Shame is something we’re taught.
It can be something directly taught to us when we’re kids or inadvertently taught by the actions of our caretakers, primarily father and mother.
Perhaps you were told that you’re not good enough, you’re not smart enough, or you should be doing something different. This can create a sense of shame.
Say you have a desire to become an expressive artist, but your parents want you to become a doctor. This creates a push towards feeling that what you are is not valued or seen as a successful attribute, but something that has to be removed.
When you experience situations like that as a child, it sort of forces you to stop believing in yourself and your own abilities because what you feel and what you’re being taught are not in alignment.
There’s also the shame of society. The material world we’re in says we’re supposed to hit certain marks at certain times; you’re supposed to finish college by 22, you’re supposed to get a partner, get married, have a kid, buy a house, have a car, etc. by a certain age. Social media and societal pressure give us a playbook of how to live life.
For example, if you live in a suburban area in America and you grew up in the mentality where everybody is “keeping up with the Joneses” where everybody has to have the same thing at the same time, then the individual little kid doesn’t have the ability to say, “Hey, that’s not what life is all about.”
We believe until a certain age that, “This is just the way life is,” which means that if we don’t fit into that scheme of things, and things don’t seem to pan out.
What is spun out of this is what I call negative self-expression. At a certain point, we make a distinction and think there’s something wrong with us because they don’t belong, fit in, have the same desires, or don’t view the world the same way.
When that distinction is made, the thought that follows is, “There must be something wrong with me.”
At this point, there’s this loop, almost like a record playing in the background, where we don’t believe that what we do, or what we want to do has any benefit to ourselves or our environment.
If you think of life as being an experience, everything we do, everybody we talk to, everything we touch, everything we eat is to have a certain experience. We get into a relationship to have a relationship experience, we eat spicy food to have a spicy food experience, etc.
I’ve been exploring this idea of negative pleasure a lot. I’ve found that there actually is an immense amount of pleasure in negative pleasure.
This means we can unconsciously seek things out that don’t work out for us in order to have the experience of being shamed or being neglected and, in doing so, we get to feel bad.
We get to feel small, rejected, unimportant, ostracized.
I’ve explained to my clients that when you dig into that feeling, it is actually very, very satisfying. Think about people who constantly get sick even though there’s nothing inherently wrong with them. I believe some part of their psyche enjoys the experience of being sick. They receive some kind of benefit from it.
When I started my career as a photographer in New York City in the mid-90s, I grew up in a very tight household.
It was a great household. I had loving parents and we didn’t go without. I was taken care of in all ways.
One of the things I didn’t know was the way my household was run was extremely rigid. We had to show up at a certain time and meet certain goals and standards. I didn’t think much of it because that was just the way my household was. There were certain rules that had to be followed, and we followed them, me and my sister.
When I went to America and first became an assistant within the fashion industry, this rigid way of working really, really benefited me because I was working underneath somebody else, completing tasks. I did it with the rigidity that I had learned when I was growing up.
An interesting thing happened when I went out on my own and started approaching magazines, advertising agencies, and clients about working with me as a photographer…
My rigidity didn’t work at all.
I realized you can’t convince somebody else to work with you, particularly in the art industry. People had to feel me out and make sure they wanted what I was representing. My rigidity came across in a very harsh way because I was all about getting things done and moving on.
In the first two or three years, I struggled tremendously with finding my groove. I also experienced pissing people off because when I got a job from certain clients, they told me to do it a certain way.
They told me how they wanted particular pictures taken or this job executed but I thought I knew better. I would often burn bridges. It happened five or six times before I really caught on to it. I would burn a bridge based on the way I applied myself to life and I wasn’t listening to what the client was needing.
It wasn’t until I went into therapy and started exploring this thing I was doing. I experienced negative pleasure in the sense that I wanted to be right. I needed to have it done the way I thought it was supposed to be done because that was always important. It wasn’t really important to satisfy the client.
If you’re ready to start your own exploration into healing shame, I’d love to work with you. Sign up for a free 30-minute consultation.