“Shame on you!”
“You should be ashamed of yourself!”
“Have you no shame?”
No, I don’t, and I’ll tell you why.
The Free Dictionary defines shame as: “A painful emotion caused by the belief that one is, or is perceived by others to be, inferior or unworthy of affection or respect because of one’s actions, thoughts, circumstances, or experiences.”
For as far back as I can remember, even as a small child, I lived with shame daily. There was always this knowledge, insidious and almost alive, that I should be ashamed — for being imperfect, for failing every day, in part because religion told me so.
There’s a Ray Boltz song called “The Hammer” that made a very strong impression on me even as I began really struggling with my beliefs. In it, the narrator learns to his shock and shame that he is the one who nailed Jesus to the cross, because of his sins — he actually discovers that he himself is holding the hammer that did the terrible deed.
The song was crystal clear about the crippling load of shame and guilt every Christian should bear. All of us were inadvertent murderers, after all!
There are many examples, not all of them religion-based, I could give to illustrate how a pervasive sense of shame is inculcated long before adulthood.
Shame is a very powerful tool. When you teach someone to live their lives under a mantle of shame, you teach them to assume an inherent inferiority. And when someone feels inherently inferior or unworthy, it is easy to install another person in a position of superiority, someone who can feed that inferiority and keep themselves in power without end. People with low self-esteem or a warped view of/lack of self-worth are easily manipulated.
(Sadly, shame is often used in parenting. I have never felt the need to bully or shame my children into doing what I ask. No one needs that!)
The way I see it, there are two things others might attempt to shame me for:
1) who I am; or
2) what I have (or have not) done.
I am who I am. Me being myself is not something I should EVER feel warrants apology to anyone. My heart, my hair, my thoughts, my personality, my eyes, my imperfections, my triumphs, my strivings, my failings, my scars — my ME-ness is something I value and celebrate. Nobody has the right to try to diminish my personal worth or to malign the progress I have made along my journey.
My actions and my decisions have been consciously done (or not done) and consciously made. They may not have always stemmed from solid thinking or have been well-reasoned, but on some level, they were me doing what, to me, seemed best in that moment given the information I had at that time.
Does that mean I haven’t made mistakes? Of course it doesn’t mean that. I mess up often. But I apologize if I’ve caused harm, make what reparations to the situation I can, and move on.
Does that mean I have no regrets? Not exactly…but it does mean that I allow myself to be fallibly human and to learn from the mistakes that haunt me, rather than becoming psychologically or emotionally crippled by guilt or shame. I’m not proud of everything I’ve done. I have hurt people along the way, people who didn’t deserve the pain I gave them. But I learned, and I asked for forgiveness where I thought I should, and that has to be that — I can’t change the past. Neither will I be chained to it.
Who would be served by my shame?
Only those who would seek to control me by any means available, and they are not worthy of my respect or of the mantle of authority they would like very much to wear.
Who has the right to shame me?
No one…not even myself.
I am shameless. You should try it sometime.