Shame, the Presidency and Healing Our America
It is ugly! It hurts; it’s toxic; it’s destructive. It threatens our joy and it gets in the way of us deeply connecting with others. When I was gripped by it, I wanted to die because I was so afraid that I wasn’t good enough. For years I was engulfed in it.
Men walk a strange tightrope with it because any sign of weakness elicits a great fear in them — fear of being called a “a pussy,” “a fag,” “a wuss,” “weak,” and “not man enough.”
I’m talking about the destructive power of SHAME.
It is clear that shame has penetrated our larger world stage. The depths to which our leaders are secretly driven by shame and use it to manipulate our society shows the innumerable ways that shame twists and perverts politics–and consequently, our lives.
All dressed up in sexist, racist, homophobic and discriminatory rhetoric like, “Make America Great Again,” it is difficult to directly observe and identify the shame that politicians are saturated in. Sometimes it’s even hard for us to see how shame lives inside us!
So try this:
Turn off the T.V., put down the phone, move away from the computer and close your eyes for a few minutes. Relax, breathe deeply … and allow yourself to have an embodied experience of what you are feeling, talking about, reading in the blogs and social media, and perseverating about with regard to our current political climate. If you are like me, regardless of your political persuasion, you have experienced some level of shame or embarrassment as you reflect on the state of American politics today.
How shame is acted out is a clue to its hush-hush strategy. But many of us have watched enough Oprah and read enough Brene’ Brown to know the subtle and not so subtle stink of shame. Today, more than ever, it’s crucial to find out what makes folks tick rather than judge and shame them. We hide our shame and unfortunately, it’s the secrecy that gives shame all its destructive power.
Here is another thing to know about shame: We are not born with it. At some point during the socialization process somebody’s shame was projected onto us, probably when we were too young to know what the heck it was, and we absorbed it like a sponge. Then it became an emotional twist within us, which led us to internalize the message that we were not good enough or that there was something wrong with us.
The process is similar today in the political realm. Many of us are absorbing the shame oozing from powerful political leaders–and thinking there is something wrong with us. It’s not our shame; it’s theirs.
Observing the various assortment of politicians, we are frequently immersed in displays of arrogance, disrespect, grandiosity and know-it-all attitudes. Sadly, we continue to think of them as sovereign, confident leaders who have the intellect, decency, savvy and moral fiber to save us. But history is plagued with fallen leaders whose projection of power and confidence won elections (remember Hitler?), but who turned out to be self-serving dictators and moral midgets who cared more about power than human beings.
When shame appears bigger than life, it is usually because the person was brutally shamed growing up, such that it contaminated their true human essence — leaving them no choice but to dissociate from it. This is why I think empathy must be the antidote to shame. Sharing our shame with someone who can empathize is healing for everyone.
Everything terrible is something that needs our love.” Rilke Maria Rainer
Shame can cause sickness and depression. It is a result of this capacity for self-protection. Others become grandiose, egotistical, condescending, threatening and angry as a compensation for shame. They bully everyone in their path.
Our own anger toward “the establishment” can have a hypnotic effect. Clever, self-serving politicians have ways of mobilizing this deep dissatisfaction and then selling it back to us in ways that serve them. But this leave us spinning in fear and anger about our rights, health and safety, our children and elders, our planet and privileges as American citizens. This is not only disgusting and heart-breaking, it’s also oppressive, cruel and truly misses the mark.
Politicians who possess a mixture of shame and cleverness can sneer at the boundaries of decency and break those boundaries because that’s what sustains their self-protection. But this kind of self-protection displayed by someone with the power of the Presidency has the ability annihilate us along with the standing of our nation among other nations.
Hear me on this: What could potentially hurt us does not hurt the shame-based politician occupying the highest Executive Branch of the U.S. government because he doesn’t own it. Therefore, it doesn’t cost him anything to defile and disgrace the reputation of the Presidency. The true cost to him is external — pessimism, fits of blame, threats and rage at those who disagree with his agenda, which serves his self-protection. However, the internal costs are huge — he gets to create infinite distractions and we get to “not see” the depths of his terror and shame. We get to see and experience the residue–the repulsive, love-less, selfish, fear-driven and destructive ways shame is acted out. Once it lands on us, we need protection against shame’s power to kill us!
A distinguishing factor of a shame-driven person is clinging to power. They have no taste for collaboration, compromising, humility, acknowledging flaws, or displaying vulnerability, which they view as weakness. They evoke fear and insecurity in others and then designate themselves as the “Champion” who will cure the sickness and ills that they fluently manufacture. Shame-driven politicians are masters of manipulation!
“What is not brought to consciousness, comes to us as fate.” Carl Jung
So who am I to openly suggest that self-aggrandizing politicians carry secret shame? I am citizen-therapist and someone who has never fit the status-quo and thus lives on the margins of society, navigating intersections of race, gender and sexual orientation where it is a daily challenge to maintain emotional and psychological health (sanity), especially in these troubling political times. I grew up in Louisiana, pre-Civil Rights, and what is happening in U.S. politics today and how it is affecting the lives of ALL Americans deeply concerns me. It has been my calling and training to help folks identify powerful master emotions like shame, arrogance, grandiosity, anger and their debilitating effects on them–so that I can help them heal.
The great fact is: shame-based folks are raging against their own shame, inner sense of powerlessness and fear of failure.
Shame creates a narrow-minded type of leadership that encourages its followers to cling to a narrow identity, whether an extreme nationalism, ethnic identity, racial, or religious identity — or being part of the 1% who controls most of the wealth. However, a new hope can emerge with expanding our identity, increasing our awareness of what makes folks do what they do, and intentionally developing a practice of spirituality and empathy.
A daily practice of spirituality and empathy grounded in compassion involves curiosity and wonder. It means realizing and celebrating that we are all connected to each other by a divine power greater than us. Brene’ Brown once wrote, “The dark does not destroy the light, it defines it.” Today, let’s commit to move toward the light! There are many women and men worldwide living a life of wholeheartedness, integrity, joy, happiness, love and intention.
“Drum sounds rise on the air, and with them my heart. A voice inside the beat says, I know you’re tired, but come. This is the way.” Rumi
Loving in Connection,
Paula M. Smith
Marriage Scholar | Certified Imago Therapist | Published Author | Seminar Leader | Speaker | Citizen
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1005 Main St., Suite 1208;
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