Introduction: Why is Shame so Powerful and How Does it Impact Women?
Shame is the emotion that makes us feel exposed, body shamed, rejected, or bad. Shame can happen at any moment and it can manifest as anything we feel “failure” or “incomprehensible.” Women are especially susceptible to this emotion, experiencing it more often than men do. As we grow and change, shame will be a primary way our bodies respond to the world. However, it’s possible for us to learn how to transform shame into a feeling that becomes an important tool for resilience.
I have been feeling shame since I was a young child. My mother was the oldest of seven children. Her father left her family when she was a toddler, leaving my grandmother to raise all of the children. At the time, it was unheard of for a woman to work outside of the home, so my grandmother relied on her daughters to help with housework and childcare. This left her daughters feeling like they had to take care of each other.
My mother was the oldest child and took on the role of protector. After a while, this put her at odds with my younger siblings as they wanted to have fun and play, but she didn’t want them to experience the world like she did.
How to Recognize Your Shame and How to Deal with It
Shame is the emotion that tells us we are “bad” for feeling a certain way. It’s what we feel when we’ve been humiliated and expected to behave differently. This emotion can be raw, shooting up inside of our bodies, causing us to feel sick to our stomachs and vulnerable. In order to process shame, we must learn how to bring it into awareness, which is the only way to begin to move through it. Learning how to recognize our shame is the first step in coming to terms with what we are feeling and why.
Recognizing Your Shame:
Shame is like a virus, and it can contaminate every area of our lives. It can show up in an inability to make healthy decisions, distorted self-image, lack of trust in others and ourselves, addiction, over working or playing, overeating or under eating, perfectionism, numbness and disconnection from others. When we are able to recognize the shame that is present in our lives, we can then discover how to begin dealing with it.
Recognizing shame is one of the most difficult things for many of us to do. It requires a willingness to face what we have been trying our whole lives to avoid.
How an Understanding of Power, Control and Shame Can Help You Understand the Process of Healing
Women are more prone to the experience of shame, allowing it to take place in their bodies. Our culture has designed our lives around quick fixes and “cures,” but when it comes to dealing with shame, we have never received a comprehensive treatment as women. Learning about how our bodies work and where shame comes from can help us heal from these emotions. We are not alone in this! As our understanding of the anatomy and physiology of shame, the root source of shame, has grown, so have the numbers of women learning about it, who then transform this unhelpful emotion into a positive one.
Shame can play a significant role in the healing process. As a child, I remember doing something wrong when I was seven years old. I was sent to my room for an hour with no dinner, nor did my parents speak to me for that period of time. For me, that felt horrible! At age eight, my mother explained things to me and helped me understand what happened and why it was so important that this not happen again.
The experience of shame is unique to every individual, however. My shame may not have been the same as yours. Your mother may have explained why you were punished, while mine did not. As a result, you may have had a different experience of shame than I did; it depended on your parent(s) and what they told you about the situation (or didn’t). I was sent to my room simply because I forgot to do my homework. My mom didn’t tell me why. My experiences of shame were shaped by my parents’ comments and reactions to the situation, resulting in a completely different emotional response.
The Challenge of Speaking Truths in a Culture that’s Completely Unsafe for Women
Women’s experiences of shame have been pathologized in a culture that has always been unsafe for us. We are not supposed to speak our truths, even though it’s the only way to transform this emotion into something productive. In order to speak our truths about shame, we must first find a safe place to do so. This can mean dealing with unsafe people and places, but it also means taking a step back and examining the culture around us, because this is where our shame lives.
Our culture is unsafe for women, because it shames women. It shames us when we are sexual and it shames us when we aren’t. It shames us when we want to be mothers and it shames us when we don’t. It tells us that we can’t trust our thoughts and feelings, because they are not valid unless they are aligned with the needs of men and boys. It shames us for being ambitious, but tells us that we are not enough if we don’t provide an income for our family. It tells us that we will never be able to balance the needs of our children and partner with a career, so why try? It shames us for not living up to impossible standards. It shames us into silence when our experiences do not align with the needs of men and boys.
What Makes Connecting Through Stories & Art Possible?
Women’s experiences of shame have been pathologized in a culture that has always been unsafe for us. We are not supposed to speak our truths, even though it’s the only way to transform this emotion into something productive. The inclusion of arts and story serves a crucial role in our journey toward healing: to create an environment that makes it safe for women, who feel anything but safe, to share their truths.
In this talk, I will:
Take a look at the art, process and meaning of the Story Paths project.
Discuss how this work became an important resource in my own life and in the lives of women who have come to it. In short, I will show how telling our stories builds relationships – working toward a world where healing is possible.This video-essay is based on the book, What Makes Connecting Through Stories & Art Possible?, by Helen Twose (Ooligan Press).