The Most Difficult Emotion

May 8, 2012

People may have anger issues. Or get a sudden panic attack. Or be grief stricken. There are a lot of emotions and they all have their challenges. In certain respects, I consider shame to be the most difficult emotion to deal with.

We can find a way to justify our anger, anxiety or sadness. It is due to something out there. We can have righteous anger due to some injustice. Anxiety looms because of something that has happened or could happen, a situation that raises fear inside us. We experience loss of someone or something and feel grief. We can explain these emotions to ourselves, understand what leads to feeling them and in doing so, perhaps find a way to make peace with them. This is not to belittle any of these emotions and the possible impact they may have on our lives. There are versions of each that can be devastating and debilitating.

But shame isn’t about something out there. The essence of shame is that it is about oneself. Sometimes it is triggered by something as simple as making a mistake or not following through on a commitment. I’ve done something “wrong” and I feel ashamed. Shame is about me at my very core being bad or wrong or inadequate. We can’t explain it away by pointing to something out there. It’s the most naked of emotions. We can feel totally exposed and want to run away and hide. Sometimes we do. We feel ashamed and retreat from the world. Or sometimes we hide from our shame by transforming it into anger or a different emotion, often by finding someone or something to blame. Or sometimes we hide by creating a mask or armor that may shield us from the world but which also costs us by prohibiting us from being our authentic self. Whatever way we choose to do so, in hiding, it just worsens the situation because hiding tends to reinforce the shame, making us feel like an outcast. We often end up with a distorted sense of ourselves, a view that inflames the shame. This can lead to a vicious cycle in which my shame leads to hiding which leads to reinforcing my shame which leads to a greater need to hide.

The first step to healing shame is forgiveness. I need to forgive myself for my blunder, my mistake, for not being perfect, for being human. I know that such realizations sound trite and obvious. And, like any other realization, they are trite and obvious to the rational mind. But to the emotive mind, to that place inside that has the fears and doubts, to have such realizations and to own them is to start the reclamation of peace of mind through love and compassion for oneself. In doing so, we can let go, breathe deeply, and know that we are okay.

Welcome to the human race. Welcome home.

© Bibi Caspari 2012

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