Shame: A distorted word with clear consequences
by See Change Ambassador, Rick Rossiter
Shame is a loaded word that can be implied, laid upon or self-directed towards a person for any number of reasons. It is a word that, by just adding one or more words within a sentence or extending the word itself, can bring its meaning and intended use to full bare and could have lasting consequences concerning a person’s self-esteem and world view. Shameless, shameful, shaming, no shame, without shame – all of these negative and often cruelly intended usage of this word can bring about unwanted and, more so, unwarranted emotions that will hinder a person’s mental wellbeing and in the case of service users, a positive and meaningful recovery.
Shame is primarily a one directed viewpoint that can undercut people’s interaction with others. Perceived shame or self-inflicted shame can also hinder a person’s emotional and especially societal growth. We can even have a collective shame that can have generational ramifications on society and introspectively at our core beliefs. There are numerous ways shame can be felt by and projected towards a person or people, and for some, shame can bring about emotional change for the better as long as that shame is not burdensome or detrimental in a person’s life.
For me, shame was used more often as a tool of punishment, regardless of the fact if it was wilfully or indirectly placed upon me by the adults in my life, which was sparing as a child and then more intensely in my adolescence and later on seamlessly sporadic as a young adult. My words and my actions bring shame upon the family or the fact that some could see me as having no shame or feeling shameless regarding instances frowned upon by those around me. Moments that even now seemed blurred and without a clear understanding. Our interpretations of our past self are never clear enough to know everything, so someone else’s outlook should be even less clear, but we surprisingly place more value on how others recall who we were in the past. This is where the value of any shame is fundamentally distorted and overstated, and this is when we really begin to take on the perceived shame as our own burden.
Don’t get me wrong, I whole-heartedly and without reservations understand and accept that there are many instances in my past that I either regret or wish for a do-over; I also acknowledge that there were many things that were overblown or over-exaggerated in cause and effect. I also know that shame can be a two-way street and that over time the shame associated with any particular moment can be shifted and placed in the opposite direction. A historical adjustment that comes through a shift in perception or from understanding changing narratives in a person’s life is usually when people look at your past and say, “It’s a shame that things happened that way”, or “They should be ashamed of themselves for doing that to you”.
Shame has been a part of my life long before I knew of its meaning and long before I knew its reach, and this will be the same for most people’s recollection of their lives. But for me, over the years of dealing with my mental health and coming to terms with living life alongside my disorders, coming to terms with shame and my persecutions of shame was at times a much harder journey. Shame has been embedded with so many other things that I have had to battle with, from stigma to self-worth and dignity; shame or its numerous variants have had a large impact on my life and on those around me. It had been a driving factor in not seeking help, in how I approach or turned away from people and how I finally interacted or disengaged with them. One’s own shame, that shame I placed on myself for what I saw at the time as me being weak, afraid and unwanted, has been that cloud hanging over my head, reminding me that I was a lesser being. That my existence was not warranted and that so many people would be better off without me in their lives, back in those days, this would bring about suicidal intentions. Shame for me was something very dangerous to hold onto and was something near impossible to let go of.
I eventually learned about what I should and shouldn’t be ashamed of, and in doing so, I realised that feeling shame over something wasn’t a failure on my part, but a beginning to understand that I wanted there to be a change in myself and my environment. Thankfully shame is something people can either live with or evolve from, as in growing from an experience, not hiding from it but learning from it and using it as a guidepost. Shame can bring about enlightenment towards a person’s ideology and instil a greater foundation to build upon; where there is shame, there is understanding, and once something is understood, it can bring new meaning to one’s life.
If you are having a tough time at the moment and need to reach out for support, please contact any of the following