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What's Shame Got to Do with It?

Shame is a dirty little secret, rarely acknowledged as a root cause of illness, yet closer examination finds it inextricably linked to our bodies, our approach to healthcare, and that which stands in the way of wholeness. As soon as we pop out of our mothers, we start to get all sorts of subliminal messages about the rightness or wrongness of our male or female parts. Even the rightness or wrongness of our larger role in society as a man or a woman. With the advent of prenatal ultrasound, you can even start receiving these messages before birth as they cross the placenta as molecules of emotion, or reverberate as electromagnetic waves of your parent’s judgment about whether they wanted a child of your birthsex. Because, you see, shame is all about judgment. Do I fit in? Am I lovable? Did I follow the rules correctly? Will the tribe continue to accept me, or banish me to the life-threatening horrors of separateness?

You don’t think shame is your issue, eh? Too strong of a word. Just stop for a moment and consider today alone: how many times today have I made a decision based upon how someone else will judge…

  • My hair, clothes, car, yard?

  • My work, presentation, skill?

  • My grades or my children’s status in school or on their team?

  • Made sure certain parts of my body are properly hidden?

  • Made sure my weaknesses or vulnerabilities are camouflaged?

  • Been concerned about whether I have enough money to pay a bill?

It’s pretty likely thoughts such as these were present even subconsciously if you are going to leave the house. Or perhaps you prefer not to leave the house so you won’t have to deal with any of these things.

How could this energy of shame affect your physical body? Let’s start with basic body shame. Do I look like the portrayals of attractive people toward which my tribe teaches me to aspire? Am I a funny-looking kid with ears too big, eyes too widely spaced, nose misshaped? Am I too tall, short, skinny, big-hipped, small-muscled to compete with my peers? Will I have to prove my worth to sexual partners by my bank account, my cooking skills, political savvy or something else to make up for my narrow shoulders, small breasts, and so forth? And so begins a lifetime of proving our attractiveness to the tribe with the right car/clothes/hairdo/prep school, etc.