A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon an article announcing that researchers have developed an “emotional atlas” of the human body. With the help of participants in three different countries, the scientists have mapped what basic emotions feel like in the body. The photo accompanying the article (below) shows the areas of increased / decreased sensation in the body in response to various emotions – basically, an emotional heat map. It’s beautiful and thought (and emotion) provoking: as you look at the warm overall glow of happiness, the icy blue of depression, the clenched-fist fire of anger, you can almost feel each one of them in turn.
So as I was having a wonderful (and almost meditative – I think I’m getting there!) time looking at the different photos, it dawned on me why shame is such a tricky emotion to deal with. Have a look – you see it too, right?
Yes, you guessed it – shame is Spiderman.
That explains so much, because shame, my friends, is not a normal, run-of-the-mill emotion. No no no, that would be way too easy. Shame is a superhero emotion, and one superpower it definitely shares with Spiderman is that it’s really, really sticky. Also, nobody is immune to it; the only known way of being completely shame-proof is to be a sociopath (not always appealing, unless you’re Kingpin). We all battle it every day.
So how do we devise our battle plan against Spidershame?
First of all, let’s be clear on what we’re fighting. Shame is, according to Dr Brené Brown (have I told you that she’s amazing and her books should be taught in schools? Yes, I’m a groupie)
“the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging”.
Sounds familiar? I know – ouch. I’ll just give you a second to recover.
Doesn’t sound familiar? In that case, shame is probably playing hide and seek with you, but don’t be fooled – it’s disguised as that voice inside your head that reacts to a mistake with “you’re such an idiot” or “you will never get this right”, or “who are you kidding? you know there’s no way you will ever succeed”. Shame hides behind your need to get everything just right, or that feeling that any mistake you make is monumental and that failure is not acceptable, because if you fail then everything is lost. You may also know it as the “inner critic” I talked about in a previous post. In short, any internal voice telling you that you’re not enough is shame-powered.
To take on Spidershame, we have to remember that it’s a superhero, so it needs secrecy to survive. Like all superheroes, it has a secret identity: behind its menacing, red and blue Lycra-clad exterior is a scared kid who craves acceptance and human connection and whose only desire is to keep us safe and connected. Sadly, in his (or her) mind, that means keeping us from ever being brave, because being brave is not safe. So the moment we try to get brave – do something different, stand out, try something new – on comes the Lycra suit and all hell breaks loose.
Lesson 1 of the Defence Against Superheroes Manual is that we have to pierce through that veil of secrecy and help our superhero take off his cape: to do that, we need to recognize shame when it happens and speak it. It sounds simple enough, but it’s a life-long battle (like most successful franchises, this one has sequel after sequel after sequel, and that Defence Against Superheroes Manual is like the Harry Potter series – ever-expanding!). At the same time, I am by now absolutely sure that there’s no getting to Spring Mind without tackling Spidershame, so I for one feel like I can’t avoid the battle. I’ll be sending you news from the trenches – bring it on, Peter Parker!
Copyright: kudryashka / 123RF Stock Photo
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