Defining shame

from Shame, by Gershen Kaufman.

“To feel shame is to feel seen in a painfully diminished sense.  The self feels exposed… to anyone… present.  It is this sudden, unexpected feeling of exposure and accompanying self-consciousness that characterizes the essential nature of the affect of shame.  Contained in the experience of shame is the piercing awareness of ourselves as fundamentally deficient in some vital way, as a human being.”     

In this country, we are inundated daily by weight-loss diet suggestions, from every media source and of course, ‘well-meaning’ friends, family and strangers.  Sometimes I can tune them out angrily and sometimes I am lured by the promises.  Why?  I know the answer and it’s the reason why the diet biz is so profitable.  We want to look and feel the way that we are told we should be.  Vicious cycle.

The above quote includes a word that keeps appearing as I study shame:  deficient.  As in, not efficient?  A guess.  Even if that were the word’s root, that’s not how the word is heard and used, not the familiar connotation.  I think ‘deficient’ is pretty clear:  less than.    Worth less.  Oh… worth less, two words and the combination word:   worthless.  Eww.

Deficient: not having enough of a specified quality, insufficient or inadequate; lacking, limited; defective, faulty, flawed, imperfect, inferior, substandard, second-rate)

So, is it primarily about appearance?  Well, its certainly about judgement, the belief that one thing, in this case, one person is of greater value than another.  Is this not the foundation of racism, as well as sexism/patriarchy, class-ism or any form of bigotry?  One person or type of person is considered to be worth more, is more valuable than another.  Without going into particulars, I will simply state that the messages I took in as a young woman led me to believe that I was deficient.  I will note that I do not generally feel this way anymore, b u t… the shreds are still there, tenacious.

Like the shreds of a plastic bag that cling to the twigs of the maple tree outside my window.  It has been at least two or three years since a white plastic grocery bag first caught in the upper branches.  That shredded bag, or now, just shreds of a bag, is symbolic.  Scouring winds and weather have reduced the size and presumably the strength of the plastic bag, but it remains.  In fact, I would not be surprised if some tree bark has grown over a bit of the bag.  Trees do that.  If something is there long enough, it’s claimed.  It becomes part of the plant/tree.

So, following this metaphor, these crappy, shredded, negative beliefs about my self have grown into my body, in ways both literal and figurative.  They cannot be willed away, wished away or even with the strongest intention – hurricane force winds – eradicated.    The image has its limits.  For now, I am engaged in remembering, seeing, naming and source-seeking.  Without these steps, I don’t think I can lose the shame.  It must be seen, named and sourced.

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