Shame and Identity
After reading my last article someone sent me the following comment:
When someone asks me what I do or a living, I feel a certain degree of shame. It feels like I am not only afraid of being judged by others, but I am afraid of judging my own identity.
Shame is a dangerous and destructive emotion and warrants further discussion. First the difference between guilt and shame:
Guilt is painful feelings arising from what we do.
Shame is painful feelings arising from what we are.
If we are feeling shame because of our job or career choice it is because we have identified with it. It is who we are.
Shame can be the result of both internal and external forces. One can be ashamed of their career because it conflicts with their morals, or alternatively because it evokes the disappointment of their parents, for example. One is internal shame; the other is from an external event or situation.
Shame is a much more toxic and insidious emotion than guilt. It permeates us because it is us. It’s much more difficult to untangle from.
It is very different to feel guilty about letting your parents down than to feel ashamed for becoming something they disapprove of.
When we are our job we can feel shame. When our job is instead something we do, but not who we are, at most we can feel guilt.
This is the darker side of the coin because there is no external escape. Eliminating the shame comes only from destroying the identity, and sometimes this destroys the person in the process. At the extreme is suicide, which many times is triggered by shame.
Let go of this identity – but slowly. If the shame is deep enough sometimes we cannot face it alone. Know thyself.
I think it is useful to explore the source of the shame, either on our own or with the help of a therapist. Once we acknowledge something and see it clearly, often it is not as intimidating.
Some people spend their whole lives battling shame without even realizing it.
If therapy and self-introspection are ineffective, we can always turn to the wisdom of Fight Club.
You are not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis. You are all singing, all dancing crap of the world.