Shame: 1 a : a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety
b : the susceptibility to such emotion
2: a condition of humiliating disgrace or disrepute : IGNOMINY
3 a : something that brings censure or reproach; also :something to be regretted : PITY
b : a cause of feeling shame
Shame is a tricky emotion. There is healthy shame, like the shame I felt after a bout of road rage in the past week over the other driver not waiting her turn at the four-way stop. I needed to be ashamed of my reaction to it because it was over the top and ridiculous. But there is also unhealthy shame, shame I shouldn’t own because I was a 13 year old child in the memory I’m struggling to work through.
How we manage shame and the paths it lead us through is important. The path draped in light is always the best, if not the easiest choice. We think that putting things behind us is best…and it is as long as the issue has been dealt with and brought into the light for healing and truth to permeate its cracks and crevices. Instead, we tend to opt to put them behind us, hand hovering over the delete key, desperate to re-write the story, make the facts more palpable, change the ending to a happy one in which we look good. Those are all variations of the same mask, the one that’s comfortable to hide behind, draped in darkness…the same story dressed-up prettier, designed to divert attention and take us further away from the truth, and subsequently ourselves. Wouldn’t it be simpler, even if harder, to be brutally honest, ask for forgiveness, and then, after dealing with what happened in the light, move on?
Forgiveness is equally tricky in my mind these days. I’ve always viewed it as something that I, as a failure on all sides, should seek from others. Now I’m wondering if it’s also not something I need to give to myself. How do you know when you’ve really forgiven? How many times will it be a hard choice to make, with reminders of how desperately you need forgiven, and how graciously it has been extended? Forgive and forget are not natural companions, and anyone who tells you they are has never experienced deep, soul-wrenching hurt and loss. Forgiveness is not only possible but commanded and desirable, but it doesn’t mean the hurt magically disappears or that it never comes up again.
Words are the threads that tie it all together. Actions damage and create a patchwork quilt of our lives, but it’s the words that bind the pieces of the quilt together…words from others certainly, but also the words we say to ourselves in the quiet of the night when no one is listening. It’s the words from my childhood that I struggle with longest and hardest, because words also bind us to one another and ourselves, and those words have the power to heal, complete, excise, sever or maim.
When the protective, stone casing around the heart begins cracking and you allow the light and warmth to encircle it, words are inadequate to describe what happens. Or what happens when you finally really open your eyes, turn off all the devices and try to breathe through the most painful and difficult of spaces. When you stop and pay attention. Would I have dismissed the words from my friend trying to speak truth to my pain? Would I have ignored my body and continued to mistreat it? Would I have been satisfied to walk through my days brandishing self-reliance and independence confined in the castle, or is it prison, created to convince myself I was untouchable and safe?
The cliché “time heals all wounds” is wrong unless that time is spent in the light, allowing it to transform and bring warmth to a dead, stone heart. Stopping to breathe, and pay attention, no matter how painful it may be at times, is leaving its indelible mark, allowing new life into my heart and bringing beautiful and good people into my life. Attention is allowing me to see myself in a new light, and to meet a new version of myself…and it’s certainly not the person I once was.
There is, and should be shame, in my road rage response. But not in what was inflicted on me as a child and teenager…that shame belongs to someone else.