If you've read my last post, you know that I've been struggling with this idea of shame. I've thought for a long time that I have to be better than everyone else. I have to be better at guarding my own heart, because if I don't, no one else will do it for me. I have to be better at choosing who I let into my life, into my heart, because this world has already hurt me badly, and I cannot afford to let it do so again. I have the collective guilt of generations on my shoulders - I have to be better than my parents, I have to be better than my parent's parents. I have to be better than those who use their bodies as tools of self-destruction. I have to be a better woman, a better person, a better Christian, than most.
Ultimately, this comes down to how I view the status of my heart. I expect others to hurt me. It's what they do, it's been the narrative of my life thus far. So when someone else hurts me, instead of doing the logical thing and acknowledging that the fault lies with them, I do this illogical thing where I blame myself. Totally, and completely. Because other people will always hurt me, it's just what they do, and therefore I must be responsible any time I let someone slip through my filter. Because I let them close, it is my fault if they let me down.
Do you see how weird, twisted, and totally confused that idea is? It takes all of the agency away from the person who chose to inflict pain on me, and it assigns it all to me. Because I have to be better than everyone else. In order for me not to get hurt, I have to be better.
"I trusted the wrong person," I told a friend. And that may be true. But the shame I feel over the dissolution of a relationship is entirely disproportionate to my actual involvement with the reasons for its demise. When I assign all this pain to myself, I'm doubling the emotional load I am under and it is only hurting me.
I am uncomfortable with the idea of making mistakes. I do not enjoy the sensation of failure, but I accept that failure is inevitable. To me, though, making a mistake that, had I listened to my friends or my own heart, could have been avoided, is just unacceptable. And so I heap these coals of shame onto my head, over and over again, until the cycle is too great for me to overcome and I am locked in a spiral of my own making.
Is it pride? Maybe, yes. Is it arrogance, to think I can go through life successfully avoiding all its major pitfalls? Undoubtedly. But I struggle with this thinking anyway. I wiggle under the weight of a simple mistake and I flail to find a soothing balm for my disappointment in myself.
I expect people to hurt me. I am familiar with this. So I have told myself that it is my responsibility to ensure that they are not allowed to. Do you see this? This is a problem. Other people have agency. They have their own decisions to make. If they hurt me, it's not my fault. It's not my fault that someone else chooses to do that.
This comes in part from growing up in an abusive environment. Everything that hurt me was bounced back as somehow being my fault - if only I could change, if only I were better, if only I didn't provoke, then of course I wouldn't be hurt. The blame for others abusing me was always placed on me, as though my very existence were at fault. This is very common in abusive relationships and households.
And so now, in my adult life, I am left with this sinking sensation of absolute shame when I come out of an encounter hurting. Because I have to be better; because when someone hurts me, it is my own fault.
I once read that shame is never from God. A guilty conscience may in fact be the holy spirit showing us an area of our lives in which we've erred, but shame isn't a deliver from heaven. Shame weighs us down, mires us in sticky darkness that we can't shake. Shame is a deterrent from living your life with openness and vulnerability. What is it that C.S. Lewis wrote? "Love anything, and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. To love is to be vulnerable."
Well, I am determined to live my life with love, with openness, with vulnerability. Shame prevents me from being who I want to be. It locks me in the dark, with only whispers of "your fault, your fault, your fault" to keep me company.
Shame is a bad bedfellow, plain and simple. And I want no part of it anymore.