Today, millions of individuals are still shamed into hiding, isolation, and desperation because of their religion, ethnicity, race, because they’ve been disadvantaged by poverty, age or illness, because of their size and shape, because of their chromosomally determined sexual orientation or because they are saddled with painful afflictions or a lack of attractiveness and sex appeal that others find off-putting.
Of course, we may feel ashamed if we act badly. In fact, the fear of being shamed may help us to behave well. But many of us, despite being well behaved, are the target of cruelly inflicted shame and merciless punishment. The pain of our shame, when we mismanage it, can adversely affect our subjective wellbeing our entire lives.
Even worse, it multiplies. We’re ashamed that we’re shamed. Why? Because we are social beings and accusation has the ring of truth. We feel guilty as charged—no matter what the charge is. We may feel frightened and mysteriously still—as if paralyzed. Or we may become aggressively and reflexively defensive, isolated and unapproachable. Either way, we dwell in self-exile.
In short, it’s shocking and agonizing to be innocent of bad behavior yet a victim of shame. It’s horrible to be ridiculed and insulted and it is humiliating to be pitied. Yet an embarrassed self-exile is self-annihilation, a retreat to an agonizing, brooding monologue, a provincially concocted, description of being in the world and a resignation from a life of creation.