It Has A Deeply Ingrained Purpose
One of my favorite stories in The Arabian Nights is the one about a young man who goes to a wedding feast. It's the most anticipated wedding feast in the entire village and everyone is acting their best. The mullah arrives to say a few prayers and everyone goes absolutely silent; the mullah lets rip the loudest fart in the history of farts.
The mullah, embarrassed out of his mind runs away. He steals a camel and rides out of the village; out of the kingdom all together and goes all the way to the other side of the world. In his new life he finds years of prosperity. And now old and rich, he takes a huge caravan and finally returns to his old village. As he approaches with his caravan, some women are working in the fields; they look up and say, "look, there's the man who farted at the wedding."
Embarrassment lives with us longer than anything else. It is crueler to reprimand your child in front of the other kids than it is to actually beat them at home.
That's a big statement, I know. And I'm not a child psychologist or an anthropologist, but speaking from my experience there is nothing more life crushing than being humiliated in front of your peers.
Shame can have incredibly damaging effects.
But that is only because its positive function is so deeply ingrained within us and so necessary.
The good thing about shame is that if used to proper affect it can mean spurring one to positive action.
This is where it helps (or doesn't help) to be a man. Again, I'm not coming at this from a scientific perspective just speaking from my experience.
Women tend to get over things a lot quicker. Their evolutionary stakes are higher. They have to maintain their physical and psychological well-being in ways men can't fathom. So when they experience some embarrassment they bounce back a lot quicker because they have more important things to consider than what others think about them. They're thinking about what's good for the whole, rather than what's good for themselves.
Men internalize things more. I know I do. When we fail in front of others or repeat mistakes we tend to feel guilty and to self-flagellate.
Maybe its because growing up we were taught that no one cares what happens to our bodies or to our emotions. Who knows what the excuse is these days. If something doesn't apply to you, you don't have to acknowledge it just because it is the accepted narrative. Living is far more complex than the stories people project on one another based on what they heard someone in a TED talk say.
We should listen to people with expertise and knowledge, but only when we know how to listen to ourselves first. We can't accept everything that's being spoon fed by someone who we listen to. In the end, we actually listen to someone not because of their expertise but because they know how to tell a good story.
Anyway, let's say that this narrative about boys who skip the transition to becoming men is true... what are you going to do about it is the real question.
One can't hop into a time machine and tell every person in their life who told them to "suck it up" or "stop crying" to fuck off. Nor will the residual effect of childhood trauma wear off because you start talking about it all the time.
A fucked up childhood is the norm. How do we use its lessons to our advantage?
When Spartan warriors had to fight for their survival, any soldier that ran away from the battlefield was ridiculed by women in the city who danced around them in a mocking way. The warriors grew to fear that ridicule more than they feared their own deaths. Because shame was something they had to live with. Every society that at one point or another possessed a strong warrior ethos employed the methods of shame. The Muslim Ummah of seventh century Arabia was surrounded by tribes bent on their extermination and threatened by many treacherous elements within their ranks. The women and men who fought and died for that community did so out of a love for death; if they could not change a world where the oppression of slaves, orphans, and widows was the norm then they would rather leave this world than live with the shame of subscribing to such a system. In the system of the Ummah, the worldy tough guys of the old arabian system weren't told "don't cry;" they were encouraged to cry as a means of increasing their spiritual currency; these people had a reason to stop fearing death, why would they be afraid of openly crying? The only shame was in denying the truth that their world is corrupt.
Bastardized as it is within the prevalent comforts of western society, the predilection for shame goes back to a need to spur communities into urgent and fearless action.
"Dishonor not your mothers," is how Shakespeare put it in the dramatization of King Henry V.
I still find it hard to openly cry in front of people. I tend to go hide in the toilet and sob there about my shortcomings. The danger of this is that the feeling of shame becomes a habit and a masochistic addiction rather than something one can employ for their benefit.
I'm not saying one should sob and moan in front of their friends all the time. One wouldn't have very many friends after that. But anyone who has been on the deep end of shame; who has allowed their addictions to suck up time and energy that would be better spent pursuing their dreams or having quality time with loved ones knows that our monstrosity, no matter how private, is always affecting others even when they or (we) don't realize it.
It affects others by cheating them of your gifts and talents and of your time and your grace. Perhaps people think you're normal because you know how to put up a good front. But deep down you know you can do better, and that they're missing out on the real you. Which they deserve.
It would be best to stop covering up the shame. To stop hiding your mistakes. Seek professional help if you need it.
If you don't need it, then don't lie about what you're doing. If you need time alone to work on yourself (exercise, creativity, mindfulness) that is wonderful.
But stop making excuses to escape yourself and loved ones because you need to pop open that bottle or to have that regretful fling with the first person who says hello or go on to a social media rabbit hole that leaves you vastly more empty than you were before.
Easier said than done. But what might help, again, is employing shame for its original purpose.
Next time you're at the bottom of your mood, thinking "Fuck me. Seriously? Again, how many times do I have to..."
Hold on to that. Talk to someone who cares. Do what you need to do to make that feeling register. Write it down or record something on your phone or just sit with it.
The point is to know how to recall that feeling once and for all the next time the giant three headed dragon of temptation rears one of its ugly heads.
Use that memory recall as a sword to slice off its head. Of course the head will always grow back. And you'll need just as much strength the next time you have to face it, which is always sooner than you think.
But the point is you know you can beat it now. And you remember how. You just have to keep yourself from forgetting.
It takes training yourself.