I want to talk about an interesting phrase I heard yesterday. My friend made a joke about her husband that when he makes a mistake it’s okay because he is “appropriately shamed”. And I just pondered that funny phrase and what it means.
I thought about how, in a situation, either we put on ourselves or we put on somebody else…what’s the right thing that should have happened or the wrong thing that happened. And after we’ve judged that, we want the reaction to be shame. We want them to feel bad for what they did or we feel bad for what we did.
And then “appropriate shame” is that we think there is just a certain right amount that they should feel bad. Sometimes you see somebody who has done something wrong or in their mind they’ve done something wrong or they’ve been told they’ve done something wrong and they’re so hard on themselves. They’re devastated. And you’re like, “Oh! Easy easy! It’s not that bad!” That’s not appropriate shame.
And then other times, somebody does something wrong to us and they’re like, “Oh sorry.” And we think, “God, they should feel worse!” That’s not appropriate shame either. Maybe we keep coming at them like, “But this. But this. But THIS.” We follow them around lecturing them from different angles until they finally see that they’re supposed to feel bad.
But regardless, “appropriate shame” means that we have not only put ourselves in hell but we are taking the elevator down and we’re going further into the depths. And let’s talk about that.
So hell for me, the way I define it is SEPARATION. It it when I start drawing lines that separate me from other people…right/wrong thinking, feeling separated from love and peace, any separation. Because for me, my mission is to feel acceptance for myself and everyone else, to feel love, to feel connection.
So things that pull me away from that are what I consider hell. So dipping my toe into hell with right/wrong thinking (which is normal because we are human, we do this) is the start. I’m already drawing lines with right/wrong thinking. This is right. This is acceptable. This is worthy of my love. These things are not.
Then, I go down into shame. So shame is interesting because we need validation of our right/wrong thinking. And the way we get that validation is by shame. Either shame from someone else so we see that they feel bad about themselves. They feel bad about it, so that emphasizes or reinforces that we were right. Or we shame ourselves which also reinforces that right/wrong thinking.
So now we’ve got right/wrong and right/wrong has to come with shame. And then we go to “appropriate shame” and that’s just further in. Now it’s not enough that someone else feels shame or we feel shame, but it has to be exactly this amount that we individually have decided is the “right” amount. It is the appropriate amount.
And as you see, there are so many lines of separation that cannot promote love and acceptance and connection.
So then of course my next question is, “Where is this showing up in my life?” And I went right to parenting. Parenting is a place where I think the whole right/wrong, shame, and appropriate shame shows up.
I’ve got one child who is very hard on himself and it’s like, “Oh honey, that’s too much.” And then I’ve got another kid who’s like, “Oh sorry,”. And I’m like, “Wait. Wait! You don’t feel bad enough.”
So where in particular, in parenting, do I notice it? And the one area where I see it show up a lot for me is when a brother has hurt another brother. And I realized that I’m doing the opposite of what I want in this situation.
When that happens (because I want my kids to develop empathy), I will ask a question like “How would you have felt if he had done that to you?” But in that, the answer is supposed to be “bad”, “sad”, “angry”. So we’re already in those kind of emotions. And the result is that they’re supposed to feel bad for making their brother feel bad!
I don’t fault myself for wanting them to feel empathy. I just realized that I’m not going about it with the end game in mind. In the end, I want these human beings who are not strengthening their shame muscles. They are strengthening their love muscles and their acceptance muscles, so that’s what they’re feeling. Those are the kinds of things they are feeling.
How about a better question? Or at least a question that is leading them in the direction I’d like them to go. When do you feel love between your brother and you? When do you feel excited to be with him? When do you just accept him for exactly how he is? When I’m asking questions like that, then I’m promoting the things I want to see. And you can follow up with, “How in this situation could we have reacted in a way that promotes love and acceptance and that connection?” That’s where I want to go when so often I head in this other direction.
Then also, I think about how we point “appropriate shame” inward. If, like me, you are on a journey of acceptance and self-love…that’s what I’m always going for because it is the great challenge of being human…then no shame is acceptable in that situation. You shouldn’t be shaming yourself.
But it comes up and it arises and that’s okay. It’s normal. And what I find in thinking about this “appropriate shame” is that if I was outside myself and I was watching somebody else feel the same way I feel when I’ve done something wrong, I would be like, “Oh honey! Too much. Too much!” We’re so hard on ourselves. I get caught up in a lot of shame that is not “appropriate shame” (like any of it IS).
So that is a very interesting phrase that I happened upon. Just wanted to share it with you. Maybe you can look at a relationship in your life where you see it come up a lot. Whether it’s pointed at you, you feel it internally, or you’re trying to get somebody else to feel “appropriately shamed”…where is a place that you experience it and could start to think about what you want to experience then. What is it that you are going for? Are you going for shame? Or is that just habitual? Is it just something that we’ve done? Or ended up doing? Like me, in an attempt to teach empathy. Or do you want to be emphasizing love, and connection, and acceptance?
So have fun with that! Until next time.