Sometimes I wonder if shame is outside my back door doing pushups, ready to pounce when I open the door. Waiting to hold me down and shackle me as a prisoner who cannot move or even speak.
Of the negative emotions I have ever felt, shame is by far the most powerful. Yesterday my lack of timely communication caused a rift in one of my relationships. When I admitted how I had screwed up, I fell silent. I sat in discomfort from the reaction I received, which was merited. I had disappointed and irritated someone who means the world to me and there was not much I could do to make it right. My modus operandi is to explain my behavior away, to detail my excuses, to make a joke – whatever it takes to lighten the grip of these shackles called shame.
No excuse felt worthy. No explanation or joke seemed fair. I had screwed up. As I drove in silence, my thoughts joined a fun, little game called, “How Much Does Lynn Suck?”
In this game, all of my character defects dance across the stage of my mind, accompanied by old tapes that shame keeps on her thumb drive when she decides to be especially injurious:
“You did it again… just like last month when you let So-And-So down.”
“This is why So-and-So didn’t love you.”
“So-and-so left because you couldn’t get your life together.”
“Why wouldn’t you take the time to consider how this was going to affect someone else?”
“You’re so … selfish
“You’ll never change.”
As the day grew longer, I could feel myself start to fight against the shackles. I was rising up, ever so slowly. For one, these accusatory tapes that infiltrated my thoughts had to be silenced or I would be stuck for God-knows-how-long in self-loathing and pity.
I hate that I hurt/irritated/angered someone who means so much to me, and I apologized for my carelessness. Yet, if I was going to step out of this and have any chance at restoration in myself and in my relationship, I had to forgive myself. I had to forgive myself not only for messing up, but for letting fear rule me. John Milton once said, “Where shame is, there is also fear.” Ultimately, the old tapes that played in my mind were rooted in fear. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of being abandoned.
Years ago I read John Bradshaw’s book, Healing the Shame That Binds You. This quote stuck out to me back then and it resonates with me now,
“To truly be committed to a life of honesty, love and discipline, we must be willing to commit ourselves to reality.”
The reality in my life is that I am going to make mistakes and I am going to disappoint people I care about. But you know what else is reality? That I am committed to living a life of honesty, love and (sometimes) discipline within that reality. The truth is, I love deeply, and when I give into fear, I am cheating myself and others of that love. I stay me-focused instead of others-focused. I waste energy fighting for my image and warring against judgment. I wrestle with the uncomfortable feelings rather than sitting with them and accepting them for what they are.
I don’t want to waste that energy any longer. So in surrendering to reality tonight, I spent some time reading and thinking of things that filled my mind with:
and most of all – Love – because love contains the key to loosen the shackles called shame.