Is Your Shame A Mask For Compassion
Is Your Shame A Mask For Compassion?
Think of a moment that you realize that you’ve emotionally hurt someone you care about. Visualize a moment and visualize a memory that makes you feel ashamed. Use the Shame–>Compassion translation ideas presented below to free yourself of unnecessary shame. As an example, I’ll use the time I ‘egged a house’ when I was about 9 years old. I must have been an angry young lad to throw eggs on someone’s house that I did not know. Until recently, if I thought of this memory I would think things like this to myself:
- What a jerk I am.
- What’s wrong with me?
- I have to pay to repair this.
- I’m a bad person.
- I’m in big trouble.
I would also have a bad feeling about myself in the pit of my stomach and chest. In the past I would minimize, deny, blame or avoid the consequences of my behavior. In a strictly fear-based method of changing my behavior in the future this can work to get me to shape up as a person. So shame is, indeed, a useful emotion to feel. It can guide me to avoid repeating behaviors like that.
If I take the route of compassion for the family that lived in the house, I might have learned a larger lesson about the consequences of my choices and behaviors. I could have empathy and compassion for the people in the house who have to wonder who is hostile toward them in the neighborhood. I could consider the feelings of the person who cleaned up the eggs, or who paid to have it done. If I could feel the sadness, or fear, or rage, or shock of the family that lived there before I threw the eggs at the house; perhaps I would not have done it. Since it’s already in the past I cannot dwell or wish it were different. Until recently, when I remember the incident it just made me feel bad about myself. Now I experience the memory through the lens of empathy and compassion; and I don’t have to go the shame route of making myself a bad person.
Do I have a choice to feel shame vs. compassion?
Both are bad thoughts, feelings & sensations for me.
I’d just prefer to feel compassion.
I do this conversion through an active initiation of compassion for those I’ve harmed. I include myself in that group also. When I feel empathy for the harm I’ve caused others and myself my heart is more open. My chest is warm. I feel a desire to help those who suffer, so my experience of reliving the memory is now different. The self-hating excesses of shaming myself are beginning to be replaced by more reparative and nurturing impulses and thoughts. For instance, I might think about the family issues, parenting and culture that shaped young Marc; such that at 9 years old he threw those eggs. That can be a sad exercise; but more rewarding in that it’s an empathic connection that may initiate care-taking rather than punishment.
All mystical traditions of the major religions say some version of, “Treat others as you would yourself.” What if the reason for this is because WE ARE OTHERS! If this is the case, then injuries we cause are injuries to ourselves. To feel compassion rather than shame is a natural outgrowth of manifesting this thought.
The Shame—->Compassion conversion depends on this mantra,
It’s O.K. if I’ve hurt someone & I’d want to know about it to repair it.
I don’t want to put others or myself through stressful emotions. In a future, I’m informed through empathy, more powerfully than with shame, to avoid adding unnecessary stress to others, or myself. Whereas I feel bad sensations connected to shame, I also feel some discomfort connecting empathically with myself or others’ reactions to my decisions and behavior. But, I’d much rather feel the discomfort of my being disturbed through empathy. The results are more positive!
Compassion is more powerful than shame as a change agent.
Let’s return to your memory of an event when you harmed someone. Spend a moment thinking about what the other person thought about you, about him/herself, or about life. Connect with this person’s bad experience so you may do a proper amends, if the opportunity presents itself. It simply feels better to connect more fully with the effects of my behavior as a compassionate experiencing, rather than a negative self-shaming and blaming one. Not only does it feel better, but it works to help repair the damage.
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