Shame dies when exposed to light

I don’t know if it’s something about the spring, or an astrological issue, or just life unfolding. It’s been an intense time in my office, a time when people’s long-buried secrets, those that have caused them so much shame, pain, and self-recrimination, have been coming to the light.

I have such a strange and fascinating job. As I sit with people, hour after hour, year after year, I am privy to a world that most don’t know about. While each person has her or his own unique story, I see the continual overlap that is our common suffering. How nearly every one of us has those experiences that make us think we’re crazy or defective or wrong or just plain bad. And how, so commonly, these have grown and festered in the darkness of our shame.

When children live through brutality, neglect, rape, attempted soul-murder–all all-too common–, the only way to maintain any semblance of dignity is to blame themselves. If it was their fault, at least they can maintain the illusion of control. This false belief then amasses evidence over time that propels them into self-hatred. The sexual acting-out, the eating disorders and addictions, the self-harm and self-doubt and self-hatred all hide what is really going on underneath: the truth that remains unspoken, the emotions that don’t get to be felt.

When we’re all out in the world, we generally look like we’re doing all right, don’t we? We smile and don’t usually cause much of a ruckus. But have you wondered who is drinking all of that alcohol in the giant superstores? I have. Not people that are doing okay. We don’t eat poorly and smoke and drink too much and stay too busy because we’re fine. Secrets take their toll.

My clients (and all of us who have decided to do our work)  have crossed the line between worlds. There’s the old world they  (and we) inhabited of “if I’m not happy it’s because of me–or maybe you. OK, THEM.” That world is dark and full of what cannot be spoken or felt.

Then there’s this new world that requires shining the light around. That’s where the scary puzzle pieces come out of hiding. Where before, they seemed randomly strewn around, character defects that we tripped over and curse ourselves about–now they can start to come together. They tell a new story. Those pieces allow our crazy dysfunctions to finally to make sense.

It can be an excruciating process, bringing what seemed to evidence of one’s worst self out into the light to be talked about openly, examined from many angles, and fully faced into. This is what floors me, day after day, the courage that I witness as my clients do the hardest thing: reveal what they believe is their slimiest, most shameful aspects. And then I get to be there for the  best part, to see the magic of how light transforms the shame into space, breath, possibility, and yes, even self-love. Because truly, shame cannot stay alive in the presence of light.

5 thoughts on “Shame dies when exposed to light”

  1. Beautifully said, Julie!!
    I think that with the HUGE interest of late on the tedtalks with Brene Brown, and her ‘wholehearted’ research into shame & connection, perhaps there may be a shift happening! I notice that I can sometimes have a conversation with people around shame and we actually share openly!! Would this have happened prior to people such as you and Brene speaking out?? I don’t know! Isn’t it about time?? Perfection!! thanks Julie!!

    1. I agree, Cheryle–we have the privilege of living through a time that is seismically shifting in consciousness. It’s great to have fellow travelers–like you!

    2. Thanks for shedding some light on this subject. The world needs to better understand the power of mindfulness, and that shame is at the root of a good deal of our problems. Here are my favorite authors on the subject of shame and love.

      1) Sharon Salzberg – “LovingKindness”
      2) John Bradshaw – “Healing The Shame That Binds You”
      3) Kristin Neff – “Self-Compassion”

  2. I can totally relate to this Julie. I sometimes wonder how the shame I have, still exists even after having shared it, owned it. x e

    1. ej, I wonder if you could separate out what you feel in your body to be “shame” into mad/sad/scared–I think that, once we get to the root of these primary emotions, we can move them through our bodies.

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