There might be a reason that your anxiety or OCD content is stuck. It might not be due to content. It might be because of shame. It’s okay to feel shame. It’s a feeling, not a fact or prediction. Let’s go towards it.
Shame is the feeling you have when you think you are on the outside. Marginalization makes people feel shame. It gives you the urge to hide.
Even if you grew up in a homogenous environment, there’s all kinds of reasons why you could have felt as though you were on the outside of the group you grew up in. Into adulthood, we are all constantly swimming through groups we fit into and groups into which we do not fit. Even more subtly, there are some dimensions of you that fit into some contexts you live in and some dimensions of you that do not fit in. You might feel shame when you notice that. Great job noticing. It’s a feeling, not a fact or prediction. You have a good body. Your mind noticed something and your body gave you a feeling in response. Feelings don’t have to mean more than that, especially the feeling of shame.
Your feeling of shame doesn’t have to be more than a feeling, and also, it is a real feeling. Some people think that they shouldn’t feel anxious, and it gets them so confused. You can’t accept something you don’t think you should have. Same with shame. It’s okay to feel shame. Your mind picked up on some difference between you and others and alerted you to it. Feeling shame doesn’t mean that you need to hide. Notice it, validate it, listen to it, use it to connect. I’ll tell you more.
Notice it, validate it.
There are many reasons that you might be marginalized. Here are some life experiences about which you might feel shame: your relationship status, how many friends you have, where you go on vacation, where you went or go to school, where you work or don’t work, your social media presence, where you were born, where you live, your sexual identity, your sexual history, your family dynamics, your medical history, your mental health history, your substance use history, your legal history, your gender, your gender identity, your religious identity, your political identity, your cultural identity, your body shape, your body image, your experiences in your body, your emotions, your lack of emotions, having certain emotions at the wrong time, not having certain emotions at a certain time, the languages you speak, what your parents do for work, how much money your parents or family has, your skin color, your eye shape, your hair texture, your accent, your clothes, whether or not you watch Game of Thrones… really, we can feel shame about anything. All of us. Everyone lives within contexts and everyone can feel shame if they perceive that they are outside of the in-group of their current context. If I didn’t list a life experience that you have that gives you the feeling of shame, email me right now at email@example.com.
Some people grow up mostly feeling like they are fitting in and other people grow up with chronic contextual factors that make them feel like an outsider. Some contextual situations that may have made you chronically marginalized include:
- Having a chronic mental health condition, like anxiety, OCD, depression, or ADHD
- Having a chronic medical condition
- Having a learning or other form of disability
- Experiencing something traumatic that other people around you didn’t experience
- Being of a different race
- Being of a different religion
- Speaking a different language
- Having a different sexual or gender identity
- Having a different financial situation than those around you
If this is you, you might have a chronic sense of shame or a feeling of shame that pops up frequently. You didn’t do anything wrong. Your mind just perceived a difference between you and those around you and gave you a feeling.
Shame is “just” a feeling, but it can become very big and very painful. If it feels very big, it doesn’t mean there is something even worse about you, but rather that there are layers to it. We can make it smaller and manageable by talking about it and listening to it. When you understand it and the feeling is smaller, it will be easier for you to work with it.
Listen to it.
Understanding how shame relates to context is power. Why?
Shame hurts like hell. (Hell is disconnection, right?)
The pain is real, but that doesn’t mean you have to act on the urge it gives you. You don’t have to withdraw or hide.
As a reminder, the physiological reaction your body has during anxiety is real. Your heart rate actually increases. Your increase in heart rate doesn’t mean that the trigger that caused your fight-or-flight response is truly dangerous to you.
Similarly, the pain of shame is actually occurring in your body but it doesn’t mean you should withdraw. Shame makes people want to hide. Whereas anxiety gives us the urge to avoid our trigger, shame gives us the urge to avoid, withdraw, and hide from other people.
I assume, from an evolutionary perspective, we have the urge to hide because if you were different from those around you in our ancestral past, you were probably from a different tribe. You may have been at risk of being captured, enslaved, raped, or tortured. When you noticed you were different, it may have been reasonable to hide. Slavery, rape, and torture still happens to some of us, humans, in some contexts, but most of us are not up against this as a real possibility in everyday life when we feel shame.
The shame you feel may be an accurate perception of your differences from others. It is not a signal that you are bad or that you need to withdraw or hide.
Use it to connect.
We don’t live in tribes anymore. We’re all living together. We don’t need to fight each other anymore. Rather, we can connect and collaborate. We can trade ideas, resources, and skills and solve more interesting problems through what we do together. In 2019, differences are assets. All of the different life experiences listed above have stories behind them. The stories are important because they help us understand each other and solve problems together.
If you understand that your shame is just a feeling based on your current social context, you can use it as data and work to change your current social context. As an example, you might feel shame about having chronic anxiety or depression. Hopefully, now you understand what’s happening and you feel less shame about it. When shame arrives, you can use it to connect to both yourself and others.
Your self-talk is “It’s okay for me to have this feeling. Having this experience is different in some ways from what others experience and in other ways it is similar. It’s 2019. In 2019, it’s okay to have a different experience than others and also there are other people who are having a similar experience to me. I need to use the feeling as a cue to connect and mobilize, rather than hide.”
There are some contextual social factors such as race, gender, social class, nationality, sexuality, religion, and disability status where systems across society maintain marginalization. We need lots and lots of critical thinking and action to change the systems. This makes it especially important to notice your feeling of shame, validate it, listen to it, and use it to connect and mobilize.
Your suffering and your shame becomes your power when you notice it, validate it, listen to it and use it as a cue to connect. Don’t listen to its message telling you to hide. Rather, let yourself be open to the reality of being simutanelously different from those around you and intimately connected. It’s okay for you to be different and to also connect.
It’s 2019. We don’t live in tribes. We all live together. You can be different and no one will eat you. Let’s see what happens when you use your shame as a cue to connect.