Choosing Freedom

To paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt, no one can cause us to feel humiliation or shame without our consent. Conversely, withdrawing our consent can end shame-based pain and paralysis immediately. That's because the real cause of humiliation isn't being judged or attacked by others, it's living in any way that conflicts with your real values.

For example, there are cultures in which women are terrifically ashamed if they don't have wooden plates in their lips or metal rings elongating their necks. You probably aren't wearing either accessory, but this doesn't make you feel humiliated—and probably wouldn't even if you were to visit one of these societies—because you don't adhere to those standards of beauty.

On the other hand, many American women feel deeply humiliated if they have more fat than a ballpoint pen, even though some cultures idealize a hefty figure. Standards of beauty are arbitrary. Body shame exists only to the extent that our physiques don't match our own beliefs about how we should look. Change the belief "I should be ashamed" to, say, "I should be kind"?and humiliation disappears, leaving us empowered rather than paralyzed.

Humiliation Elimination

Align Your Actions With Your Convictions
If your behavior violates your own moral standards, humiliation is a natural consequence. There are two strategies for avoiding this. Strategy number one is obvious: Don't do anything you think is wrong or fail to do anything you consider morally necessary. I'm guessing you're a well-meaning person who's trying to follow the rules, but if you're having persistent trouble "being good" or if your shame is triggered because of what you are rather than what you do, adopt strategy number two: Stop trying to change your behavior; instead, rethink your beliefs.

I first understood the power of this shift after my son's diagnosis. Although I desperately feared the humiliation of having an "imperfect" child, something in me resisted giving him up. So, unable to bring my actions into line with my beliefs, I gradually brought my beliefs into line with my actions. I began questioning the assumption that people with Down syndrome are imperfect. Like anyone else, they are perfectly themselves, as nature made them. Maybe the real defect lay in the belief that such loving and lovable people were defective.

This way of thinking felt strange to me but very right. As soon as I tried it on, I felt my humiliation begin to evaporate. I've since heard many clients describe this feeling after flipping a belief on its head. Many have spent years paralyzed by the thought, I feel so humiliated. There must be something wrong with me. Things begin to move the moment they try thinking, I feel so humiliated. Maybe there's something wrong with my beliefs. (Note: Humiliation won't disappear unless your new attitude is genuinely okay for you. Merely excusing behavior you feel in your heart to be wrong only increases shame.)


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