What is shame? To understand what shame is, it’s important to delineate between shame and guilt. Guilt is when you feel you’ve done something wrong. Shame is when you feel there’s something wrong with you!
Paul as a kid.
Paul’s parents split up when he was eight. His father seemed to quit on everything in his life—work, family and himself. Paul’s mom found herself on welfare, while Paul found himself on the wrong side of the tracks in his mid-western town. Dad disappeared. Without his father’s guidance, Paul and his pals determined for themselves what was right and what was wrong. In her desperation to survive, Paul’s mom recklessly introduced a series of men into Paul’s life, causing him to witness his mother engaging in drink, drugs, and sex. Paul also learned about abandonment, loss, and sexual abuse at the hands of one of these men.
Where does shame come from? Shame comes from the lessons we learn while growing up. Shame develops over time as we’re told that what we’re doing, what we’re feeling, how we’re expressing ourselves, or what our dreams are, is somehow wrong, unacceptable, “not what’s done in this house,” or “not what good little boys do.”
But when we, as boys, continue to have those feelings, continue to want to behave like boys, express ourselves as we see fit, or dream those unacceptable dreams, we eventually come to believe that there must be something wrong with us. The boys then grow up.
Paul as an adult.
That moment has haunted Paul for 50 years. He always felt that he was somehow to blame for the attack…that something about him caused it to happen. That’s how boys process traumatic events like these. That shame has caused him to quit on himself again and again, like dad. He’s continually sabotaged relationships and wondered why anyone would want to be with such a worthless fraud.
We become men who believe there’s something wrong with us. We can become angry, depressed and lonely. We can become over-achievers, absent fathers, and unhappy men. Tragically, all this pain is suffered because of the misguided belief that there is “something wrong with me.” All of this pain is caused by shame.
By the time most men find their way to counseling, or other form of support, shame has taken a devastating toll on their lives and on the lives of the people they love and who love them. The good news is that men can shed the shame they’ve been carrying through the support of other men.
Paul with the men.
Paul kept his mask on for quite a while after joining his men’s group. He was in no hurry to let the men in on his dirty little secret…that he was a piece of crap as a man. Truth is, he suspected that everyone could tell. One evening at a group session, the men were asked to tell each other the one thing that they didn’t want to reveal about themselves. The jig was up. It was time to tell the truth. And so he finally shared his shame with the men.
The fathering energy that comes from a coach, or from other committed men participating in a men’s group, has the power to help men make important changes in their lives; changes to become the best father, husband, son, brother, friend, co-worker, boss or mentor they can be. That means wives, children, co-workers and neighbors are all positively affected by the work men do to shed the shame, and to become the best men they can be.
That terribly difficult moment at group proved to be a turning point for Paul in his journey to heal, to let go of his shame, and to start showing up as the man, father and husband he never thought he could be. Paul began to realize that others felt shame just as he had, but for completely different reasons. Yet despite each man’s differing life details, the pain was the same, as was their need for the support of good and caring men, just like Paul.
In individual coaching, in men’s groups and through experiences like men’s retreats, men’s lives can change dramatically. Men come to find that not only are they not alone in carrying the shame, but that with strong and trusting relationships with other men, they learn that there’s actually nothing “wrong” with who they are and how they feel. In time, self-esteem increases and relationships throughout the man’s life improve.
Maybe you’re one of these men. Maybe you have a man like this in your life. Perhaps it’s time to introduce that man to possibilities he may have never imagined; the possibilities that arise when men reach out and get the support of other men.