The biggest impediment to happiness in life is something that many of us picked up very early in our lives. It’s not a virus or a disease. It’s not a bad habit or bad luck.
It’s much simpler and sneakier than that. It’s something that gets in the way of enjoying so many of life’s wonderful features—from sex to food to trying new things to losing yourself in the rhythm of music. It’s shame.
Shame is guilt’s evil twin. Where guilt is feeling bad for things you’ve done; shame is feeling bad for who you are—for things about yourself that you don’t control. Having normal, biological urges. Being uncoordinated. Having unique artistic tastes. Struggling with social cues. Having a limited palette or an extremely adventurous one. There is almost no limit to the things about ourselves that we are capable of feeling shame over
What’s so tragic about shame, though, is that it does not come naturally. Watch an innocent child play intently with their food or pretend completely to be a princess or a dragon, and there isn’t a whisper of shame to be heard. Because they have not been made to feel ashamed about these things yet.
Shame is inherited. It is passed along so often and so easily, often by parents, on the back of cutting remarks, unnecessary judgments, and thoughtless choices. We’ve all experienced our own version of this as kids ourselves. Who hasn’t heard a parent say, off-handedly or out of anxiety or out of frustration, things like ‘don’t be such a klutz’, or ‘don’t embarrass me’, or ‘can’t you just be normal’, or ‘don’t wear that it makes you look _______.’
What’s most sad is that if you were to talk to your parents about those things they said to you that planted these seeds of shame, they would likely look at you like you have two heads. They’d tell you they love you and have always wanted nothing but the best for you. And they’re not lying. They’re just blind to the fact that in all their efforts to bury or overcome the shame they grew up with, they managed to pass it along to you in the process.
Well now it’s up to you to break that chain, to disrupt that cycle. Do not let the shame you are working to overcome hitch a ride with the lessons you teach your kids. Let them be their own people. Let them be comfortable in their own skin pretending to be dragons, flailing to music you don’t like, trying things you’d never try yourself.
Embrace them, so they might embrace the things about themselves which make them unique, and wholly themselves. There is no shame in that.