I used to lash out. I’d write long paragraphs explaining how someone had wronged me. I’d pick up the phone and when words became tense, I’d defend my position, then shift to a counterattack.
Lashing out is a side effect of shame. You can’t figure out how to get what you need because you’re too clouded by shame to examine your real needs. You can’t state your needs out loud because you feel like you don’t deserve that much, and also you’ve spent your whole life pretending you don’t have needs at all. You can’t respect the needs of the people around you because you suffer under the illusion that you’re serving their needs around the clock. You feel this way because you don’t give yourself anything you really need. You feel this way because you don’t know what you need or want.
When you’re ruled by shame, needing things means you’re helpless, so you try not to have needs at all. Wanting things means you’re useless, a drain on others, so you power down your deepest desires. Your shame tricks you into thinking you don’t need as much as you do, because you refuse to go to that scared, helpless place where you feel small and weak. Your shame pretends that you’re much stronger when you stay above your desires and your confusion and your fear, when you pretend that you need nothing and no one, that no one is good enough for you. Your shame convinces you to numb your hunger for connection and your big emotions so they never get the best of you again.
When you’re ruled by shame, emotions and needs are your enemies. Anything you can do to mute or ignore or distract from your own desires, you’ll do. Desire makes you weak. Wanting makes you vulnerable and dependent. Stating your needs out loud inevitably leads to abandonment and despair.
Every day, without even knowing it, you resolve to avoid stating your needs out loud.
This is where lashing out comes from: You are a giant wound covered in bandages, but you refuse to clean your wounds or air them out because then other people can see them. A person ruled by shame is like a cartoon mummy: No one can see them clearly. They’re all wrapped up and protected. They can’t see anyone else. They can’t feel anything.
Mummies stumble sightless and numb through the world, thinking that they’re protected, thinking that they’ll never have any reason to hurt anyone. But even when mummies are quiet, they’re hurtful and they’re depressed, because they’re not really there. They can’t be. They’re too protected and hidden to be seen or heard, to connect and love, to forgive themselves for their many wounds.
If you stumble around blindly, ruled by your shame, unable to communicate, playing along and hiding, eventually life becomes unbearable. No one understands you. Everything is confusing. You don’t have a voice. So eventually, you pick up the biggest, blunted weapon you can find and start swinging.
I’ve written a lot about shame and forgiveness lately, but the more I write about it, the more I realize that most people aren’t aware of how fundamental, inescapable, and anxiety-inducing shame can be on a daily basis. And many people don’t realize how dramatically better they’ll feel, once they start to unravel the bandages from their eyes and look at the world around them without fear and show themselves without apology.
The process of noticing shame and addressing it and forgiving yourself is so powerful that it can make you feel a little better in the moment, in an instant, every day. It’s like one of those annoying physical therapy exercises with a big red rubber band that you’re supposed to do to fix your shoulder, but you absolutely cannot stand to revisit JUST HOW BAD your shoulder feels several times a day, so you don’t do it. As a result, your shoulder feels worse and worse, and now you feel guilty about that pain on top of everything else.
But once you pull out the stupid rubber band and start doing the exercises, whew, you feel so much better! And the more you do them, the better you feel. When you stop and forgive yourself during the day, several times a day, and really try to FEEL it, it’s like you’re cutting off a little of your mummy bandages and throwing them away. You start to feel in your bones that it’s okay to be human. You start to forgive others for being human. You don’t feel as angry or sad. You can admit that you’ve made mistakes, and fallen short, and you have wounds – lots of them! But you can also see other people’s wounds, and suddenly you don’t want to accuse them of being injured like that’s some kind of a curse. You want to help them heal instead.
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