Don’t Negotiate with Shame

It’s the quicksand of the mind

Hands, 2021

One of the strategies I often come across for managing the shame that results from dysfunctional coping mechanisms and toxic beliefs is to behave like a scientist. Gather evidence for why these beliefs can’t be true, make lists, rally a group of witnesses to support you. In essence, fight these ideas with new ones.

But I’ve found this doesn’t track in the real world, at least if you’re as skeptical as a scientist as I believe one should be.

Often when we undertake these mental pilgrimages to prove we are worthy and reject the dusty messages we inherited from our caretakers, we inadvertently provide more fuel. Let me know if this sounds familiar:

“I am worthy because of all that I accomplished today! Would an unworthy person have completed so many tasks at work? So why don’t I feel worthy? Why do I feel so bad? I need to get more evidence (continuing the cycle).”

“I am good and whole because my friends say so! Look at this wonderful text I just received. But if it was true, wouldn’t I feel good without her message? I should figure that out (continuing the cycle).”

Shame remains because the evidence is pounding on a closed door.

As it turns out, contrary to our culture’s insistence, unconditional love can only come from one place, a place that is beyond others—within us.

This means we must accept ourselves precisely in the moments when we’re told we shouldn’t: when we’ve disappointed our boss, been a bad friend, forgotten an important appointment, or failed to meet our own standards.

We must be on our own side when we’re aimless, without goals, unable to answer important questions, and with nothing to show for all our time here.

When we negotiate the terms of our worthiness, our wholeness, and our goodness with logic as a scientist might, we dig ourselves deeper into shame. The search for proof becomes our new neurosis.

I’ll leave you with this fun blurb from a recent Ask Polly and all my love, although you certainly don’t need it.

I’m an artist that writes about gender, self, technology, art, and the future.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store