Shame and Vulnerability

The following is an excerpt from the book “Choose Love Not Hate” by Josiah Samuel Harry.

At the heart of vulnerability is knowing and being known in all our brokenness. Vulnerability means accepting our limitations in order to create space for others to deposit their gift of presence. Being vulnerable is to become alive and complete.

Every human being came into the world as the ultimate vulnerable self. We entered as naked infants—unconcealed, unaffected, and unashamed. As toddlers, we explored our dwelling spaces with uninhibited passion and life. The universe was our playground.

Then without warning, something happened in early childhood that changed our entire outlook on life. We heard for the first time that being naked was a bad thing. This new information shattered our reality and distorted our concept of people and the world. We experienced guilt and shame for the first time. We got scolded for each violation, and guilt and shame became embedded permanently into our psyche.

At that stage of our psychosocial development, we were not able to differentiate between naked and being. For us, the two concepts were the same. So when an adult told us to physically “cover-up,” what we heard was we needed to hide, mask, and suppress the essence of our aliveness.

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From that moment on (i.e., early childhood through middle adulthood), many individuals embarked on a journey marked by pretension, secrecy, fear, and distrust. At the point when well-intentioned adults shamed us into covering up our nakedness, we learned to cover up our vulnerability.

By covering up our vulnerability, we experienced continual loss of self. Instead of pushing through our emotional chrysalises to become butterflies, we found comfort in remaining trapped as caterpillars—crawling in dysfunction and pathology for most of our lives. Rather than accept ourselves in the spirit of compassion and wholeness, we learned to compartmentalize our lives and experiences into the good me and the bad me.

The domino effect of covering up our vulnerability and listening to shame forces us to define our lives by singular actions instead of the totality of our experiences. By defining our lives by solitary deeds (good or bad), guilt, self-reproach, and regret become the guiding forces of our existence.

Covering up our vulnerability gives us an excuse to be less than authentic in our relationship with others. To compensate for the feeling of shame, we become inventors of dishonest, deceitful, and manipulative realities. The emotional and spiritual abyss or the negative zone shame creates open us up to two fears: the fear of being rejected, and the fear of being judged as weak.

The fear of rejection stems from a distorted view of one’s worth. This fear is associated with not seeing oneself as a worthy or lovable being. The fear of rejection also grows out of what we believe others think or say about us. The most insidious aspect of the fear of rejection is that we become slaves to people’s opinions. We fashion every aspect of our lives around people’s judgments. We become people pleasers.

As the fear of rejection dominates our reality, we raise the ante by engaging in reckless behaviors and activities that only deepen our feelings of low self-worth. What is even more disturbing is that we know we can never measure up to people’s distorted views of us. Even though we know deep down we cannot meet those false expectations, having that knowledge does not prevent us from trying. It gets worse. The fear of rejection inevitably turns into the fear of abandonment.

rejection-810x540The fear of abandonment is a primary reason why many people stay in emotionally and physically abusive relationships. The abused person risks injury to self to protect her heart. In the mind of the abused, tolerating the abuse and the abuser is a much better proposition than facing the feelings of rejection, abandonment, and loneliness.

After some time, the abuser, no longer able to get his emotional high from abusing the same person, moves on to his next victim. In the meantime, the abused, rather than using the opportunity to heal from her emotional and physical wounds, repeats the original trauma of abandonment by entering into another abusive relationship or by engaging in illicit behaviors and making unhealthy lifestyle choices.

I wish I could say the fear of abandonment is the last stage in the vicious cycle of covering up one’s vulnerability and listening to shame, but it is not. The person dealing with abandonment issues does not automatically gravitate to healthy and stable relationships. This individual finds fulfillment by entering into relationships with emotionally and physically unavailable partners, as portrayed by Brad and Jen in the next chapter.

The second fear relating to covering up the vulnerable self is the fear of being judged as weak. This fear tells us that to ask for help from others or admit to any personal struggles is to scream “I am weak,” “I am a loser.” This fear prevents us from having an honest conversation with self about our strengths and growth opportunities, i.e., limitations. The longer we avoid engaging the self in honest dialogue, the more insidious this fear becomes. And the more harmful this fear gets, the more pretentious our relationships and existence become.

So what do we do to protect that false sense of identity? We build walls. Every time something or someone threatens our sense of autonomy, we react by erecting walls. Interestingly, our walls do not prevent us from getting hurt. Walls, in effect, limit the potential for meaningful relationships and keep us locked in our pain.

In the next chapter we will explore how covering up one’s vulnerability and listening to shame can lead to dysfunction and a lifetime of unhappiness.


Since you’re here…

…I wrote a book about love with the aim of sparking a national conversation about tolerance, diversity, and inclusion. The goal is to get Choose Love Not Hate into every home and school, and make our communities places of intercultural learning and hubs of compassion. It would mean the world to me if you ordered a copy of Choose Love Not Hate today. Thank you. 

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16 thoughts on “Shame and Vulnerability

    1. As far as “timely book,” I think so too. Choose Love Not Hate was written based on the zeitgeist of our era—a time, it seems, when compassion (i.e., tolerance, diversity, and inclusion) has grown silent in the human experience.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Hello, Very well written. I guess I will have to read the entire book to see what your suggestions are in tearing down the walls we erect to protect us if one decided to confront their fears. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Sounds interesting. I do believe in partnering with someone who you trust to be honest with you. The catch is you have to be open to receive the criticism. Most of the time, we get defensive and tune out the message.
        Is the book available on Amazon?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Well written and easily explained. It’s also resonates on a personal level with me. I suffered child abuse and abandonment. My own therapy centres around removing barriers and vulnerability. It’s not easy, but it is worth it. Thanks Josiah

    Liked by 1 person

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