August 5, 2013

The Power of Self-Honesty: When Shamelessness Deceives. ~ Marina Smerling

When, if ever, is shamelessness a form of self-deceit?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been an advocate of shamelessness. From my insistence on wearing brightly colored mis-matched socks all through elementary school, to parading as a teen my favorite T-shirt that read, “Why be normal?” to my current work as a “shame” counselor and facilitator, helping to heal the epidemic of shame in our society and reveal the truth that we are not—and were never—alone.

So often, shamelessness is a healing balm for our soul—a welcome respite from the world of “not enough” and “you’re too (fill in the blank).”

But is it ever possible that when we staunchly insist on shamelessness, we’re really just covering for a deeply held belief that we are, indeed, shameful?

To the extent that I stand with my legs wide, hands wound into fists on either side of my hips, saying, I will not move, and I will be shameless, might I be covering something deeper and more vulnerable?  Perhaps the tightly bound nature of my fists is the clue. Perhaps when they are clenched tight, I know that “shamelessness” is serving my oppression, not my liberation.

For my part, in my intimate relationships, I have often been the one who wants more alone time, who is scared of “losing herself” in the relationship, and who chooses to focus on work over date-time, most of the time. I have dressed this penchant for alone time in the language of “shameless self-connection” and “shameless dedication to my work,” proclaiming my love for my needs for self-connection and meaningful contribution to the world.

And yet, I find that my “shamelessly” extolling the benefits of autonomy is sometimes just a cover. It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing; albeit a wolf who has an unfathomably more innocent sheep within. And the wolf, if it could speak, would say something like: I am scared to love.

I am scared to love because I may be turned away, not wanted, rejected outright. If I come forward with the vulnerability of my heart’s desire, I may end up utterly alone. So I hide under the cover of “shameless self-determination” and “shameless driven-ness,” as the one who often cannot be bothered to take a phone call.

But underneath this determination, so often, lurks a fear of closeness, entrenched in a belief that I am not lovable. If, then, I am really to live this “shameless hearted” thing—if I mean it—then I must touch that one: the one in the corner under the dirty laundry, the one I don’t want you to look at, and to hold it to the light, and to let it ask: Am I lovable?

In the willingness to suspend knowing, to hang in utter uncertainty for a moment or an eternity, the opportunity to true shamelessness arises. Shamelessness cannot be just another identity covering our fears. Shamelessness means taking a stand for vulnerability, for not knowing, for being willing to be seen where we are scared the most.

Yes, shamelessness means that.

I know I’m not alone in the tendency to armor myself with spiritual-sounding affirmations. The belief that we are fundamentally “not okay” runs deep and rampant, and so too does the spiritual armor we invoke to protect it. So, dare we ask: What are some ways that our pride or our “shamelessness” are a cover?  Where might they be not a reflection of our glowing self-love, but of a well-hidden belief that we are somehow defective and not enough, and that we must therefore hide to have love and connection in our lives?

These are the beliefs that we must “out” if we are to heal. These are the beliefs that we must hold to the light if we are to transform the illusion of shame into the truth of all is welcome, and the truth that who we are is love.

It’s the decision to unclench our fists and to ask the vulnerable questions within us that are the source of our healing. Healing does not necessarily lie in receiving the answers. Healing is not in the affirmation. Rather, healing lies in the unclenching itself—in the choice to let ourselves be seen and known and to enter the wave of life—letting it roll and lift and move through us, reminding us that we are stardust in motion, the whole river of life moving through this single drop of water called “me.”

True shamelessness lies in the willingness to face the unknown again and again, even as the river carries us downward and home.


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Assist Ed: Dana Gornall/Ed: Sara Crolick

{photo: via Pinterest}

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