What if there was a remedy for shame?
What if we were all capable of administering it?
What if we all did?
My sister shamed me today. Not directly. It was a share on Facebook, a passive-aggressive slap of her sister’s face:
Marriage isn’t 50-50.
Divorce is 50-50.
Marriage has to be 100-100. It isn’t dividing it in half, but giving it everything you got!
The quote seems innocuous and about marriage, but I am in the process of a divorce, and my sister has already made it clear to me that she believes divorce is a sin, no matter what the reasons. She’s also said she loves me very much anyway. Which makes me wonder, shouldn’t she take my feelings into consideration and be careful of how she declares her judgment? Shouldn’t she do this because she loves me? Or maybe just because I’m human and for that reason alone deserve to be treated as if I matter. Shouldn’t she have a little compassion?
Compassion. “A feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” (Dictionary.com)
What if the remedy for shame is as simple and accessible as having compassion? Shame is a damaging, painful emotion that rests at the core of feelings such as fear and anxiety, and is present in psychological disorders such as depression, PTSD, and eating disorders, to name a few. It is what keeps victims of abuse silent and it damages self-esteem and encourages self-hatred. But what if the world reached out to those who are hurting and offered “deep sympathy and sorrow” and a “strong desire to alleviate the suffering,” instead of passing judgment?
I can’t honestly say my sister’s post was meant to hurt me. There is a chance she didn’t even think of me or my divorce as she pressed the “Share Photo” button. But even if I had nothing to do with it, does that mean consideration of others doesn’t matter? I’m not the only person in the world getting a divorce. I’m probably not the only one of my sister’s 438 “Friends” who is in the process of a divorce, or at least considering it. I think people deserve some thought before they’re spoken against simply for their actions. Many people going through divorces gave 100% to their marriages. Some of them gave more.
But it really doesn’t matter, does it? Because if even one of those people is hurting, it’s enough of a reason to show compassion, to think twice before sharing.
And we are hurting.
My sister’s post was the first thing I saw when I opened Facebook this afternoon. It stared at me from the screen as if it were lioness just waiting for its entrée to run so it could give chase. I froze; my breathing stopped. I stared back, reading the words again and again as a heavy weight settled over me. Do I disserve this rebuke? Did my marriage fall apart because I didn’t give all of me? Is my sister right?
I walked away from my computer, made myself breathe again, told a trusted friend how much I was hurting. I got control of the shame and, “Did my marriage fail because I failed?” turned to, “Does my sister really love me so little?” I doubt it. Rather, I think she lacks compassion where her beliefs and inexperience are concerned.
This isn’t uncommon, not by any means. We all judge what we don’t agree with, what we don’t understand, what frightens us. The stay-at-home mom judges the working mom, and vice versa. The man in the $1,000-suit judges the man vacuuming the office floors during the night. The virgin teen judges the pregnant teen. And on and on, and vice versa to all. But what happens if judgment is replaced with sympathy? What if one person helps another just because people need help? Compassion happens when we stop looking at the action, behavior, or words, and look at the person standing before us. That person is a human being, and I don’t think anything beyond that should matter.
If we try to understand what we don’t, to open our minds and our hearts to what other people are going through and just be kind, it could make a difference. We aren’t required to call out those whose actions we don’t agree with or to damn those who believe differently than us or to degrade those who don’t look like us. There is no good reason to shame people because of the decisions they make in their own lives. And if we stop such things, see people’s struggles, and strive to mend and ease instead of break, if we have compassion, imagine the damage that could be healed, the pain and suffering that would never happen.
Shame is used to express judgment and control behavior. It is also what we feel when all of our good has been hidden from us. Showing compassion instead of shame can reveal that good, it can free us.
As an additional note, I know from experience that sometimes our greatest amount of judgment and shame comes from ourselves. Have compassion for yourself. Be kind and understanding. Aim to ease your suffering; have sympathy and sorrow for yourself. You deserve it.