Shame is the great separator. It separates you from yourself, from others, from life and from the Divine. Shame colours our world. There is a conglomerate of shame: shame for being bad, sexual shame, shame for feeling sexual, shame for not living up to our own and others’ expectations, shame for existing, shame for being abundant while others suffer and on and on and on. It is so complex and so unique to each living being, and then of course there is the combined shame of the mass consciousness running through all of us: the shame at the destruction of the planet, the destruction of other people and other species.
For me, shame has been a constant companion since I was born. I felt shame at being abandoned by my birth mother. Shame at being “unwanted.” I felt shame at being different to other children, shame that I looked different to my brother and my parents. Later I felt shame at the conflict that lived in my family, the virulent arguing and shouting. I used to take my friends right to the bottom of our garden, so they wouldn’t hear my parents arguing. I felt shame at the inappropriate sexuality I experienced as a young child and growing up, from doctors, to people walking past me in the street, to driving instructors and others, including a man who tried to bundle me into his car.
Shame is often underground in our psyches. It is the most difficult emotion to excavate, heal and release as it’s so expertly hidden. Yet, I believe shame is the covering for our unique gifts. Once you release shame your essence can shine.
However there is enormous shame in even feeling the shame we do have. It is also something so incorrectly perceived, such a misunderstanding and misconception of the mind, which is so deeply held, that it is extremely difficult to prise open. We are in some peculiar way attached to our shame. We protect it vigorously, holding onto it like something precious, because indeed at its core it is precious, for it holds the key to unlocking the amazing unique gifts you as an individual hold.
The roots of the word “Shame” actually come from something similar meaning ‘to cover” and the old Norse word for shame, has the meaning: “to blush” and “be embarrassed.” To the Greeks it meant to dishonour or disgrace. Unlike embarrassment, shame does not necessarily involve public humiliation, but can be private, it can be literally “all in the mind,” something we do to ourselves, because, we aren’t meeting our own standards of behaviour. Psychiatrist Judith Lewis Herman concludes: “Shame is an acutely self-conscious state in which the self is ‘split,’ imagining the self in the eyes of the other.”
In adoption, I believe there is a barrel load of shame. First the child imbibes the mother’s shame, while in her womb then develops her own. There is increasing psychological evidence of the effects of the mother’s emotions, thoughts and health, on her unborn child. There is the associated shame of perhaps religious beliefs around premarital sex and being a child born out of wedlock, or being an unwanted or an “illegitimate” child. Within our still predominantly patriarchal society, there is deep shame about sexuality, and women who get pregnant out of wedlock are still judged harshly, as are their offspring. This was particularly apparent during the 1960’s to 1980’s. The child then develops his or her own shame, as a result of being abandoned as a baby and as a result of being different to other children.
To top off all of this shame, comes another shame. Once a child is adopted, we are expected to feel grateful, to grab with both hands our “new life,” to forget the old and move on. The deep trauma of being abandoned is essentially ignored and goes underground. While everyone else is living in one reality, adoptees are essentially living in two: the reality of having other parents, who are still living somewhere else, and affecting the child energetically, and who the child is deeply connected to, even if she doesn’t live with them, and then the reality of the adoptive parents who the child is also connected to, and living with. There needs to be a deep honouring of the trauma and inner world of an adopted child. When this does not happen a powerful shame and shaming takes place which Barbara Free sums up very well: “Adoptees, like birth parents, are shamed for searching or for wanting to search for each other, the reasons given that “you don’t want to reawaken that woman’s shame after she’s tried to ’reform’ and put her past behind her,” or that to even have a desire to search means the adoptee is “ungrateful” to the adoptive parents, or that it is a sign of “instability.” Adoptees are expected, not just by adoptive parents, but by society at large, to be grateful and largely silent, like dogs rescued from the pound. They are shamed if they are not like the adoptive parents in every way possible, and even more so if they have traits perceived to be like those of their birth parents. They are also shamed for expressing any negative feelings about being adopted, even such mild comments as, “I wish I could know my other mother.”
So often the pure love and support of someone close to us is what is needed to bring our shame to the surface. But it can create more shame, as we don’t want our loved one to see the “truth” of who we are.
For myself, being adopted created a strong and terrible belief in me that I was unlovable and in some way ugly and horrible. I felt that I must have something dreadfully wrong with me, which my mother knew and which led her to get rid of me. Of course this is totally illogical and untrue, and at some part of myself I see this as untrue, but more importantly, there is an aspect of myself, irrational at best, that believes this is the case. It is this part, deeply buried in my sub-conscious, which holds the reins of the horse galloping through life.
My teacher Sri Bhagavan says that the unconscious mind is two million times more powerful than the conscious mind. So while we think we are acting from consciousness, we are always acting from the unconscious mind. So even if we know something consciously, the subconscious belief is still paramount.
It is vital that we excavate shame, take the hand of the Beloved and dive courageously into our own psyches, with the intention to clear and see what we have spent our entire life in the deepest fear of uncovering.
Four ways for you to start the journey to healing shame:
- The only way to heal shame, is to see where you feel shame, and to honour and feel this shame in all its spectacular glory! You will need to set aside the shame that stops you feeling the shame, and to jump right in. The more you dive into the shame, the less power it holds over you, until one day it is gone.
- Be kind to yourself. Give yourself a break, who said you have to be perfect? Who said you had to get it right? You’re here to learn and grow, that’s it! If you’re perfect, you’re not growing.
- Dare to show others your vulnerability. Share your feelings, your desires and your needs. Ask for help. Take a risk and share your secrets with a trustworthy person.
- Be innocent. Allow those areas where you are gifted to emerge more powerfully. Yes! You are gifted!! Relish your individuality, your preciousness and share your gifts with others. Grow your beauty in this way, and as you do, your shame will diminish, and your self-love will grow.