Shame (or, How Jonathan Pryce Ruins Everything)
I have never seen Game of Thrones, and never will for two very important reasons:
- I know someone's head gets crushed.
- In no universe will I be able to keep track of all those characters.
But I'm a sucker for a good meme, and the only thing that keeps me up at night these days is my FOMO when I don't understand what the kids think is funny. (FOMO = Fear Of Missing Out...for the acronym challenged) That's how I felt about the shame meme (see poorly Googled image above).
Since I appear like a mist in the night when I hear the word shame these days, I frantically Googled what this shame nun was up to.
Long story short, there was some episode in Game of Thrones where some lady did something unsavory, then got her hair involuntarily chopped off and had to walk naked through a crowd of jerks who spit at her and call her things they can only say on HBO whilst a cloistered nun walks behind her with a big ass bell and yells, "SHAME." You know, just in case not everyone one knew that walking through the street with a hairdo like Tilda Swinton's weird cousin, and no clothes was, like, not normal. I think they called it the "walk of atonement."
Jonathan Pryce was involved, and I still don't know how I feel about how he played Juan Peron in the movie Evita.
Having not seen the episode, and/or read the GOT books (#lol...I don't read), I don't know how this turned out for Naked Nancy. I have a guess though: not well.
You know what's wild? That scene is based in history. It seemed like a great idea to parade people's "sins" in front of the whole neighborhood as both a punishment and a deterrent during the middle ages.
You know what's even more wild? It's 2017 and we still do this.
We do this in the way we judge people on social media...mostly people we've never met...and, sadly, we do this to the people we're closest to. I don't think this is surprising. Not optimal, but not surprising.
Here's an example of how we use shame at people: I've been asked if I am gay several times in my life. And that's not the problem, I'd happily be gay for someone I love....or even mildly attracted to....or a warm breeze if it was cute....or Emma Watson. I'm in a dry spell. Anyway, the problem is the way I've been asked about my sexuality. That look in the eyes of the asker. That look that says that I need to be asked because you think I'm doing something wrong, and you want to know first. It's the way we think we can control people with shame. That's the thing that breaks my heart. 97% of the time I don't care about what people think...not any more in my crotchety old age...so my heart doesn't break for myself. My heart breaks for the 15 year old that can't articulate the feeling that they are not what someone else wants them to be. The churning in my gut isn't from the two Cadbury eggs I just ate, it's a fear knowing that some of those 15 year olds don't make it to 16, and that some of them make it to 30 and are only half of who they should be.
But there is another way we're paraded naked in front of the town in our modern world that, frankly, breaks my little cold, black heart even more. It's the way we do this to ourselves.
And it even has the same name...Shame.
So let me get some Brene Brown (hallowed be thy name) out of the way: shame and guilt are not the same thing.
Dr. Brown (marry me) and her work make a very important distinction here: guilt is something you've done - shame is who you think you are. Do you see the difference? It took me a minute. Brene (if i may) says, "Guilt is 'I'm sorry, I made a mistake.'; Shame is, 'I'm sorry, I am a mistake.'"
Is it too much to ask that Brene and I get a two bedroom flat in a mid-sized city downtown where they have a year round farmers market and maybe pottery classes where we know we're not good at making things but we still go to express ourselves and laugh and laugh and get iced coffees on our way to make frittatas for our friends for brunch? Is it too much???
Where was I? Right. Guilt vs Shame.
Guilt is seeing the choices you've made that can help you reevaluate priorities and make your relationships better when you can change your behavior.
Shame is that that dark and secret knowing that you are bad and wrong and a flaw in the system.
Guilt is an occurrence, and shame is chronic and systemic.
We all feel guilty. Last night I felt guilty about invading a friend's privacy without realizing what I was doing. I felt guilty and apologized. I also know that I'm a good friend almost half the time, and would never hurt my people on purpose. I know the half-of-the-time I'm a good friend because I let her eat my leftover DeFazio's when she's hungry. (It was eggplant florentine)
And we all feel shame. Also last night, I talked with a new friend about my struggles with weight and how daunting the burden is of knowing you've done something to yourself that everyone can see. I feel (sometimes) that a struggle is weakness, and a weakness doesn't deserve to be loved.
Can you feel the difference?
Ps, my new friend had a great point. It seemed to her that we feel shame over things we think we can't control. She's not just whistling dixie. A lot of shame is about control...at least for me, and every other person who has a pulse and who will be honest with themselves.
Shame, man. It's something else. We know now that it does literally nothing for us. (#science) It's not a motivator, it's not a catalyst for change. It buries us in itself. It loves to be kept in the dark where it can proliferate in a spa of it's own grossness. It's messy and complicated and isolating and sad. It's very much a fungus, and not in a good way.
Shame, as they say, is highly correlated with addiction, depression, anxiety, violence, eating disorders, bullying, suicide, and watching reality TV.
Don't fact check the last one.
Shame is the thing that makes us lose sleep at night worrying about being found out. Shame keeps us from being empowered. Shame is what keeps us ordering Chinese food late at night, and calling our dealers in the next town, and lying about medical conditions, and sleeping around. Shame is totally natural, like all of the other annoying emotions that we can't seem to evolve out of, but we have this amazing new ability to tell ourselves that no one should see it.
And here's an example of using shame at ourselves: When I realized what my "problem" was during the height of my anxiety, the shame of it was so all-consuming that I don't think I could have talked about it even had I wanted to. I figured the best thing to do was to stay at home until it went away. Staying at home when I was anxious turned into not being able to leave the house at all. Hiding in the dark made the dark thick and suffocating. It lead to bad decisions, and didn't - not for one second - actually help me get better.
It did, however, lead to power-watching all of House of Cards and Scandal. I regret nothing.
Shame takes energy, and it is absolutely the most exhausting thing ever, short of chasing a toddler in a playground. Keeping a shame secret is very heavy stuff to carry.
Now, you're going to be shocked to hear this, but there is a cure.
The first step is getting really clear in your brain that shame and guilt are not the same thing. That the latter is adaptive and the former is the metaphoric equivalent of having diarrhea on a roller coaster (read: the worst).
Second, shame, like athletes foot and large mouth bass, can't thrive in light and air. It's a real thing, Google it. If shame loves the stale and funky old air of the dark, give it the Rocky Mountain freshness of getting it out in the open. Maybe not with everyone you've ever met, maybe start with whomever is on your List.
You remember The List, right? The little piece of paper of people you trust that you can tell this crap to, and you know will tell you back? Start there. Tell your story, whatever it is. Start with, "Yo, look it. This is going to sound weird, but I just need you to listen. I have this weird thing, and I think it'll help me to just say it out loud..."
Shut that Shame Nun up for a minute. It might not feel like unicorns and rainbows, but you'll be surprised when you hear your person say, "Yeah man, I know that feeling."
Communication is the fresh air, empathy is the light.
Or something, it's late and I don't have leftover pizza to shame eat at midnight because I'm like *such* a great friend.