Shaming is most certainly nothing new. Hell, humans have been shaming each other since we came down out of the trees, bananas in hand. It’s a human tradition, designed to keep people in check and abiding by the guidelines and standards of their era. Because good little soldiers are what society wants. Just ask Hester Prynne.
The internet, however, has provided a global platform for shamers, so fat shaming, slut shaming and every other incarnation of shaming greets us everywhere we turn. It’s not just neighbors and peers doing the shaming these days, it’s an international audience of trolls and critics.
But shame is a dangerous emotion, and I don’t mean that in a solely facetious sense. Dr. Mario Martinez (the dude behind the concept of biocognition) has discovered, through his research, that shame creates a pro-inflammatory response in the body. When you feel ashamed, the body reacts as though it’s being attacked (in the same way it reacts to a cut or an infection).
Not so good. Thoughts and feelings have real, physical power.
Shame is toxic. It’s also utterly, totally pointless and arbitrary, based on someone else’s expectations or judgments. Sadly though, our collective beliefs are beaten into us at such a young age, it’s often hard to control our shame reaction. Feeling ashamed feels, well, natural.
And while public shaming is everywhere in the age of the internet, the truth is, most of the shaming — the kind that really eats away at us like so much poison — happens silently. It’s internal, self-directed shame based on perceived flaws or faults or mistakes. It’s guided by the beliefs we’ve been instilled with since always — the behaviors our parents and teachers and friends taught us were unacceptable.
Self-love protects us from feeling any lasting shame. It’s only if we believe ourselves unworthy that we take to heart the insults, criticisms and scorn of others. Because so many of us lack this sense of self-worth, we tend to be our own worst enemies; our own supreme shamers.
I’m the worst at this. I’ve shamed myself mercilessly over the smallest mistake or perceived misstep. If I make a minor factual error in a blog post, for example, the shame I feel is acute and totally out of proportion. Like I’d seduced someone’s husband or engaged in some Bling Ring-style shenanigans. String me up for that spelling mistake!
But taking a step back from my own absurdities, I can see that this is an automatic response based on years of conditioning. I don’t have to keep following that flushed face feeling any longer. Shame is pointless, absurd and entirely antiquated. It doesn’t breed change or evolution or growth. Instead, it stunts us. It’s acceptance, compassion and love that push us past our mistakes.
We can kick this shame shit to the curb by never, ever, under any circumstance shaming another and in turn, never shaming ourselves. We make strides by learning from our missteps and errors — not using them as self-directed blackmail that cripples us and keeps us locked in a prison of our own making. Shame is a habit we’ve gotta quit.
In the words of Brene Brown, “Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.”
But you see my dears, you ARE good enough. And so am I. So let’s say so long to shame once and for all.