Perspectives on shame, Part I
April 20, 2012 by
Categories: Emotions, Hanging on

“Disgrace is being in a low position (after the enjoyment of favour). The getting that (favour) leads to the apprehension (of losing it), and the losing it leads to the fear of (still greater calamity).”–Lao Tzu

A few years back there was a television show called “Avatar: The Last Airbender”. My children and I loved watching the show together as it really has many great lessons to offer. One episode in particular I had seen many times, but the last time I watched it, a line from it stood out for me.

The scene has two people in it: Zuko and Iroh. Zuko is the prince to the Fire Nation, but has been banished because he stood up for what he felt was right when he was a child. Because of this, his father challenged him to a duel. When Zuko refused to fight, his father scarred his face and banished him from the kingdom because he brought shame to the family. Iroh is Zuko’s uncle who loves Zuko as though Zuko was his son.

Zuko is attempting a difficult task at which he continues to fail. Iroh tells him that he will not be able to succeed until he has dealt with the turmoil inside of him. When Zuko asks what turmoil, Iroh tells him that he must let go of his feelings of shame if he wants his anger to go away. Zuko replies that he feels no shame and that he is as proud as ever. Iroh replies: Pride is not the opposite of shame, but it’s source. True humility is the only antidote to shame.

Image courtesy of jfg.

I’ve thought about this idea for quite some time. In my personal journey, I would change Iroh’s statement slightly: true humility is the first part to the antidote to shame. I will focus on the second part in my next post.

I think that there are many sources of shame, but in so many instances, pride is a contributing factor. It is a feeling that we are better than this, that we are somehow superhuman and immune to the weaknesses and failings that accompany living. I have been there. In my last post I talked about my personal fights. These are a source of shame, and for me it is related to feeling like I shouldn’t have succumbed to my failings.

Shame can feel like humility, but really it is a false humility. For me, shame makes me feel less than those around me. A feeling that if other people only knew, they would reject me. This can even be to the point of preventing me from helping others or engaging in other positive activities. Feeling low about yourself is not humility. In fact, I would say that in some ways, pride contributes to feeling low about yourself. Humility, I think, includes a feeling and a knowledge of your worth–which is priceless–but also a realization that you have weaknesses and shortcomings, and accepting those.

This is another one of those challenges in life that is easier said than done. Accepting your weaknesses needs to be done on a continual basis (because how many times do they rear themselves each day?). I do have to mention here, that accepting doesn’t mean agreeing with or liking. Accepting is just viewing as a part of us (or others) without judgement. I just wish it wasn’t so difficult to do.

As part of this post, I must also say that there are those who feel shame because of terrible events that happened to them. While pride may play a role in this shame as well, it is probably small and there are many other things going on. I most certainly hope no one walks away from any of these posts thinking, “I am such a terrible person! Here is something else that I am doing wrong.” For stubborn shame, it can be helpful to talk about it with someone you trust and who will accept you unconditionally. A lot of people can benefit from therapy to address this type of shame. Therapy is also another place where someone can get the second part to the antidote for shame, which I will write on in my next post.

Until then, what are your thoughts on pride and shame? How have you overcome pride in your life?

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2 Thoughts About Perspectives on shame, Part I

  • Judy
    April 20, 2012 at 5:06 pm Reply

    Thank you for your compassionate post on shame. I relate so well to this post. Growing up, I felt shame was a journey mate. It usually stemmed from hurtful comments or actions from others…but may have later been about my perceptions of other’s actions or words…because it has a way of eroding one’s trust.

    But it hung on close for many years. I believe the ‘pride’ experience was my way of saying, “I can handle this myself’, or, ‘Im going to do something great and people will be sorry for making me feel this way’. I put on my mask and acted like things didnt bother me. When in reality, I was angry and suffering. Years later, I realized that others saw the mask and thought that I had a ‘better than thou’ attitude…because of all the ways I overcompensated to make up for my perceived ‘lacks’. Their reactions sometimes reinforced my coping mechanisms.

    After much introspection over time and after receiving input from several wise sources, I realized that I needed to look back and forgive those who had shamed me. Meanwhile, I gave myself permission to be alive, to breathe like everyone else. And I eventually arrived to a place where I could thank God for the experiences because they ultimately worked in my favor….to be able to humbly identify with those who suffer….even with those who had once hurt me.

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