Craig ‘Snake’ Bloomstrand is a US-based consultant for BAAM and the leader emeritus of the Mankind Project. His monthly column previews our Wisdom Track podcast, next episode debuting at 4pm on Saturday 13 February.
The degree of shame I experienced as a child was minor, yet if I lost a fight or struck out at bat on the baseball field, I felt the hot blush of embarrassment. Urged on by disappointed teammates or friend’s insults, embarrassment could bloom into full-blown self-judgment and shame causing me to question my worth. Although the harshest criticism I suffered was largely self-administered, I’ve come to understand and respect the seductive undertow of shame.
I’ve endured more than one lapse of judgment, enough to fully appreciate the value of the three Rs: regret, remorse, and release.
Regret – examine the impact of your actions on yourself and others.
Remorse – are your actions congruent with how you want to be perceived?
Release – be accountable for your words and actions make amends if appropriate. Do so with compassion and humility. Learn the lesson. Accept you are human, and not a god.
Then move forward.
The shameful find ‘release’ difficult to achieve. Unwilling or unable to forgive and move forward, believing regret and remorse aren’t simply the result of a lapse of judgment but solid proof of a deep flaw in their character. For the shameful, poor judgment or regrettable behaviour becomes a liability that increases shame and rarely transforms into a lesson learned and reconciled. The unavoidable consequence of chronic self-judgment and compounded shame, is suffering.
The shameless suffer premature release. Remorse and regret remain minor considerations, seen as little more than inconvenient obstacles in the path of a self-centred agenda. A guilty conscience is seldom found among the shameless. Instead they dismiss or justify the impact of their behaviour on others convinced the rules or social norms that apply to everyone else simply don’t apply to them. Eventually the shameless experience disconnection.
Shameful and shameless represent extremes. Thankfully, the majority of us build a relationship with shame that falls more in the middle of a very broad spectrum.
Feeling shame is nature’s way of saying, “You may want to reconsider.”
Remorse, regret and release become valuable qualities when applied with equal amounts of accountability, humility and forgiveness, critical qualities representing components of a moral compass wise individuals use to navigate their lives.
Biography, previous trauma, and temperament influence and shape our relationship with shame from the cradle to the grave. Invite it in or bar the door; sooner or later shame will insert itself into each life.
I grew up in rarified air. My Mother, a pioneer in the nineteen-fifties with regard to the subtleties’ of child development, strictly enforced a prohibition on shame in our home. We weren’t permitted to shame the dog for bad behaviour, much less one another.
Our home may have been a shame-free zone but the world seldom conformed to Mom’s rules.
In the fifties an accepted method of dealing with a child’s first attempts at swearing was to wash their mouths out with soap. Dial soap for minor words, and lava soap for the big words. The message was clear, “You have a filthy mouth.” This shaming punishment left an impression. Years later many can still taste the soap.
Convincing children they are bad, dirty or deserving of punishment is a poor strategy if the goal is confident, respectful and ethical social behaviour.
By contrast my childish experiments with swearing earned a withering glance and a challenge from my Mother. “You have a larger vocabulary than that, certainly you can express yourself without swearing.” She offered high expectations and encouragement instead of shame.
Mom measured the behaviour of others using her personal ethics and morality as a yardstick, but stopped short of judging those she disagreed with as bad people with little inherent value. She accepted people make mistakes and believed the manner in which people cleaned up their mistakes was a more accurate measure of their character.
Shameful, shameless, or those of us living somewhere in the middle are wise to consider feeling shame as a reliable signal, telling us to examine our behaviour, and not an indictment of our character, or measure of our worth.
Clinging to the belief we are inherently bad, dirty or deserving of punishment is a destructive strategy if the goal is confident, respectful and ethical social behaviour.
Remorse and regret are critical considerations when a healthy human conscience is the goal. When partnered with release mistakes become lessons learned. Along with your moral compass carry the three Rs in your pocket and practice.
Learn to tame the shame that comes your way and build a conscience you can rely on.