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Feeling, Meaning, Healing.

I'm reading Shantaram again right now. For those of you who haven't read it, I think it might be one of the most beautiful books ever written.

Without giving anything away, the Australian author is put in jail for armed robbery. While in jail, he cleans up his heroin addiction, and resolves to sort out his life, but the guards in the jail are brutal and beat him and the other inmates mercilessly.

Despite the impossible odds, he eventually escapes jail, and manages to sneak his way over to India, where the book really starts.

While in India, after a few years of living in Bombay, the cops eventually find out he is a wanted man, and throw him into an Indian jail, where again he is beaten within an inch of his life. After a particularly cruel beating, the guards force him to wear chains around his ankles, which are attached to chains around his wrists. He can't walk, he can only shuffle, and he can't do much for himself. In the depth of his despair, he wrote something that completely knocked the air out of me:

"It was a terrible humiliation. The worst things that people do to us always make us feel ashamed. The worst things that people do always strike at the part of us that wants to love the world. And a tiny part of the shame we feel, when we're violated, is the shame at being human."

Every person reading this post has, at some point in your life, had the experience of someone treating you badly. With or without intending it, someone has humiliated you, violated you, hurt you, rejected you, or made you feel like you're not worthy.

It's devastating to say the least, especially when we're young. Most especially, the quirk of the human psyche which allows us to feel ashamed when other people do terrible things to us. The people who hurt us are always fighting their own battles, and carrying their own shame. When they violate us, we take on some of the shame that they carry. We experience it as our fault, our responsibility, our burden to carry moving forward. This wouldn't have happened to me if I wasn't x, y or z.

The inner child in every one of us wants to love the world with open arms, and have our love met with the respect and sanctity that our innate vulnerability deserves. When we are humiliated or hurt, our instinctive response is to close up - bit by bit, we start to put up walls, we're not so quick to open up again. Because other people can't be trusted, we live a life of "my way or the highway". Bit by bit, and unintentionally, we sever our genuine connection with the people around us. We'd like to think that we can keep it limited to strangers and people who we know from a distance, but it spills over into every relationship we have, especially our most intimate relationships. And so, without knowing or intending it, we pass on our shame to others. Our pain becomes theirs - they love us with an open heart, but our hearts cannot receive it, and so we block, defend, and sometimes lash out - and our actions mean that they inherit our shame, and so the cycle perpetuates.

So what to do? How do we stop the seemingly endless cycle of passing on the shame of being human?

Shame makes us repress the specific and traumatic incidents that happened to us, and in the shame closet of our hearts and minds, these experiences fester and matisticise into monsters - the monsters others inherit from us down the line through the unintended consequences of our actions.

To heal the shame from the traumatic events of our past, they need to be named, felt, and shared with others. Sharing is probably the most terrifying part of the process, because when we share, we make ourselves vulnerable again, and we have to relive the experience. It's scary as hell, and for particularly traumatic experiences, it's really important to do this with the support of a skilled professional. Through processes like gradual exposure therapy, TRE, counselling, and many other modalities, we can allow ourselves to relive the experiences with the safety and support required to face these experiences head on. The experiences which live in our shame closet need to be felt at a very visceral level, if we ever want to transcend them.

We have to feel.

We have to feel the fear, the shame, the anguish, the confusion, the anger... all of it. As we feel, we begin to release, and the more we release, the more we demystify the experiences over time. Eventually, these experiences release their vice-like grip on our subconscious.

As we gradually honour our psyche’s need to express and release the pent up feelings and emotions, we start to get a bit of distance from the experience. Over time, it loses its charge, and we can more freely start to engage with the experience from multiple perspectives. With a bit of distance we can start to ask ourselves questions like, “What could have been going on in that person's life that would make them act like that? What was my role in the incident? What have I learnt from the pain and trauma I experienced? How do I want to change my life moving forward?”

With time, dedication and support, we're able to find the meaning in an experience, and from that meaning, we can ultimately find healing. The sequence is feeling, meaning, healing, and we don’t get to bypass a step.

In the words of Shantaram, “The worst things that people do always strike at the part of us that wants to love the world.” To love the world is an action, and it won’t happen by default. We need to work on ourselves first, and model it for others. Bit by bit, and person by person, we can remove the cascading inheritance of shame from one person to another in our world.


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