December 21, 2013

Shame On You: Let’s Cut the Crap. ~ Melissa Petty

The frequently used, but ever true adage from Eleanor Roosevelt is appropriate here: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Shaming—a concept that has become incessantly discussed in recent months.

Fat shaming, skinny shaming, slut shaming, vegan shaming, rich shaming, poor shaming, yoga shaming (yes, it’s a thing). Name something a person could be, or a quality that they can possess, and I’d bet you’ll find evidence of shaming.

Let’s back track a bit here…what is shame? According to the definition shame is the feeling of humiliation caused by the consciousness of wrongdoing. Hold the phone, there are a couple of key words in that definition that we need to look at a little closer: “feeling” and “wrongdoing.”

In my opinion, and please feel free to disagree, feelings are inward manifestations. Something can be objectively “sad” but the feelings that they evoke within us are our own personal constructs. Therefore, if an opinion is expressed that we find to be offensive or makes us feel ashamed—we need to take ownership over that feeling.

The second word, wrongdoing, is even more important. If we truly feel shame then somewhere within us we feel as though we’re doing something wrong. Oftentimes, this sense of wrongdoing is misplaced, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t require adequate attention. Why do we feel in the wrong? How can we alleviate that sensation? Do we need to make a change?

If at the end of that exploration we realize that it was a momentary questioning, and we’re comfortable with ourselves—then, just keep trucking.

I think it’s important to be ourselves, but never to be a certain way to spite someone else. The “in spite of” bit is not really as empowering as we think it might be. This is due to two main points; it only adds fuel to the shame fire, and it is a fleeting sense of satisfaction. It implies a struggle.

We should feel good because we feel good, not because we want someone else to see us feeling good.

I am the youngest of 4 children, my older brother was a tyrant. As a kid he said innumerable awful things to me. He did it for the reaction. He wanted me to cry. He wanted me to put up a fight. He wanted me to doubt myself. I spent many years defending myself to him through tears. By doing so, I was giving him exactly what he wanted.

What we need to understand here, when addressing those we feel shamed by, are three things:

1. It might not be a conscious action. We all say things without thinking sometimes. Misunderstandings happen—feelings get hurt. Oftentimes the motive isn’t personal or malicious, and we need to recognize when we are being overly sensitive.

2. Some people (like my brother at age 12) are just assholes. We shouldn’t allow the opinions of people who don’t even know us to dictate the ways in which we feel about ourselves.

3. It might be in our heads.

When those bad feelings start to creep in, the voices that try to tell us that we are not enough, it makes it easier to blame it all on someone else. So that we can stand proudly and say, “I don’t care what you think! I am great” to prove a point and to fend off our own negative emotions.

We make the “shamers” our scapegoats when we don’t want to change, when we feel envy, when we feel doubt.

It makes the whole thing much less ugly. We shun the negative parts of ourselves—the stuff we can’t accept. We make it a product of society, something very external, something with a real “otherness.”

And so, we put our shame off onto other people. We blame them so that we don’t have to confront our own feelings of inadequacy.

The only way to feel fulfilled and truly comfortable is to understand our short comings and learn to love them or decide to change them.

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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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