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1: THE PAIN OF OUR ALL-TOO-HUMAN SHAME

Updated: Mar 28, 2022

How much of a role does shame play in your life? How large does it loom for you? If you're a man, do you feel shame over being one? Or perhaps shame over not being “enough” of a man, whatever that means? And, if you're a woman or gender-fluid, have you observed the men around you suffering from shame?

Are you still reading? Reflect on what happened to you as you read the opening questions. If you are like most, I would guess you were tempted to recoil and turn away from this article. Shame is among the most uncomfortable feelings that we humans can experience. It makes us want to disappear, to hide ourselves and the shame we feel.


Trying to hide our shame from ourselves and others as we do is all too prevalent. For example, a boy beaten up by other kids hides his scars and doesn’t tell his father. Or a girl fails a math test, rips it up, and doesn’t tell her mother. These are both examples of shame—an experience of wanting to shrink. An overwhelming impulse to hide for fear of being judged, rejected, or cast out by others.

To clarify: shame is related to yet different from guilt. Guilt is a feeling we experience when we act out of alignment with our values—when it is the act that is deemed “bad.” Shame is a much more difficult feeling to bear, it implies that we are “bad.” Shame means there is something more fundamentally wrong, dirty, or broken in us. And, we live in fear that others will see it too.


Suppressing our shame is not harmless. In turning away from our shame, we disown a part of ourselves, dimming the light of our overall awareness. We make ourselves unintegrated, fragmented, and subsequently disempowered. Fearing judgement, rejection, and exclusion by others, we judge, reject, and exclude parts of ourselves from our own awareness. Furthermore, the shameful fear that something about us would be seen as deficient or broken prevents us from sharing our shame or reaching out for support from others. In this way, shame becomes tragic—by concealing ourselves and our shame, we disconnect from ourselves. Furthermore, ironically, we bring upon ourselves the very isolation from others that we fear, denying ourselves the sense of belonging we so badly want and need.

The only way to heal and restore this sense of belonging is to own our shame. The road out of the dark isolation of shame is through it—first acknowledging it to ourselves (by shining the compassionate light of our awareness on it), then sharing our shame with others. Doing so, we reintegrate ourselves, as individuals and with others. Of course, this requires much courage and vulnerability.



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