The Only Useless Emotion

Let it come and go through your life, but don't let it stop you from truly living. Like thoughts, shame only has power based on our reaction to it. Otherwise it is just another emotion. A side effect of being human.
12/17/2015 11:59 am ET Updated Dec 17, 2016
lonely young woman crying on...
lonely young woman crying on...

We are born with clean slates. A fresh perspective on the world just waiting to embrace our surroundings and be molded by what we see, taste, touch, and hear. We are born with curiosity, potential, love, and a desire for self-preservation. One thing we are not born with? Shame. However, from the moment we start building an awareness of the world around us, shame makes its first inroads into our self-identities.

To me, shame is the only useless emotion. The arguments for happiness and joy are clear. They allow us to enjoy life. To experience pleasure. To feel alive. Even sadness and fear have their necessities. Sadness makes us appreciative of the good things in life and fear protects us from potential harm. Most experts in human psychology would agree that it's important to let yourself feel a wide range of emotions. Being able to express ourselves and truly experience the mental and physical manifestations within is what fundamentally makes us human. However, I can't get on board with shame.

It's not because I haven't experienced it myself (I have and do too often). My problem with shame stems from the fact I have never seen good come from it. It's one thing to feel guilt about something...to feel bad about an action. But to feel you are inherently bad as a person? That seems unreasonable.

Unfortunately, our society is one that perpetuates shame. In fact, whole industries thrive on people feeling bad about who they are. People feel shame about their looks, their weight, their salary, the relationships they're in, the mistakes they've made, the things they've said, the things they've done, and even the things they haven't done. They're bombarded with products, diets, cleanses, books, and self help guides to 'fix' the things that are apparently very wrong with them. People who feel good about themselves have become outliers.

Shame is pervasive. When you initially feel it, it takes a hold of you and embeds itself into the lens in which you view yourself. It starts a spiral hopelessness within you that is hard to break free from. It causes cyclical thinking. Some people may even start to feel shame for thinking so negatively about themselves to begin with.

Shame is unproductive. It does nothing to counteract the feelings of despair it causes and gives you no motivation for change. It only bolsters the mental anguish you feel towards yourself. It is the single most hindering thing that can stop you from achieving success, growth, and personal happiness. When we feel ashamed of ourselves, it's like we've already given up hope for our future selves. We've written ourselves off as failures and continue to wallow in the secrets and flaws we harbor.

Shame is deceptive. It seems useful on its face. Without it the world would collapse into an anarchy of people unhinged and indifferent to the consequences of their behavior. But that's not the case. If you've done something bad, feel remorse. Feel guilt. Feel sorry for what you've done. Don't feel sorry for who you are. Don't feel shame. Especially for things that are intrinsically human...like making mistakes, not having the perfect body, or for not meeting societies unachievable high standards.

Shame is useless because you can't change who you innately are. And frankly, you're not as bad as you think. You're human.

With that said, because you're human, you're bound to feel shame at some point. The key is too not judge yourself for it and not let it engulf your passion for life, love, happiness, and progress. Treat shame with grace. Let it come and go through your life, but don't let it stop you from truly living. Like thoughts, shame only has power based on our reaction to it. Otherwise it is just another emotion. A side effect of being human.