as ‘draining’ as examples of ‘just something else I can’t keep on top of’… Shame has a field day here, because it feeds on the negativity, it says ‘yes that’s true, better not let anyone know, don’t invite anyone in if the house isn’t tidy enough / up to date enough, keep up appearances, pretend it’s all ok’… and so shame wraps the thought in feeling, buries it deep down and paints on a smile to cover it’s tracks. I’ve bought in to the thought hook, line and sinker. I’ve identified so strongly with it that I’ve allowed it to shape my reality and experience of life.
The Shame Equation:
- There is an ideal to conform to
- I create suffering when I recognise that I’m not meeting teh standard and / or I create suffering by contorting myself to meet the standard
- Either way I’m ashamed of myself for failing. The inner dialogue becomes ‘I’m not enough, I’m not good enough, I’m failing’.
- I try my hardest to make it look as though I’m meeting the standard effortlessly – This is a lie I’m peddling.
- I repeat the story in order to perpetuate the lie and feed the shame snake.
To break the cycle I need to expose the lie:
If I’m brave and say ‘I’m struggling to keep up, to stay on top’? I can’t keep up with the cleaning / school admin etc. x infinity’. This truth breaks the illusion that there is an ideal I have to conform to or keep up with. I disarm shame immediately and begin to expose my imperfect life, my tatty edges, tired bones, dusty shelves and the moldy apple in the fruit bowl. Sharing my imperfections and broken pieces feels vulnerable but it creates deeper bonds with those closest to me. I empower myself to be helped and supported and more importantly to my health and well-being, I understand deeply, that I am not alone.
Symptoms of shame in my own experience have led to depression. The repetitive cycle of covering up and feeding the shame snake has brought me to a place so bloated and overfull, that I can’t see a way out. It’s where I feel sluggish, slow and drained. I start to feel resentful and ultimately depressed to the point of suicidal. Anxiety comes from relentlessly fighting against depression, from working, smiling, exercising whilst carrying the weight of shame and depression. Anxiety leads to full blown panic when I just can’t cope anymore.
The New Equation:
- I recognise that there is an ideal I’m trying to conform to e.g. ‘a yoga teacher is always calm or has all the answers’, ‘a mother is always open and loving’.
- I recognise the truth of the moment. I am a yoga teacher and I am freaking out right now. I am a mother and I need to take time out from my children
- Respond with compassion to the moment. YES this is how it is right now, and YES this is ok too. I am only human – what do I need?
- Meet my need for time out, for breathing space or whatever it might be.
- Move on to the next moment.
So this is my exposure. This is my truth and it’s so much lighter exposed. There’s no more venom in it’s jaws. There’s nothing more than a shadow where a snake used to lay. There is the beautiful understanding that I am human, imperfect, working hard, resting enough, keeping up where I can, letting it go where I can’t. I’m wholeheartedly doing my best to meet my own needs, to be honest and to see clearly in honour of this incredible gift which is life. In honour of this human experience I am embracing all that feels joyful, wonky, intense and serene. In honour of being here now – with you as my witness I am embracing the worlds that flow from my fingers and the dirty lunch plate in front of me, the hoover that hasn’t been put away and my kids who are playing video games. This feels healthy, and whole and finally free of shame.