Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.
I now understand why toxic words and behaviors from tortured, unhealed people can be so daunting to overcome for children and adults. Pained others’ ability to pour out and twist shame into something that now seems like yours can be quite stunning. To the extent you ingest the poisonous words of another that are not aligned with your deepest truths, you become a shame container, a body filled with other people’s projected nastiness mixed with your own mistakes. The grains of truth in what is spoken can become the catalysts for change.
Several years ago, I spent a hot afternoon with my two young children at the zoo. They rode in the wooden Red Flyer wagon during most of our visit. We loved seeing the animals. Some people became a challenge to observe. As we walked through the exit gates, I noticed a woman surrounded by children. She was drinking from one of those supersized cups they sell at the zoo and many amusement parks. A little boy, who only came up to her knees, kept reaching up. I assumed he was her son. He cried, wanting a sip of her beverage. She hit him hard across the face and roared angry words at him. He flinched, cried harder, but remained undaunted in his pleas for a drink. His arms continued to stretch towards the cup. She roared and hit him hard again.
I stopped. At this safe distance, I yelled, “Can I help you?”
She roared at me, “CAN YOU F**KING HELP ME?!?!”
“Yes, Can I help you?”
“CAN YOU F**KING HELP ME?”
I observed that she had stopped striking the little boy’s head. She had turned full on towards me. Sweat trickled down my back. My sunglasses felt very hot on my face. The heat from the sun seemed to have intensified. I remained motionless.
“Yes, Because I know what it’s like to be that Angry!!”
She roared, “YOU KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE THIS ANGRY!”
“Yes, I do.”
She was me. I was her. Behind closed doors, I had been the little boy too.
I then turned towards my children. She continued to roar these words at my back. I pulled the wagon.
“Some adults are hurting inside. It’s not okay for them to hit their children. She has a lot of anger inside her body. Children are not for hurting.”
Both of them nodded with wide eyes. I could not shield my children from witnessing violence towards other children. I painfully remembered the one-time private striking of my own daughter on her bottom when I was enraged.
As I drove by the exit area, I saw her sitting, leaning against a wall in some shade with the children sitting around her. The little boy held the supersized cup. The woman’s face and whole body had shifted into a picture of crestfallen exhausted defeat. I felt my heart clench. Internal words channeled through me from beyond my mind as I looked out my vehicle window at her.
A silent prayer for her healing and my own. A fervent mantra for the life of that little boy.
“May you find peace. God is love. God is love. May you find peace.”
A chill tingled through my body. Goosebumps appeared on my arms. The witness, a courageous voice for lifting the shame, interrupting the behavior, awakening a new possible pathway for her and for me emerged.
Did that little boy become a grown man filled with the corrosion of shame, limited in his ability to change, to break free?
Some of you may have heard the story of the monk walking with his student. A stranger approaches the monk. This unknown person taunts the monk for several miles of the walk. The monk never responds. Finally, the stranger walks away. The student, puzzled that the monk never reacted in anger or defense, asks him “Why did you not react? The monk looks at the student. “When someone gives you a gift and you do not accept it, who does the gift belong to?”
Pulling apart another person’s pontificating words and actions from your deeper truths can become a lifetime process if you’ve had many unkind words spoken to you or hurtful deeds done by others including parents, bosses, teachers, principals, schoolyard bullies, or even people you thought were your friends. This process can become enduring work to see who you really are, to grow, and evolve yourself beyond the shaming words and deeds of others.
You can shed these limiting, demeaning beliefs of what probably became your inner critic. This shame belongs to all those other people, not inside of you. You can hold the hand of your inner critic, walk her towards the ocean, and set her free to be cleansed in the saltwater waves. You no longer hold the responsibility of cleaning up other people’s cruel words and behavior. See the grains of your imperfect humanity from a place of deep compassion alongside the beauty of the jewels that have formed from your life-giving choices. All that remains can be forgiven as you stretch towards love-inspired actions, words spoken from the heart, and a quiet, gentle presence in our world.
Reclaim your dignity, that pearl of your beautiful humanity that knows your own spoken words and deeds. See yourself in this new light of truth and wholeness. The silent witness inside of you knows the deepest truth of who you are, how you can be tender, kind, awake, aware. You can breathe, pause, feel your heart’s truth before you speak or simply walk bravely towards your dreams, your highest and best life. The round whitish pink tiny sea jewels remain firm, strong, resilient, and beautiful. Collect all the oysters from your beach hike; gently pry them open to discover those pearls that formed by a healing coating around the grit of negative experiences. Allow these beauties to shine in the palm of your hand, to affirm this natural creation that is your wholehearted, broken-opened life.
You are free.