Shame needs air to heal
Are there situations in which shame is called for? Of course. But in many of the people I encounter, it’s irrationally applied and a major impediment to moving forward in life. It’s what keeps us in hiding. Ironically, the best way of getting over it is to talk about it, and give it air.
Here’s a classic article on this central obstacle to moving forward in life.
The Atlantic Monthly, Feb 1992 v269 n2 p40 (21)
by Robert Karen
For reasons rooted in the values of contemporary culture, the concept of shame had until recently
all but vanished from discussions of emotional disarray. Now it is regarded by many
psychologists as the preeminent cause of emotional distress in our time
A MATHEMATICS PROFESSOR IN HIS FIFTIES, WHO LIKES TO THINK OF HIMSELF
as dynamic and rakish but who is at the moment “between lovers,” stands on the subway
platform eyeing an undergraduate. He sees that his gaze is making her uncomfortable. He feels a
twinge of shame over this intrusion, but not enough to stop. He files his behavior under “manly
aggression” and keeps staring. Then a searing thought enters and exits his mind so fast that later
he won’t remember having had it. The idea seems almost to have been waiting there like a hot
coal, and after stumbling upon it and getting singed, he flees in panic. Feeling inexplicably
crestfallen, he looks away from the young woman, buries his head in his paper, and seeks out a
separate car when the train comes in. For the rest of the morning he feels listless and down. He
doesn’t want people near him, and growls if they press. He works methodically, waiting for the
unnamable discomfort to pass. The idea that scorched him was an image of himself, all too
believable, as a hungry, unhappy loner, a man who had wasted his youth and was incapable of
lasting attachments, staring forlornly at a woman who could not possibly be interested in him.
The shame that that image evoked was too hot to handle.
—- If this sounds like someone you know, click here to read the rest of the article: