APRIL 2017 ~ Shame and the Rhinoroo

I sat in the back of the room, covering the picture I’d drawn, silently praying that I would not be asked to share it with the larger group. We’d been asked to draw a picture of an animal that was a combination of 2 animals.

The two animals I’d been given were a rhinoceros and a kangaroo, so, naturally I drew the Rhinoroo. (Think rhino with three pockets on each side in which she carries her little baby rhinoroos.) We were supposed to tell what was the hardest thing our animal ever had to do.

I came up with two stories. The first story is the one that had me anxiously covering my picture, trying to avoid being called on to share. But I came up with another story. My second story made me feel brave and clever.

My second story was that the hardest thing the Rhinoroo ever had to do was carry all those babies around in her pouches. I shared this answer. I got a mild laugh of appreciation for my clever creation and I showed that I understood the importance of sacrificial parenting. It was a satisfying answer. I liked the way it made me look.

But it wasn’t my real answer.

The next week I led the workshop. I’d been asked to speak on the therapeutic benefits of sharing and even changing our stories. So, I stood up in front on the entire group and showed my picture for the second time and confessed. The hardest thing the Rhinoroo ever had to do was dealing with the stretched out pocket skin after the babies moved out. The participants laughed heartily and a few people even shouted out, “Amen!” “I hear ya!”

Sharing my more vulnerable story actually created more acceptance and maybe even some healing for others as we understood that we are all in the same boat.

We all feel shame. We often think of shame as being associated with major transgressions, but we bury ourselves under it every day. We’re ashamed of the way we look, of the things we said, of the things we forgot, of the way we parent, of the way we speak, walk, breathe, live.

Addiction is predicated on shame. The disease of addiction often causes people to do things and live in ways that they are ashamed of. They push these deeds into the dark shadows and go back to the addiction to try to numb out the feelings of shame. The fourth step of 12 step programs is to do a “searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” I believe wholeheartedly that this is one of the biggest reasons for the success of 12 step programs. It offers people the ability to lay it all out in the light. They are asked to look at all of it and to share it with a sponsor so that they can finally take responsibility for their actions, see them for what they are and move on. No longer is the boogey man lurking in the darkness with his searing secrets that will surely destroy you. Nope, the cat’s out of the bag. The secrets can’t hurt you any more.

Many religions use confession to help people with this same problem.

In therapy people often begin, “I’ve never told this to anyone else.” There is great therapeutic value in allowing someone else, someone who is worthy of our vulnerability, to see us as we are, as we have been, and to have them still care about us.

But more importantly, we need to be able to see ourselves as we are. We need to cultivate clear seeing; the kind of seeing that allows us to hear our thoughts that drive our actions and inform our relationships to ourselves and to one another. We need to create congruence as we are honest with ourselves about who we really are, keeping nothing hidden. If we don’t do this work how can we ever know peace? How can we ever grow? How can we know ourselves?

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