I would argue that there are two kinds of shame, the shame of realising that you’ve completely fucked up and done the wrong thing and the shame used to silence people by either making them believe that they are wrong, that something they did was against societal standards, or that they failed to live up to some imaginary standard.
I don’t want to talk about the first type other than to say being ashamed of doing the wrong thing is a powerful lesson, provided you admit it, apologise and work at not doing it again.
The second type is the one I want to talk about. The second type of shame, the silencing one, the one that can stop you seeking help you need, finding support mechanisms, that makes you feel less because of some attribute (real or imaginary) that you do or do not possess, or stops you leaving the house.
The second type can be imposed by other people or just through societal conditioning. As an example fat people are regularly shamed by just about everyone by virtue of being fat. Just existing as a fat person apparently is something to be ashamed of, and something that many people will point out to your face. Also less subtly and direct, is all the media and government “concern” about obesity and what needs to be done about it. Being fat is apparently shameful, and in worse case scenarios, fat people won’t seek medical help for life threatening conditions because they don’t want to be shamed further, or they attribute their health status to being fat versus whatever it might actually be. The fact that fat people are also shamed by their medical professionals adds to an incredibly unfair burden. Kath at Fat Heffalump writes a lot about why being fat is nothing to be ashamed of.
Being a woman is something that we’re often shamed for, whether it be because we haven’t removed enough hair, we’re not wearing the right amount of makeup, we’re wearing not wearing enough, we’re wearing too much, we’re drinking, we’re not drinking, we’re too old, too young, menstruating, eating, not eating, “being emotional”, nagging, having sex, not having sex, or any other of a number of attributes that some imaginary perfect woman would not have.
I looked at the list of things I was supposed to feel ashamed about one day, while standing naked in front of a mirror, and I decided that they could, for the most part, go and fuck themselves in a fire. Why should I stand cowered by the world because I didn’t measure up to some arbitrary standard that next to no one else measured up to either. Just think, if there were people who measured up to this standard women’s gossip magazines (which pretty much sell shame) would be out of business. I decided at this point that I was going to do my best to live shamelessly, to ignore other people’s attempts to shame me for being myself, and love who I was.
I’ve always found it interesting that “shameless woman” is an insult, but there is no male equivalent. Not that men aren’t shamed either – it’s just a different set of criteria (having feels about things, not acting in an appropriately masculine manner, being perceived as weak, etc). The phrase “shameless woman” does come from the bible though, so thanks Christianity for making life suck.
One of the things I learnt growing up was that I had to do it on my own, that I should be able to manage by myself, and that appearing as if I couldn’t cope was a weakness. Let’s just say that was one of the worst lessons to learn. It took me close to breaking point before I realised that I was trying to do it on my own in silence because I was ashamed to ask for help. The bad lessons I’d learnt included the silencing of shame – because asking for help would be an admission that I wasn’t able to cope and do this on my own any more. The relief of laying aside the shame and finding out that help was available was an amazing thing.
It’s terrible that as a society that we both unconsciously perpetuate shame by not speaking up against it, and that we let shame impact on us. Being you should be nothing to be ashamed of. None of us are perfect, none of us are perpetually strong, none of us have a perfect body, our emotional responses are valid, our choices to participate or not in the beauty standard are our own, our ability to cope or not cope as the situation arises is ok, your health situation is nothing to be ashamed of, your money or lack of it is nothing to be ashamed of.
Please do not let shame rule your life. Go out there, be a proud shameless person, and speak your mind.
2 thoughts on “Let’s talk about shame”
And if, like me, you’re really good at justifications, you can even manage to not realise that shame is constraining the way you think.
It’s insidious and potentially emotionally crippling. It’s something I need to be paying more attention to in many ways.
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