I need us all to take a collective deep breath as we enter 2022. My brain cannot keep up with all the challenges, turmoil, grief, and changes that have occurred over the past two years. I am still processing memories and experiences from 2019. That was only last year, right? It has taken an unusual amount of strength and exertion to keep surviving. If you’re ending another year exhausted yet alive, you should be proud.
This time last year, I was committed to entering 2021 with lessons I learned in 2020, recognizing that I was in survival mode and neglecting to tend to my emotional wellbeing. I planned to honor my humanness by making changes and interrupting patterns, and I did. In theory, I knew it would be hard. In practice, I did not expect it to be so painful. It can feel extremely uncomfortable to divert from the path, be someone, and do something different, even though you’re trying to return to yourself. After each long thought-out decision that I put into action, waves of guilt, regret, sadness, and panic would follow. I cried so much for things that were good for me even though, historically, staying the same would cause me even more distress and overwhelm. Why did I feel this way? Why was it so hard for me to move forward or feel secure? Well, when you are socialized to conduct yourself a certain way and fill a particular role, the very tool to control your behavior creeps back up when you diverge… shame.
Shame has told me that I am unworthy, unlovable, incapable, inadequate, lazy, needy, weird, and other false notions about myself. The voice of shame comes from family, friends, school, work, strangers, media, religion, government, and potentially any interaction you have that shapes your identity. Shame is a self-conscious emotion, which affects how we see ourselves and how others perceive us. Unfortunately, too many of us have not had an accurate mirror reflected. We’re guided by “shoulds” and internalized false truths. We don’t all experience shame equally. Under capitalism, racism, patriarchy, and misogyny, weaponizing shame is normalized for social control. Shame can have a function, guiding us to feel remorseful about causing harm, but outside of that, shame-ridden feelings and beliefs in our everyday lives need replacing. We’re all learning and unlearning, navigating generations of perceived normalcy. We need less shame and more compassion together.
This year, I felt unproductive shame for:
- Finding joy doing “childish” things
- Setting boundaries with family and friends
- Quitting my job and having no desire to perform labor under someone else
- Not working and being depressed
- Taking my time to process my emotions
- Directly communicating instead of people-pleasing
- Naming my needs and being vulnerable
- Loving to do absolutely nothing
- Affirming my neurodivergence at 30
- Paying the Autism and ADHD tax
- Being socially selective
- Scheduling my social time
- Verbalizing my trauma in safe spaces
- Past mistakes
- Not knowing better
- Feeling tired all the time
- Feeling perpetual grief for the world
- Needing and asking for space
- Needing a lot of time to recharge
- Not having my home decluttered by New Year’s Eve
- Not attending family events due to adhering to COVID precautions
- Letting go
Feeling shame does not have to indicate that you are wrong, a bad person, unlovable, or unworthy, considering when looking at the context, the evidence does not point to those qualities about you. The shame that accompanies a different change can be alerting you that you’re embarking on uncharted territory, which is a new and unfamiliar process. Shame can represent losing society’s grip on your conscience and creating new meaning and programming. Acknowledge these feelings and celebrate your bravery. I am hesitant to do that often. Talking about it helps give the shame less power. Community helps us build new mirrors that reflect our legitimate qualities and values, which may fully encourage you and give you a radical wake-up call- both can be loving.
I hope 2022, at the very least, meets us all with compassion in small, surprising, and joyful ways, especially from the self. We’re doing our best; it’s all trial and error. We have a lot to learn and release; let shame be one of them.