I once read a statistic that said many people die each year choking in restaurant bathrooms. Apparently, people in public places are often embarrassed that they are choking and they run to the bathroom to hide. This got me thinking about the fact that many of us are tempted to hide out when we are ashamed rather than seek help.
Healthy shame may help us to recognize when we need to change our behavior or adhere to healthy social norms. When we hold onto shame and begin to over-identify with our shameful feelings or behavior we move into toxic shame. Toxic shame can cripple us emotionally; it may keep us from moving forward in our lives and we often find ourselves on a downward moving spiral to self-doubt and ultimately self-hatred.
Some people who tend toward perfectionism will react with shame when anything manifests in their life that looks unpleasant. Their pain is often doubled in that they have to deal with the pain of the situation and also the pain of shame. If they hide out with their shame they may also miss opportunities to be supported and loved by those whose love is unconditional.
A while back, I remember hearing about a book that suggested that every problem a human being can have can be distilled neatly into a handful of challenges. I never read the book, but I agree with the premise. If we tend to be shame-based, we may be tempted to believe that no one has the same shameful problem that we do. As a long time helping professional, I venture to say that I no longer hear a problem that isn’t one I’ve heard before. Of course we are all unique, but I find that each person’s problem is often just a variation on a theme that many people share. The gift in this awareness is that we can recognize that we are not alone with our challenges. We needn’t be ashamed.
If we seek out appropriate support, we have an opportunity to move through our problem and recognize that we can also move through our shame. Working with a model such as the Twelve Steps may be very useful in moving through our pain. Using this model or other healing modalities can help us gain perspective, make amends, and feel connected which can help to liberate us from our shame.
When we reach out and seek help we are also offered another gift; we have an opportunity to give back. At this point in our healing resolution, we can reach out to others and remind them about their essential worth.