I just listened to a talk by Tara Brach on Wise Investigation. During the longer guided meditation, i got in touch with the painful part, the good girl, and asked her what she needs. The answer was “love”! My good girl part is afraid that i’ll lose love if i don’t fit in. This is classic shame!
Brené Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” This pain is a form of cultural trauma because it arises whenever we don’t conform to a cultural norm that we have internalized as something we should be doing. For example, i might believe that i am not lovable because i am not in a coupled relationship. To translate this more clearly: I feel intense pain because i believe i am not in a coupled relationship, i.e., loved, because there is something wrong with me.
In my self-empowerment workshops for singles, i teach to question such beliefs. We can realize that we’ve adopted a cultural norm – love=marriage – and turned it against us. We can start feeling the love that’s flowing to us from our friends and family.
Because the shame is so painful and i’ve been consciously wrestling with it for a year or more now, i didn’t see how shame was playing out in my good-girl-habit and how i was misplacing the source of the pain. I was blaming the good-girl part rather than the cultural norms! When i talked myself out of getting up and being the only one dancing, for example, i wanted to kick the good girl out of me. Instead i can see the reaction now as a bunch of internalized rules (“don’t make a fool of yourself!” “you shouldn’t be so brash!”) that the good girl part was desperate to follow to remain “worthy of love and belonging.” This is deep cultural trauma. This is another reminder that i need to remember my own teaching! 🙂
The biggest fear of my good girl part these days is to have people hate her for having fun. To be irresponsible and “blow all the money” on a year of fun & travel. I should get a job, become respectable again. Or do something to change the world, totally downsize and become one of those people who is being admired for living without money. Though, in reality, she’s worried that this, too, would cause her to lose her family’s love. People are already asking her about her new job, more excited about it than she is because she works only occasionally. And it’s not really changing the world. Clearly, i don’t belong because i don’t fit in because i don’t have a job and am not married. And the more shameful thing is that i am using up my savings that i even have savings (i really should give that away to save the world) and, really, i shouldn’t be spending the money on myself. That’s just selfish. I should save it for my retirement. That’s just irresponsible to spend it now. And just wanting to have more fun is all of that! Who do i think i am? Am i so special that i deserve that?!?
The last part is the cultural trauma that keeps initiatives like a basic income guarantee stuck. Somehow we have to earn money. Money is seen as a measure of our worth. If we got lots of it we must be so smart and wonderful to deserve it. We earned it. Never mind that this is simply justifying a highly unjust, unequal economic system.
Thus, it is clear that in order for us to change ourselves and the systems we live in, we need to work on both the inner and outer side. For example, to implement something like BIG we can make political arguments at the same time as we try to change the beliefs that suggest – contrary to reality – that money flows to the people who most deserve it because they work oh so hard.