Wednesday, 3 September 2014

What a shame

Why are there so many things we're ashamed to talk about? So many things we'd rather not mention for fear of the conse-quences?

It seems that for each thing we lose our shame about, something else shameful pops up to take its place. And the list of shameful topics is frighteningly long, even in the supposedly tolerant and open-minded 21st century.

Some things have become, well, not totally shameless but much more widely acceptable than they used to be. Part of the scenery at least. Like being gay, being transgender, having an abortion, or being an unmarried mum (funny how unmarried dads have never attracted the same scorn).

On the other hand the number of things people feel ashamed of is as long as your arm - addictions, mental problems, fatal accidents, rare illnesses, affairs, suicide attempts, sexual assault, eating disorders. And I'm sure there are plenty of things I've missed there.

Yet these are all commonplace human events or weaknesses, shared by thousands of people. Why so much shame? Why can't they just be talked about freely? Why the chronic anxiety and fear about sharing them with others? Is society really that intolerant, that scathing, that uncomprehending?

There are not that many things I'm personally ashamed of. I'm happy to reveal most of my odd quirks and eccentricities. There are one or two things I keep to myself, not out of shame but because I know they're probably incomprehensible to others and there's no point in mentioning them.

One thing I feel slightly ashamed of is not being honest enough with other people, being polite and agreeable rather than voicing my true thoughts and feelings. But hell, don't we all do that? If we were totally honest all the time, life would become a nightmare of insults, rejections and wounded emotions. I wouldn't fancy that.

24 comments:

Jenny Woolf said...

I think shame can be a useful emotion, and stop people behaving too badly - but nobody should be ashamed about things they can't help.

Nick said...

Jenny: That's true, though it would be better if they were motivated by common sense and thoughtfulness rather than shame.

Bijoux said...

I don't think it's always that were ashamed to talk about things, but that many times, it's really nobody else's business.

Nick said...

Bijoux: I think that's something different altogether. Deciding to keep silent because it's nobody else's business is different from feeling forced to keep silent because of other people's reactions.

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Nick,

Well, at times, we have to say that we should prefer a little more shame in order to rein people in from the worst of their excesses. Public behaviours these days can be unpleasant to say the least and the protagonists see nothing to be ashamed of whatsoever.

On the other hand, it is so true that some things have become forbidden topics when vigorous but reasoned debate might well aid enlightenment and tolerance. It is all a tricky balancing act.

Social lies are the oil of society.....without them the consequences are, as you say, too alarming to contemplate.

Nick said...

Jane and Lance: Unfortunately you're right that some people seem to be entirely shame-free and do absolutely anything they like regardless of other people's sensitivities.

Social lies are the oil of society indeed. But wouldn't it be fun to be telepathic and know what people are really thinking?

susie said...

I think I'm pretty open. I'm definitely open minded.

Helen Devries said...

Those who should be ashamed are not....and nothing in our societal code seems able to make them be so.

Nick said...

Susie: That's the impression I get. You don't rush to judgment, you give people a fair hearing.

Helen: My commenters are pointing out that there's another type of shame - shame over the little everyday actions like being rude or being selfish. And yes, maybe a little more of that kind of shame would be an advantage.

Anonymous said...

Great quote on your header!

Nick said...

Thank you, anonymous, whoever you may be!

Nick said...

I could also have mentioned the idea of "naming and shaming", which I'm not comfortable with. It's too much like a public lynching. Due legal process is the more civilised course.

kylie said...

being forever agreeable might seem pleasant but people actually sense the lack of authenticity. better to learn to disagree in a way that is polite but assertive.

how much sympathy and respect would you have for someone who had an affair? it might be common but it is way way off tolerated

Nick said...

Kylie: I suppose the main situations where I'm polite and agreeable are (a) at work where totally honest opinions of other people could get me the sack pretty quickly and (b) with my mother and sister who simply wouldn't understand some of my personal quirks and preferences.

I would have a lot of sympathy for someone in an affair if it was a response to what had become a frustrating and dissatisfying existing relationship. Which is why it shouldn't need to be shameful, even if it's emotionally fraught in other ways (although the lack of honesty ought to be shameful).

Rummuser said...

"I believe that there is a profound difference between shame and guilt. I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.

I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.

I don’t believe shame is helpful or productive. In fact, I think shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive, hurtful behavior than the solution or cure. I think the fear of disconnection can make us dangerous."

Brené Brown in From Daring Greatly:

I try not to suffer either emotions.

Nick said...

Ramana: I think both emotions are unhelpful if they just cause you to dwell anxiously on things that you did as well as you could at the time. That's an interesting definition of shame, though I would also say that it's an emotion that involves other people's imagined disapproval, as opposed to guilt which involves your own internal disapproval.

Like you, I seldom feel either emotion. I just do things as well as I can and then move on.

Ursula said...

If I hear one more time "and then I move on" (in so many responses here and on other blogs) I might top myself - a form of moving on I suppose.

"Move on"? Pull the other one. Sometimes we are stuck. Live with it.

Unlike some of you I do feel guilt and shame. With reason.

U


Nick said...

Ursula: But I do just move on, unlikely as it may seem. I really don't dwell on the past at all. In fact my memory is so crap I don't even remember most of the past. The only things I'm stuck with are my disappointments and missed opportunities, and even those don't figure in my thinking very much.

Wisewebwoman said...

I wish the past didn't haunt me so much. Truly. It's lessening in intensity for which I am relieved but still.....

My memory can be acute but sometimes I think maybe distorted. And I do feel an echo of shame when past events of humiliation paralyzed me.

For not speaking up or acting.

XO
WWW

Nick said...

www: I'm sorry the past haunts you. It makes it harder to enjoy the present. But you shouldn't blame yourself for not speaking up or acting, it's natural to feel emotionally and physically paralysed in shocking situations.

Secret Agent Woman said...

I was gong to talk abut the difference between shame and guilt from a psychological perspective, but I see Ramana has scooped me.

I'm not sure I've ever met someone who was ashamed of having a fatal accident.

Nick said...

Agent: I think I was a bit ambiguous there. I actually meant ashamed of causing a fatal accident. I can't imagine what it's like to live with that knowledge.

Liz Hinds said...

Now in Zac's we have to stop people talking about their addictions, mental illness and suicide attempts. It can become too competitive.

Nick said...

Liz: It's getting a bit like that generally, isn't it? I can't open a newspaper without seeing some candid confession of personal failings, each one more lurid and shocking than the last. I think we've already got the message - life can sometimes be sheer hell.