The Heavy Burden that is Shame
Shame is the inner experience of being “not wanted.” It is feeling worthless, rejected, and cast-out. Guilt is believing that one has done something bad; shame is believing that one is bad. Shame is believing that one is not loved because one is not lovable. Shame always carries with it the sense that there is nothing one can do to purge its burdensome and toxic presence. Shame cannot be remedied; it must be somehow endured, absorbed, gilded, minimized or denied. Shame is so painful, so debilitating that persons develop a thousand coping strategies, conscious and unconscious, numbing and destructive, to avoid its tortures. Shame is the worst possible thing that can happen, because shame, in its profoundest meaning, conveys that one is not fit to live in one’s own community.
The Controlling Family
This is the family which is ruled by decree. It is the authoritarian, or the rigid, or the meddlesome family. The controlling family is one wherein any threat of deviation from the “way-it’s-supposed-to-be” is rapidly squashed. This is the family of “piano lessons, whatever,” of “you’ll do every vestige of your homework before you can talk to your friends,” of “don’t speak unless you are spoken to.” This is the family that is portrayed with clarity and passion in Dead Poets Society: the blindly ambitious father “knew” what was “best” for his son, imposed his paternal vision, never seeing his son’s true interests, resulting in catastrophic consequences for his son’s sense of worth and for his will to live. This is example of how the shame engendered by the parent’s domineering control can cause the child to believe he has no “self” worth preserving: as it becomes impossible to live according to his own desires, and as he cannot give his parent what he wants, he has no choice but to kill himself.
The controlling family carries deep shame. It’s “solution” is to make the exterior “perfect”, thus, hopefully obscuring and forgetting about the rot within. The parents in this family cannot tolerate any variation on their crystallized ideas and styles; hence they give little credence to the self-aware wishes of the individual to mobilize for self-fulfillment.
The shame-bound person clings to his image, after all it is the most positive thing he has going for him. He believes that within he has no real self, that he is not loved, or respected, or needed, so he must make himself loveable, appear respectable, and create the illusion of being indispensable to others. He works hard at it. He lives by his false-self, often bouncing between over- and under-inflated presentations of himself. He does not strive for self-fulfillment, only for self-image fulfillment. He is desperate to be needed by others around him,