Shame and fear seem to be at the root of so many of our behaviors and choices. We're programmed to hide from shame and react protectively out of fear. All the hiding and reactivity create immense suffering in our lives. Fear and shame fuel our inner chaos, incessant looping, our judgement and our aloneness. It's such hard work to re-train ourselves to slow down and turn around and begin to take an interest in the private, dark crevices of our own inner worlds, where we guard our shame and our fear. But it's that work that will save us from what I think of as unnecessary suffering (some suffering comes with the job of being human). Your shame and your fear are pointing you precisely in the direction where you most need to pay attention, and to move closer.
Very few people spontaneously and joyfully raise their hands to do this work. We only look at our shame and fear when we have no other choice. When our protective structures are destroyed or fall apart, we find ourselves exposed and we become more acquainted with the fear and shame we've been traveling with. If this is you - if you are an avoider of shame and fear - I want you to know you are not alone. We are all born with wiring that supports avoidance of all things shameful. We don't want exposure! Our nervous systems remind us viscerally that exposure will likely mean exclusion from the pack -- and small animals with no pack don't make it in the wild. We are absolutely wired to fit in, to seek acceptance (and love), because that is our best chance for safety. We don't want to die.
If you're reading this, you're likely an adult. If you're an adult, that means your childhood is behind you. You're more empowered now, physically larger and not dependent on your pack for survival in the ways that you were as a child. You have new freedoms you've likely never fully appreciated. Left unchecked, the parts of you that were deeply imprinted with shame and fear still carry old beliefs about being bad, worthless and unlovable. And the protective parts that were enlisted to stand guard over those young vulnerable imprints continue to flash warning lights and poke you on and off throughout each day, reminding you not to out yourself from the pack. "Not safe! Not safe!" Your protective system has not not been updated about your progress through time, out of childhood and into empowerment. Your past continues to show up in your present like it's still highly relevant, obscuring your access to all the riches that safety brings: rest, connection, open-heartedness, healing, creativity. It's time for an update.
Therapy is designed to help us move the past out of the present, so we can grieve and celebrate our histories and actually arrive here now, where life is currently happening. In the present we can see and feel ourselves, the world and other people in powerfully enriching ways. We can still rely on our old safety systems whenever we need to - those protectors will always be on standby, ready to save us if they deem it necessary. But what a gift it is to our nervous systems, to be able to rest sometimes - to land fully in the present once in a while, where we can watch the sun set in a beautiful, vast sky that holds us always, so close.
If you could use some help getting your past out of your present, let us know.
Written by Jessica Sorci, LMFT, PMH-C