Shame seems to be a buzz word these days. Victim shaming. Slut shaming. Body shaming. It is at the forefront of a lot of hot news items right now. What are you ashamed of? I’m sure a litany of things popped into your mind as you read that. It comes easy for us to think of all the things about which we feel shame.
But what is shame, really? Introspection has brought this to the forefront of my thoughts and prompted me to research and read more about the effects of shame on our lives. And in delving further, how can it be affecting your journey to health.
Shame and guilt are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference between the two. According to Psychology Today, “…guilt is the awareness of having done something wrong.” The direct reaction to an action (or inaction, as the case may be). However, shame doesn’t necessarily depend on having done (or not done) anything. “It’s a painful feeling about how we appear to others (and ourselves).”
This last sentence struck a chord with me. How we appear to others and ourselves. Some of my own shame is based on what I think others think about me. Then I consider how self-centered that sounds. That when I walk into a room, every single person is looking at me? Picking me apart the way I do myself? Do I look at people like that when they enter a room? I don’t think I do, at least not consciously. So why would I expect that of others?
However, the bulk of my shame is doled out by yours truly. When I look in a mirror, I become my own worst enemy. My English lineage wraps me in pale, sensitive skin, while my Basque heritage has blessed (cursed?) me with dark-as-night hair that covers me from head to toe. The Irish pedigree has sprinkled me in freckles. And the Hispanic half…decided not to show up. I stare at my reflection and see too much fat here. Too many folds there. Too much hair here. Not enough hair there. Large muscles here. Can’t even see muscles there. Scars and stretch marks everywhere.
Sometimes it feels like this fight to get back to what I used to look like is futile. This is a picture of my oldest niece and me at her fifth birthday party (you may recognize those shorts from this post). It was taken right before I headed out to graduation parties my senior year of high school. I’m trim and strong (though my hair and eyebrows could use some taming), and I use this picture as my endgame. That’s where I want to get back to. Not necessarily to look 18 again (Good luck, right!), but that level of health and fitness. But it still is seemingly so out of reach. I unfailingly sabotage myself. Whenever I make great strides toward my ideal, deep-rooted behaviors skulk back into my routine. I am so used to living in this status quo, in shame of myself, it’s like anything outside of that is too uncomfortable, too foreign. It is terrifying to imagine what it will be like when I reach my goal.* And it is painfully disheartening to admit how much I abhor this body…
This body. This body has been through so much. It’s taken me to piano recitals and state championships. It’s pounded the pavement for hundreds of miles and swam thousands upon thousands of yards. It’s carried me up peaks and sloshed through rivers. It’s skied down mountains and explored oceans. It’s jumped off cliffs and hurled out of planes. It’s sheltered and nurtured human beings. It protects my mind, my heart. It’s loved and lost, grieved and exalted. Even when it rejected my appendix and gall bladder – subsequently requiring their removals – the rest of it continued on. It heals itself as best it can. It operates at levels I can’t begin to comprehend. Each cell doing its job to ensure my body functions at its maximum. Each thing I’ve experienced and felt is because of my senses, my soul, in this body. It breathes and lives every single day. And how do I repay it? By being ashamed of it. Angry that it won’t look like what I think it “should”.
A wise friend of mine recently said, “I'm making a serious effort to stop hating my body. I only just realized, at 41 years old, that it's a choice, just like most other things.”
Serious effort. It is a conscious choice, every day. Hell, every hour. How will I look at myself today? Will I stare at myself with disgust and shame? Will I list off all the ways I am inadequate or failing? Or will I gaze upon my body with gratitude for what we have achieved…with wonderment at what we can accomplish on this day?
Being a female in this day and age is hard. The images with which we are bombarded; the unattainable fountain of youth; the constant barrage of lack that fuels us to keep buying into the latest fad are all around us, and they are folly. Acknowledging these as unnecessary in our lives, being satisfied with doing our best, recognizing we are full of beauty, and believing we are enough: these are things that will pull us out of the shame spiral. And surrounding ourselves with those who work toward these ideals with us will bolster and lift us up when we start to get sucked down. Sometimes you are the support beam; other times you are the one being supported.
In my quest to Stay Present, I also need to mindfully be kind. To others, always. But more to myself, for feeling ashamed and worrying what others think of me is a waste of my energy. The more internal work I do, discovering how to heal all the hurts – both mental and physical – the more I feel capable and confident in conquering the obstacles I put in my own way. And in doing so, hopefully I will make greater advances toward total body health: mind, body, and spirit.
They are only baby steps at this time, but at least they are steps. And perhaps it’s time I stop looking at my body as separate from me. My body and I are in this together, making our way toward cohesion. Not distinct entities, but one united being, ebbing and flowing synchronously in the rhythmic dance we call life.
As one of my favorite writers, Glennon Doyle Melton, says, We Belong to Each Other.
Inspire. Motivate. Move.
*Next post will be about the fears that hold us back from our goals. The ones we don’t tell anyone about.