To me, shame is guilt run amuck. Guilt can be good, because it helps humans recognize that their behavior has crossed acceptable boundaries and that there is now a need to make amends and change behaviors. Shame, on the other hand, internalizes messages that because you made a poor choice, did something wrong, or otherwise failed to meet expectations, you are broken, flawed, worthless and unlovable.
Shame is insidious, because most of us start learning it as young children. (Please do not go back and lecture parents based on this post! I promise that, by far, most parents have done their duties to the best of their abilities. Very few parents wake up and think “How can I screw up my kids today?”) So, by the time we reach an age where we can effectively think and choose for ourselves, our paradigm feels completely normal. Shame goes on functioning under the surface, causing us unnecessary pain and heartache, and we can’t even see what is going on.
My shame manifested as codependency — a need to prove my worth by being loved by those incapable of truly loving me. In the process, I learned to put my needs on hold and totally immerse myself in the needs, desires, and whims of the object of my codependency. I would receive just enough validation to keep me “in,” but paid a heavy price as my self-esteem took beating after beating because I could not perfectly meet the desires of whoever was the object of my emotional addiction.
I give all credit to God and the power of Christ’s Atonement that I have been brought to a place and made strong enough to actually overcome most of the effects of codependency in my life and live in a state of near-recovery. It’s been a long, tough road. It has required staring fixedly at many things that I’ve never liked about myself and then praying and begging heaven to be able to see myself, my problems, and the people around me as they really are. Seeing things as they really have been, really are, and as they really will be is the foundation of truth. The scriptures say, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” I can testify that the principle is true, because I have been able to make changes to the things that are truly sub-standard. I have also been relieved of a lot of emotional baggage because I learned that my problems, myself, and the people around me are NOT as bad as I had fearfully imagined.
Like any illness (I think of codependency as love that has turned cancerous), there are lingering effects. The lasting effects for me have been a hyper-sensitivity to anything that suggests that I am weak, lacking, or unsuited to be a friend, hold a position, etc. While I have gained some mastery over myself as I have matured, I can still be ugly for a while after an offense.
I’m sure you can imagine that my “soft underbelly” has caused me problems throughout my life. You’re right — and it still has the potential to cause issues that I’d rather not have.
After my most recent “episode,” I finally dropped to my knees and admitted that nothing I had tried has helped me to overcome. I confessed that I couldn’t do it on my own. I told my Father in Heaven how miserable I have been and that the whole thing was made worse because I pretty much knew that I was creating most of the misery inside myself. I wanted relief, and I knew it had to come from Him.
The answer wasn’t immediate, and it has come in bits and pieces. I will have to share what I have learned next week, or this post will become too long to read. Be on the lookout for something about horses and their bridles.