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Tackling Shame: 'Shame's Primary Power Is to Make Us Afraid of Being Vulnerable.' Part I

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They say ignorance is bliss. Writing this, I wonder for a moment if primitive man ever had the endurance or daring to concern himself with any emotion that wasn't more than an adrenaline-fueled reaction to drive his fight or flight reflex. I am curious -- if he had a choice, would he prefer experiencing the temporary fear of being chased by a hungry pack of wolves or living now in the relative safety of modern society where fear can impact the length and breadth of your life? Being eaten by a beast is nothing compared to being savaged by shame.

Today, our common fears continue to bind people together as one while the isolating nature of shame persists in dividing us from one another, turning us into such strangers that we can hardly recognize our own reflections in the mirror. Our only recourse is to reach back to our younger selves and remember how we were, where we began and who we daydreamed of being.

As a young boy, I often fantasized about the future. I couldn't wait to see the man I would become. I'd be as big as a mountain, with dreams as tall as trees, comforted by vast hopes that stretched far beyond my small shadow. Those were innocent days.

Then one bleak October afternoon in 1978, the color from my cheeks ran down my legs into my argyle socks. I had become a disembodied boy, a living ghost with a heartbeat and an ashen face. At the age of 7, my father kidnapped and tortured me for a year. Joy faded into midnight. And all that remained of the boy I had been before was a faint memory of hope. Then just as suddenly as I had been abducted I was rescued, resurrected from purgatory's shores. But I soon discovered I wasn't free. Because of one man's sins, I had become shackled to shame.

It is a challenging journey transforming from a victim into a survivor. The long road to freedom leads many down the winding paths of fear, through the dusky cliffs of self-doubt and remembered nightmares, detouring often into depression, self-deception and the ever constant state of sickly green panic and paralyzing shame. That was one of the toughest stretches of road I ever traveled.

Shame makes us slaves to what we hope the world wants us to be and servants to our insecurity-driven perceptions, shaping us into the likeness of our inborn fears and instilled traumas. Shame's primary power is to make us afraid of being vulnerable.

Tackling shame in all its prowess isn't a mundane Saturday afternoon task sitting in front of the television, beer nuts in one hand, suds in the other thinking about it during the commercials. It is a lifelong bout. A battle for equilibrium, harmony, and self-acceptance.

The stakes couldn't be any higher. Win and your life is your own, live life freely, confidently and vulnerably. Lose and condemn yourself to grow cold. Numb. Emotionally dead to the world.

Therefore, how do we combat such a virulent force -- a plague to passion, a hazard to healthy living and an infection to all inspiration?

First, we must arm ourselves. Courage is your strongest ally, a necessity in dealing with such primal fears. Bringing courage to bear when uncovering childhood abuse, confronting deception, heartbreak, and betrayal or tackling traumatic memories will empower you to speak honestly and openly from the heart, giving you the stamina to stab through any veil of self-deceptions; giving voice to your innermost thoughts and feelings; and shedding light on all the secret places shame has secluded itself away, secure in its seat where it continues to scare you.

Practicing the use of courage in your daily life from the decisions you make and the actions you take will not only make you a better person, but they will make you strong enough to face the worst parts of yourself. Then nothing in your internal life while you reflect, remember and grow will ever have the power or poison to disarm you or digest you. From then on, in your story, you will be the hero.

Joining courage in this war to claim and create your best, happiest self is vulnerability. Vulnerability is the greatest weapon. It serves as the bane to shame. Its promise of openness exposes you to both pleasure and pain, joy and creativity, love and loss. Being open and vulnerable is the first and last defense in this fight.

The beauty of vulnerability is in its expression. Its power resides in embracing it. By being unafraid to be vulnerable you will shrink shame, make a feast of fear and starve insecurities. All that will remain is a resilient, fearless spirit, ready to risk, daring to love, challenging life to live. You will no longer be designed by the world -- instead, emerging as you define yourself, freely awakening the complete expression of you.

Vulnerability breeds beauty. Shame gives birth to contempt. Love who you are and live life!

(Next week, in Part II, we continue by looking at the best techniques to combat shame and reclaim your sense of self, confidence and joy.)

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