Deeply Rooted in Shame Resilience

By: Kenny Frazier, MSW, LCSW

Each one of us at some point in our lives, perhaps on multiple occasions, will need help or could benefit greatly from additional assistance, guidance, and support to move forward in our lives. We may need help to move in the direction of our goals, our dreams, and our aspirations. Instead, we will stay stuck—sometimes for weeks, maybe years, perhaps decades, or even a lifetime—because we can’t get over the deeply rooted and conditioned beliefs associated with the act of asking another for help…when we really need it. At this pivotal point in our life, asking for help often times becomes more painful, psychologically, than dealing with our current and/or ongoing struggles by ourselves –in secret –without anyone knowing, hoping things will get better, while risking worsening symptoms, mere management of symptoms, or the incomplete resolution of symptoms.

Recently, while meeting with approximately 75 students at a local high school and discussing several of the significant issues and struggles they face on a daily basis [to include “stress”, depression, anxiety, external/internal pressures and expectations, social image, etc.] the majority expressed resistance and reluctance in their desire, ability, and/or willingness to ask for help—even if their symptoms were severe enough for them to consider suicide as an option! They admitted they did not feel comfortable approaching their parents, their ecclesiastical leaders, or a professional with their problems citing reasons to include: “I don’t want to burden others with my problems.” “I have to figure this out on my own.” “If I admit I have a problem that means something’s wrong with me.” “What will others think of me if they find out?” “If I go to a counselor or therapist others will think I’m crazy,” “I can’t go to my bishop, because this will affect my standing/reputation in the church.” “I can’t go to my parents, because they’ll be disappointed.” “I can’t go to my parents, because they’ll be angry.” “I can’t go to the school counselors, because they don’t listen and are too busy.” etc. Many admit some willingness to “go to my friends.” Some even indicate the absence of even this support system.

As we look deeper into the common themes, within these reasons, we see the underlying painful feelings of being judged accompanied by a direct challenge to our own sense of worthiness. Tara Brach, PhD. calls this the “Trance of Unworthiness” which forces us to prove to ourselves, the world, the universe, and to God that we are in fact worthy. We base this belief on our title, our job, who we are in charge of or responsible for, our education, the amount of money in our bank account, our annual salary, the size of our house, the neighborhood within which we live, the brand of car we drive, the brand of clothes we wear, the amount of beauty we possess, etc.

Unfortunately, we live in a culture which glorifies, glamorizes, and rewards individual effort, achievement, and success. We are longing to be seen, yearning to be heard, desperate to be noticed, dying to be somebody that stands out. We want to be seen as someone who is great, who is successful, whose beauty is flawless, who is perfect, who is better than others—who is worthy and deserving of love and acceptance. This paradigm has become so pandemic that people will do anything and everything to gain a slight edge above others who are their “competitors” in this social stratification of ranking, including using performance enhancing drugs, cosmetic surgery, extreme diets, illegal/unethical business practices, and worst of all the loosening of their morals and values in order to “get ahead” at any or all cost. All in an attempt to feel worthy, deserving, and good enough as a person…as a human being. The belief is that if I achieve “all this,” then I will be good enough, then I will have made it, then I will have earned my spot, then I can have a voice, then I deserve to be seen, then I deserve to feel good about myself. “All this,” however, in this spiral never is good enough because once you reach the “good” there’s something better.

Our deeply rooted sense of shame—that we’re not good enough, that something is wrong with us, that we have to prove ourselves worthy—then becomes the motivator to strive, to convince ourselves and others that we are, in fact, worthy of love and acceptance. It also becomes the barrier to the essential nature of being human—to be fallible, to make mistakes, to be imperfect, and at times to be in need of help. The paradox is that when we reach out and allow others to help, we risk the opportunity to be seen, to be heard, to be noticed, and to be loved and accepted…for who we are…with all of our blemishes, imperfections, and insecurities. This can be one of the scariest AND most courageous things we will ever do in our lives. The question is…is the risk worth it for YOU?