How the Six Shadows of Shame Gang Up On Us and What to Do About Them
One of my favorite places to visit growing up was the science museum and the planetarium. Apart from the opportunity to buy space ice cream just like the astronauts used to eat and getting a closer look at the planets and stars in the planetarium shows, one of the displays at the museum that fascinated me the most was the pendulum hanging from a long cable from the top of the three-story building. The attendant told me that without friction, a pendulum would swing back and forth indefinitely. As a kid, I didn’t understand what friction meant. All I heard was that the pendulum would swing forever. For some reason that intrigued me and I would watch it mesmerized as it swung back and forth in slow motion.
As I became more familiar with the Shadows of Shame, I noticed a pendulum-like phenomenon with them as well. The pendulum swings us from one Shadow of Shame to another when our attachment wounds have been stirred, and we have not turned towards healing.
For most of us, the shadow that shows up first is The Judge. The judge marches out with a message that you are not enough and is very, VERY good at pointing at all of your flaws. The judge uses these to build a case against you that you really are not good enough and therefore unworthy of love or affection. When this happens, we usually beat ourselves up and try to hide from others.
If we don’t heed The Judge, the pendulum will swing to the Shame Circle's bottom to The Politician. The Politician agrees with the Judge that you are not enough but insists that nobody knows. The Politician tells you that you need to be seen as good enough and therefore encourages us to put on masks such as being kind to strangers even though we are cruel to our closest relationships. The Politician urges us to see others as tools we can use to benefit rather than as fellow human beings.
Sometimes, the pendulum starts with the Impotent One. The impotent one conveys a message that we are victims of circumstances outside of our control and therefore powerless to impact any change in our lives. When we believe the Impotent One, we end up becoming very small. We struggle to identify any actions that we can take to change the situation. We have agreed with the negative core belief that we are powerless.
But as the pendulum swings to the other side, towards the Rebel, there is a shift in what we believe. The Rebel conveys an entirely different message than powerlessness. The Rebel tells us that we have ultimate power — that we can do whatever we want AND that there will not be any consequences to our actions.
There are other times with the pendulum starts with the Martyr. The Martyr tells us that we are doormats for other people to wipe their feet on — that we don’t matter as much as other people matter. The Martyr convinces us that we are worth less than others. When we fully embrace the Martyr's message, we may even convince us that we are serving some greater good by allowing others to step on us. This only perpetuates the negative core belief that we are not enough.
The opposite side of the pendulum from the Martyr is The Royal. Instead of telling us that we are worse than everyone else, The Royal tells us we are better than anyone else and therefore entitled to whatever we want. If we heed The Royal, we may act arrogantly, putting other people down, feeling angry that we are not getting our way. Indeed we may have a royal fit if things aren’t going the way we think they should go.
Regardless of which way the pendulum swings, there will be suffering. We may cause suffering for others or dig ourselves deeper into the mutated emotions of depression, anxiety, apathy, resentment, etc. The moment that the pendulum starts swinging from one shadow to the next, the result will be more pain, not less.
When I was at the space museum, some kids would reach out to stop the pendulum from swinging before they would pull it way back and see how far it would swing the other way. We can take the same approach. We can reach out to stop the pendulum.
To stop the pendulum, we need to be aware that it is swinging and not be mesmerized by the slow, methodical way it swings from one shadow to the next. In Chapter four of Finding Peace, A workbook, the reader is led through a series of activities that increase that awareness. You can purchase your own copy of the book here.
The second step in stopping the pendulum requires you to reach out to others. Rather than reaching out to the shadows, we need to reach out to our loved ones. We can share with them that the Shadows have marched out and that we are struggling not to believe them. This is an act of courage and vulnerability. It is scary to do so, but it is absolutely essential in stopping the pendulum from swinging one more time.
The third step involves asking for our needs to be met in a healthy way. We typically are not good at asking for what we need. The Martyr and Politician have convinced us otherwise. But when we are battling shame, hiding in the dark will not help us feel better. It is only when we turn towards the light that relief comes.
Asking for help from others may be as simple as saying, “Hey, I am really struggling right now with this crummy belief that I suck. Could I have a hug?”
It may sound like, “Hey, I’m really bummed about not getting the promotion. Could we go do something fun together so that I don’t end up isolating and throwing myself a pity party?”
It may also sound like, “You know, I have been feeling really lonely lately. It looks like you have been having a crappy day too. How would you like to go for a walk with me?”
Putting ourselves out there may be risky. Our rejection wound may be bumped if they say no. But if they say yes, WOW, that is an amazing feeling. We experience connection, which research shows does wonders for stopping the pendulum of shame.