Disarming the Power of Shame
Shame is the painful feeling that tells us that something about us is unwanted or unworthy of love or belonging.
Shame is experienced most acutely when we are seen by the eyes of another. We’ve all had those moments where something we attempted to keep hidden about ourselves was exposed. Our face might become red, our bodies warm up, we avoid eye contact, our stomach drops, and we become watchful.
While we tend to think watching pornography will influence us to experience shame, the reverse is also true. The more we experience shame, the more we will be drawn to pornography. Although men and women do pursue compulsive sexual choices for pleasure and their corresponding neurochemicals, it’s worth considering that we can also pursue them for the purpose of self-condemnation. All of us know the experiences in life where we feel shame, but rather than turning toward love or self-care, we turn toward a behavior or a substance that we know will amplify the toxic inner critic’s voice.
One of the most enjoyable interviews I’ve read in recent years came from an interview with Andy Casagrande, the cameraman from Discovery Channel’s notorious show Shark Week. Casagrande was asked what in the world he does when a great white shark is swimming at him. He answered that he must do something counterintuitive: swim directly at the shark with the camera. This action seems to trigger a defense mechanism in the shark. “Now they’re like, ‘Wait a second, everything in the ocean swims away from me.’ The reality is that if you don’t act like prey, they won’t treat you like prey.”
Casagrande’s statement has a lot to teach us about disarming the power of shame: We should face it.
Most of us attempt to run from shame. The main problem is that the more we run, the stronger it becomes. Here’s why: running from shame legitimizes its messages about us. Its accusations about how ugly we are, how damaged we are, and how we will never change, feel more and more true with every attempt we make to escape them. Shame carries with it an open and shut case of evidence to prove its claims. It meticulously documents every one of our choices and flaws and stands ready to offer us that inventory anytime we fear being exposed, or worse, anytime we attempt to change.
Here are 3 ways we can begin to disarm the power of shame:
1. Be kind.
Devoid of care, our sexual stories do not change. Turning to face our shame with kindness disarms its paralyzing power. The more we hate ourselves, the more we tend to seek out behaviors that reinforce our negative core beliefs. In extending kindness however, we allow the parts of our story that we despise to become whole.
2. Be curious.
The sexual shame we experience and the sexual themes that arouse us may have important clues to tell us about our story and our path to healing. Additionally, compulsive sexual behavior can be a re-enactment of childhood sexual abuse. Sadly, attempting to stop porn use gets all the attention at the cost of healing the emotional pain that drives pornography use, to begin with.
3. Be brave.
At the height of our shame, we often conclude that the truth of our behavior is a barrier to being loved. Confronting our choices and allowing a trusted ally or professional counselor to know our story allows shame to become a bridge to connection.
Confronting our choices and journeying with others isn’t just effective at curbing pornography use, it’s an important muscle to grow in all areas of our life.
Jay Stringer is a licensed mental health counselor from Seattle, WA. He is the author of Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing. The book is based on a research study he completed on nearly 4,000 men and women exploring the key drivers of pornography use. To pre-order Jay’s book or to get a free chapter visit his website: jay-stringer.com/book
This article was originally published here at fightthenewdrug.org.