Most of us have a burning relationship with shame. I bet every one of you can dredge up a memory that still burns. I call such memories ‘useless shame’.
Nature or the creator, take your pick, designed shame to keep us from doing the unthinkable. I can think of a number of people in today’s headlines that didn’t feel enough shame. Bet you know the ones I am talking about. All were men who let “sexual drives” lead them astray. Failed shame.
One did something frivolous, but stupid and is trying to shrug it off. Another paid for sex while signing a law that made it a crime. Yet another groped women. These three are all politicians seeking to keep their political status or get re-elected. The stuff of headlines, these acts were small stuff against the man who claimed his rapes were consensual sex despite having kidnapped and imprisoned four women. Failed shame in each case.
Jerome Kagan, former Harvard professor and researcher into how we become who we become, notes that by the age of two, unless beaten and abused, shame helps keep us from doing the unthinkable and the unforgivable. He cites the biblical Cain as an example of failed shame.
In order to do its job, shame must be a powerful emotion and for too many of us it gets linked to harmless acts that should not provoke the gentlest embarrassment let alone shame, and should never live on in our memories.
I remember being at a party with the then love of my life and my best friends and their boyfriends. I was seventeen. As we were all heading into the dining room, I noticed the fly on my Lee bluejeans was no longer zipped. My response was totally insane and truly befuddled my boyfriend and my other friends. I turned bright red and fled the house. When my boyfriend followed me outside I insisted he take me home at once. He didn’t understand why, but I was certain my friends would take the fallen zipper as a sign my boyfriend and I were having sex. Not the case, but just thinking they thought that drove me out of their sight for several days. Crazy and totally useless shame. At least I now can laugh about this useless and stupid shame.
Emotional fitness tip for dealing with useless shame
Shame nipping at your heels? Always ask if it is useful or useless shame. Past shame is useless shame. A burning memory serves no useful purpose.
Useful shame requires thinking about what matters. For many that means living by the ten commandments – well at least the last seven if you are an atheist. Not a believer? Think about criminal acts – major and minor.
Reality check: Judge actual acts not thoughts. President Jimmie Carter admitted to “Lusting in his heart.” He lusted but did not act.
Some religions condemn you for shameful thoughts. To see a thought the same as an act sets an impossible standard. Perfectionism and impossible standards bread shame and are a way some seek as a way to control. It is emotionally healthier to see thoughts as just thoughts and shameful only if acted on.
Staying focused on what matters helps defeat useless shame. Doing so demands knowing your personal mission. Watch for the publication of my newest eBook Know Your Mission So You Can Reach Your Goals. Meanwhile, my other Emotional Fitness Training eBooks are designed to keep negative feelings including shame from bossing you around. See the last three selections on the side bar. Each of my books sells for less than a latte and do more good in the long run.
For all your sharing and caring, thank you; you make a difference.