Shame is a lonley island.
Shame & Desire
Last week I made the claim that to solve our shame, we need to address desire.
I don’t really want to write about that right now. Yes, I still think it’s important. I’m just not really feeling it presently. I think I could use a little summer sunshine.
Shame is the result of betrayal and powerlessness - the experience of being humiliated. In that sense, it is relational. Although it begins in the context of relationship, it can be internalized and carried with us a pervasive sense of self-contempt. It’s origin is at the nexus of one’s desire and the other.
The antidote to shame is not shamelessness. Shamelessness is self-righteousness - a self-proclaimed goodness. But that cannot restore a sense of connectedness. Because shame was forged in relationship, it must be un-forged in relationship. No amount of self-proclamation will cure our self-contempt. We need to go back to shame’s inception and engage the desire that was humiliated.
Where there is self-contempt, shame is also present. Think about this the next time you’re down on yourself. What do you believe about yourself that causes you to hate yourself? What experience of childhood humiliation are your compulsively repeating?
In the presence of shame, most people offer empty platitudes or put down the shaming party. The good that does ends as soon as they change the subject. To see someone in shame and to offer a few empty words about their self-worth is much easier than addressing their desire.
What do you do in the presence of shame? Can you bear it without needing to eradicate it? Are you able to address the shame, and in that sense intensify it, without creating more shame? Are you okay not being of any help?
Addressing desire in the context of shame often requires engaging immense heartache and harm. Example: Our bodies long to be touched. And when they are, it’s arousing. It’s part of being human. So for the person who’s body has been inappropriately aroused (sexual abuse), the betrayal and powerlessness of their abuse binds a sense of shame to the arousal of their abuse. The good desire gets highjacked and linked to the evil of their abuse. What’s good is now felt as bad. You cannot rid the shame without engaging the harm of abuse. This is not easy territory to navigate. Distinguishing arousal from desire is tricky business. Simply saying “you’re a powerful person now! You’d kick his ass if he tried that again!” does not address the story the body knows. It leaves the desire bound to shame.
That was a more intense example, but the same principals are at play when a child desires to show their parent a cool rock they found, and the parent doesn’t pay them any attention. The child is in a heightened state of excitement (arousal) and is betrayed when the parent doesn’t care. The child learns that the way they felt about the rock (or perhaps their desire to connect with their parent) must not be good if mom and/or dad didn’t care. Ergo, shame.
I think the real reason I didn’t want to write about desire is that doing so means I have to think about my own. I find it so much easier to deny my desire than it is to express it and risk it not being met. So much internalized shame...
1. Netflix - I wish I could require all SWMs to watch this. Hannah Gadsby’s Nannette made me laugh and brought me to tears.
2. Quote - “Understanding kills the erotic. Instead of working on understanding our partners, we need to grow our capacity to dignify the mystery of the other.” Avedis Panajian, Ph.D.