All mature writers have a “voice.” Or so I’m told. I’ve also been told my “voice” is gentle, compassionate, and hopeful.
Several weeks ago, though, my writing voice changed for a paragraph or two. When I was explaining my shame and wanting to “kick it in the teeth,” my tone got a little angry. My language got coarse. The vibe got a little feisty. I started using words like “war.”
It wasn’t an accident.
In our rebellion against shame, we’re going to have to get a bit sassy, a little feisty. Act a little spunky. We might have to play a little rougher than usual.
In the words of Alice Miller, shame feeds on “weaker creatures.” This is a fundamental characteristic of shame, and its importance cannot be overemphasized. We have two options: we can deal with our shame, or we will pass it on to someone we deem weaker.
Shame has been passed down through the ages like an infection, and it is always transmitted from powerful people to those deemed to be “lower creatures.” You see, people in positions of power usually have plenty of shame—in fact, the powerful often strive for influence and control as a way to deny their own shame. (There are probably a few exceptions to this rule. Probably.) And so people with power shame the weaker creatures under their control:
Parents do it to children. (Yes, I even do it to my own children.)
Bullies do it to the weaker kids on the playground.
Teachers dominate students with it.
But what does that same parent do when his boss is ticked? How does the middle school bully act when confronted by his victim’s parents? What do shaming teachers do when the principle calls a meeting with some upset parents? What does any shaming person do when faced with someone who has more authority?
I’ll tell you: the person who uses shame from a place of power begins to cower when there is no weaker creature to feed upon.
And the same is true of the shame that weighs down our fragile souls.
It’s dependent upon us remaining small and abdicating our authority to it. If we fight back, it wants us to do so quietly and politely. It wants us to remain dignified and serious and solemn—reverent in the face of shame.
Because our shame is like the Wizard of Oz. If it can keep us feeling small, it can retain it’s big and ferocious facade. It can dominate and intimidate with smoke and mirrors. Our shame is an illusion—it lacks substance and maintains its power by putting on a great show.
And as long as we remain in the audience, trembling and quiet, it can take more ground inside of us.
After a decade as a psychologist, this is about as close as I can come to making a guarantee: when we get feisty and fight back, pulling back the curtain on shame’s blustering lie, we will begin to discover it is all bark and has very little bite.
But the curtain is a stubborn one. We can’t pull it back delicately. We have to yank it.
Swear at your shame, and I can almost guarantee you it begins to shrink down to its actual size.
Personally, when I’m battling my shame-ghosts, I prefer a combination of pissed-off-and-funny.
I remember the first time I yanked back the curtain on my shame and told it what to do. Someone had just planted a dagger in my heart—they had just said the one thing they knew would make me feel the most worthless. But suddenly there was a new voice in my head, and it had an edge to it. That tenacious voice said, “Sorry, the shame bank is closed today. We’re not taking any more damn deposits.”
Them were fighting words.
And the beauty of it was, I didn’t need to fight the person who had shamed me. After all, they weren’t the one who needed to hear those fighting words. I was. Or even more accurately, my shame was.
The Yellow Brick Road
We are all traveling the yellow brick road of our souls. Whether we like it or not, all roads lead to Oz—all roads lead us back to our shame. The question is: what will we do when we get there? Will we let the Wizard bluster, or will we yank back the curtain?
If we decide to yank it back, we won’t be alone. When we decide to fight the voice of shame, the voice of grace will be our companion—it is usually a gentle whisper, but the voice of grace will exercise its authority and do what is required to drive out our shame.
Sometimes, the voice of grace rebukes hypocrisy and tips over tables and starts a little trouble and it drives the shame right out of the sacred places within our hearts.
And when, in tandem with the voice of grace, we have pushed back our shame (for now), we will notice the voice of grace gets quiet again. It returns to its whispering reassurance: “You are beautiful and beloved.” And it won’t stop there.
It also reassures us of the beauty and belovedness of everyone around us.
And this is the great irony of battling our shame: when we begin to fight it—to kick it in the teeth—we no longer feel the need to fight anyone else. We no longer need to pass on our shame to a weaker creature. We are more compassionate to those around us. We reconcile with our communities. We forgive our enemies.
By tenaciously exercising our authority over shame, we gain the power of belovedness, which allows us to be weak and vulnerable with everybody else.
In the end, the war on shame is, indeed, the war to end all wars.
Acknowledgement: Thanks to the young lady who stopped me in the gym and challenged me about the “war on shame” verbiage. You know who you are. I went home and wrote this post. Without dialogue like that, I would have nothing new to say.
How do you get tenacious with your shame? Share your experience or any other thoughts at the bottom of this post.
Free eBook: My new eBook, The Marriage Manifesto: Turning Your World Upside Down, is available free to new blog subscribers. Click here to subscribe, and the subscription confirmation e-mail will include a link to download the eBook. Or, the book is also now available for Kindle and Nook. As always, thank you for reading; it’s a gift. Sincerely, Kelly
The Mess: The messy places in life—and the messy places within ourselves—present us with a choice. Because the mess is where our shame collides with grace. We can choose to succumb to shame. Or we can fight back. Come visit The Mess, and join the rebellion against shame.
Preview: My next post will be next Wednesday and is tentatively entitled “How Pain Can Lead Us Home.”
Other Posts Related to Shame and Grace:
- JoePa and the Death of Story
- The Mess Will Set You Free!
- We Wish You a Messy Christmas!
- Why Broken Lampshades Are the Best Gift This Holiday Season
- A Manifesto for Grace: How a Radical Embrace Changes Everything
- Why Grace is Free and We Still Don’t Buy It
- Why Good Enough Love is Better Than Amazing Love
- The Best Way to Guarantee A Blog Post is Not Shared on Facebook
- What Dressing Up Like a Rockstar Taught Me About Shame and Grace
- How Burning Your Hair Off Could Make You Beautiful
Disclaimer: This post is not professional advice. It should be read as you would read a “self-help” book. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor, who can become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. Counselors can be located through your insurance network or through your state psychological association.