Shame

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From lecture 31, SHAME:

There is a right kind and a wrong kind of shame. The right kind of shame is true repentance. Without this kind of shame, there could never be an incentive for self-development. Without it, no one would ever undergo the noble fight, my friends, against one’s lower self; no one would take the path of purification if this shame did not exist within. True repentance is therefore constructive and very positive. But there is also shame of the wrong kind. Human beings so often confuse the two kinds of shame that now I want to devote some of our time together to this subject.

What is the wrong kind of shame? We might call it a guilt-complex which, of course, is entirely destructive and negative. What do your emotions actually say — even though you certainly do not consciously think so — when you have the wrong kind of shame? They say: “I am hopelessly bad, and there is nothing that can be done about it.” With this attitude you not only wallow in self-pity, but express a sluggishness that prohibits your working actively on the elimination of that which is wrong within you. Furthermore, this attitude becomes more and more unreasonable and unjust, for you demand and expect respect and love from others although you do not respect and love yourself. Mind you, this is not because of your shortcomings. In the deepest regions of your being you cannot respect yourself because of the wrong attitude, the wrong kind of shame that makes you passive where you should be active.

Thus, you find yourself in a vicious circle: the more you deny to yourself the experience of the constructive shame that would make you lift yourself up and work on yourself with realistic self-recognition — the foundation of self-development — the more you despise yourself. The more you do that, the more you need to demand love and respect from others to make up for the lack of self-respect. The blind, unconscious, and immature side of you believes that if you receive sufficient appreciation from others, it will make up for the lack of self-respect you can never truly possess unless you fulfill the basic spiritual laws within your own soul and unless you do the maximum of what can be expected of you in self-development according to your overall spiritual development.

I know, my friends, that no one thinks these thoughts consciously, but if you would test your emotions, examine their demands as to what they actually mean and express, this is what you would find. Remember — and this is very important — your lack of self-respect is not due to your faults, weaknesses, shortcomings, and sins — no matter what they may be — but it is due to your wrong kind of shame. The moment you exchange the wrong shame for the right, I can promise you that in the measure this change takes place, you must develop true and justified self-respect long before the faults in you have disappeared. You do not have to be perfect in order to respect yourself. All you have to do is to adopt a realistic and constructive attitude toward your imperfections. The more your self-respect is established, the less you will crave for the respect of others, for you are then resting secure within yourself. And this will so change your inner attitude and your emanations that you will have a different effect on others; this will make it so much easier for the people around you to actually give you the love and respect you desired in the first place.

Perhaps it has not occurred to you that the wrong kind of shame comes from your pride and furthers your pride even more. This may sound paradoxical at first. Let me explain it this way: Your lower self with all its shortcomings is a factor to reckon with if you do not want to escape your present reality. The more you try to escape the facts of your life, the sicker your soul must become. By having the wrong kind of shame, you do escape reality, for what your emotions express is that you will not accept yourself as you really are. The moment you hopelessly despair about the lower side of your nature, you have not accepted yourself as you are. It means you are lacking the humility of courageously facing everything about yourself — and that is pride.

Let me stress once again: Intellectually you know that you are imperfect, but emotionally you don’t. Often there is a wide chasm between what you know and think consciously and what your emotions claim and desire. It is not at all difficult to make the emotions conscious if only you are willing to take the trouble to translate them into concise thoughts, but it needs a little effort. Your emotions claim perfection before this perfection can be yours. You place yourself higher than the efforts you have so far taken would warrant. At the same time, you do know, or at least feel, that you are not there yet. Instead of consciously recognizing this fact and slowly working up to the point where you want to be, you become angry at the world and at yourself for being what you are and refuse to make the inner effort to become what you want to be. So the wrong kind of shame means pride, laziness, injustice, and escape from your present reality. This is what makes you feel guilty, my friends, and not the actual faults you may possess. These would never make you feel guilty, provided you adopted the right kind of shame in which you accepted yourself in humility as you are at present, not fleeing from your reality, and thus building up from there — slowly, step by step. It is the only realistic and constructive way to change and develop.

The wrong attitude brings further hazards, however. Because of your pride and your need for respect and love from others, you begin to withdraw from what you really think and feel about yourself and hide it behind a wall, so to speak. You dare not stand up for who you really are because your emotions say that if you were yourself, you would be despised. As I said before, the more you lack self-respect, the more important the respect of others becomes to you. So you create a mask self. In some subtle way, you become a fake. And that, in turn, makes you even more despondent and you despise yourself even more. The vicious circle continues in full force and carries you into deeper emotional conflicts until you develop the courage and humility to break it. Please do not confuse standing up for who you really are which includes your lower self, with giving in to the impulses of your lower self in your deeds. There is a vast difference between that and a simple recognition and acceptance of what you are, without building up a different personality for the outside world to appear better. One often establishes a fake “real self” for the very reasons explained here.

As long as you feel sad, bitter, defiant, or disharmonious in any way when you encounter your faults, you have not yet accepted yourself as you are. Again you have to strive for the middle path. Accepting does not mean wanting to stay in a state of imperfection. It means that you first have to learn to accept your state of imperfection. You should also find out whether you desire to be cherished for your shortcomings as a compensation for your imagined inability to change and thus come to cherish yourself. When you have made such and other unreasonable emotions conscious, it will be easy to direct them into proper channels.

When you are capable of really and truly accepting yourself as you are, not desiring to appear better than you are, you have fulfilled the basic requirement to be on this path, my friends. Before that, you are not on it as yet, but merely in a state of preparation for entering the gate leading to it. In other words, as long as there is the wrong kind of shame in you, you cannot advance on this path; you have to exchange it for the right kind of shame.

The wrong kind of shame will create a state of mind that is not only extremely unhealthy, as I outlined just now, but will also make you feel more and more alone. Whenever you feel lonely and not understood, please realize that, at least to some degree, the condition I have described must be responsible for it and not other people’s lack of love and understanding. No matter how incapable of love the people around you may be, you would never feel lonely if this wrong attitude were not somehow prevailing within you. So do not seek a remedy from without, but turn around within and look at yourself from this point of view.

You, whoever you are, may feel ashamed of something. Whether it be big or small, grave or unimportant, is not the point. You cover it up; you hide it; you appear to be without that something of which you are ashamed. This is the wall that separates you from others. But in this way you can never be sure that you are really loved and appreciated. For this little voice in you keeps saying: “If they only knew how I really am and what I have done, they would not love me.” That makes you feel alone, suffering, and cold. You think that all the affection given to you is destined for the person you appear to be and not for the person you really are. Of course you are insecure and lonely in that state. But only you can change it — no one else.

It will be easy for you to see that the only remedy for this constant state of loneliness, of insecurity, and of growing self-despisal is the one step that appears hardest to you, namely to break down the shame and stand up for what you really are. The more you try the other way, the way of subtle deception, the deeper your dilemma will be. You have seen that. So it is up to you to take the one courageous step of becoming yourself and gaining true security and the true appreciation of your friends. For they who are spiritually developed and capable of love will most certainly not love you less; quite the contrary. And they who are immature and therefore incapable of love will not be retracting their love for you since they never really gave it nor did you ever really own it. For such people find themselves in exactly the same spot as you are in now: craving for affection, respect, and love to assuage their own lack of self-respect, absent because they too do not have the courage to be themselves. Their kind of love was an illusion in the first place. So the only way to build a secure ground on which to stand is to stop the pretense you have laboriously cultivated all your life. This seems a hard step at first, my friends.

Again, I want to stress that you are not expected to tell your secrets to everyone you meet. Choose the right person to open up to; choose the person who can help you. Then choose the people with whom you are really close and those who know you as you really are. Otherwise, you can never be yourself. It is not a question of what you say, but rather of what you feel; a question of your inner attitude. In order to adjust your emotions from the wrong kind of shame to the right kind, all you have to do is delve into your emotions and, as I so often say, translate them into clear-cut concise thoughts. Then, when you see the unreasonableness of the immature side of your soul, you can readjust them. Only when you do that will you be able to take the next step. Only then will you have security and self-respect. For as long as you hide behind a wall of falsity, you must despise yourself — much more than a brother or sister of yours who may have many more weaknesses but who has the courage to live without pretense and act according to the real self. It is not how good you are or how many weaknesses you still have that determines your self-respect. Self-respect — and as a result of it also the respect of others — can only be measured by how true you are to yourself, or how much you deceive and escape yourself, or how much you hide behind a wall of pretense. This wall of pretense is not something easily recognizable from the outside. It is something subtle within that only you yourself can find, by testing and probing your emotions and their meaning.

True repentance in the positive sense means to simply take stock of the self and to accept its weaknesses in their present state, with the deep desire to change. At the same time you need to acknowledge that the change can only come by again and again recognizing the deeply ingrained faults and comparing the faulty reactions to the ideal state. Thus you learn humility.

The moment you do not wish to appear better or more than you are, even in your own eyes, you will have taken yourself down from the high place in which you have put yourself. You can start rebuilding only after you have torn down the false edifice. If you have the courage to stumble a thousand times over the same faults and forever lift yourself up to try again, then you pay God the debt you owe Him; then you are worthy of His grace; then you are truly on the path. Then you rid yourself of pride and falsity long before you are perfect in all the details of your personality. Thus you approach perfection much faster than you think, in spite of some of your stubborn shortcomings that linger on. In that way you must win. But if every time after having stumbled again over the same fault you become so despondent that you despair of yourself, wishing to give up, and you consider self-acceptance to be senseless, then you have the destructive and weakening kind of shame, which will never get you anywhere. For as long as you despair so easily, there is too much pride in you, and then the healing, curative action of being able to observe your own weaknesses in the true light of what they are, neither exaggerating nor diminishing them, will not be able to affect your soul.

So, my friends, do not despair if you have no success for quite a while in overcoming your weaknesses. You may perhaps understand now that here you have a great curative agent for remedying something even more important than the actual weakness you are treating. You will learn the right kind of shame and self-acceptance, which brings humility, overcomes pride, and shows you how to live in your own reality. If you were soon very successful in overcoming your individual faults, it might make you even prouder, and pride is more harmful than many other faults. Apart from that, the faults you are battling against have been ingrained in you often for many incarnations, so you cannot expect to get rid of them within a few years. However, if you are capable of facing these weaknesses; if you meet them with open eyes and a healthy attitude and learn even while you are still stumbling over them; if you have the humility to face yourself knowing where you really belong — not too low, nor too high — then even though you are still imperfect, you are laying the foundation to a very healthy and normal inner attitude.

Think and meditate about this, my friends. It is not sufficient to just hear or read my words once, for that will not be the kind of spiritual food that helps you to discover where your feelings still deviate from the ideal state. Find the echo within you to direct you in your daily strivings and in your daily spiritual work. When you do that, you will be giving yourself the food your spirit needs.

Perhaps you now begin to sense why it is so necessary to be able to talk openly about yourself to a qualified person and then to the people you are really close to. For as long as you keep things hidden within you, everything gets out of proportion. You may exaggerate one thing and underestimate another. But a person who is detached from your problems and your inner struggles may see things in the right light. As I have often said in private sessions, there is a spiritual law which applies equally to psychoanalysis and confession. It is the law of brotherhood. The moment you open up to another person, you risk an act of humility. At that moment with that person you do not want to appear more perfect than you are. That is one of the most harmful human tendencies, my friends. When you show yourself to one person as you are, you will instantly feel the relief your spirit has cried for, even if that person does not give you a single piece of advice.

Your spirit suffers when you act against its laws. And you feel better all of a sudden when you are able to humbly reveal yourself. The law of brotherhood is working. Something in you says, “At this moment I do not want to appear better than I am. I want to show myself as I am; I do not strive for respect and love that I think is not really due me because of the things of which I am ashamed.” Though you are wrong in that too, for love and respect are due every living creature. In the distorted view you suffer loneliness and you go on pretending in some subtle way. The wrong kind of shame also violates the law of brotherhood. Thus you may see once again how every inner feeling can be right when it comes from the godself. However, the same can be distorted by luciferic powers. It is so also with shame.

From lecture 117, SHAME: A LEGACY OF CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES, EVEN FAVORABLE ONES:

Tonight I should like to discuss two specific topics. At first they will seem unrelated, but they are not, and we shall establish their connection. The first topic is shame. This was discussed in the past in certain connections, such as the shame of the higher self, or shame of certain shortcomings. I now will focus on this topic from a very specific perspective.

When you pursue this path, you discover certain areas in yourself that you are ashamed to acknowledge, even to yourself. What you may be ashamed of may be faults, but not always and not necessarily. You may be as ashamed of very legitimate needs as you are of faults, or of assets, for that matter. First you are not even aware that such shames exist. It takes a considerable amount of time and effort before you become aware of those facets within yourself you are deeply ashamed to face. You cover these facets with a pretense that is the reverse of your specific shame.

Slowly but surely, as your pathwork progresses in the right direction, you learn to admit the shame to yourself, but are not yet able to reveal it to others. When this phase is reached, a certain amount of self-deception has been eliminated. Whatever your personal particular shame, and consequent pretense may be, varies. But whatever it is, when you come face to face with such an aspect, it takes a considerable amount of struggle and courage to admit what so far has been inadmissible. When the struggle is overcome, a significant amount of inner freedom and ease has been reached. Such a struggle rarely culminates in one ultimate victory. The process may have to be repeated because usually the psyche is not ready to face all its pretenses at once. To the degree you stop pretending to yourself, and face what you had regarded as too shameful to admit, you will feel emotional ease and comfort. Those who have reached the point of such self-admission can exactly pinpoint their shame, their pretense, their self-deception. They have indeed reached a major step in self-realization. They are way ahead compared to those who are as yet unaware of their own shame and pretense and who therefore believe they are not hiding anything.

But then there is a further step. This next step will give you a wonderful opportunity to measure your liberation. How freely can you discuss your shame with your helper? The degree of ease and emotional comfort with which you can do this indicates your inner freedom. This important mark on the path is often bypassed, and then you gradually forget the significance of what you had admitted to yourself. As long as the partial admission is not fully explored, the pretense continues toward the outer world, and even toward the self.

I should like to give specific advice in this respect. First of all, keep your attention alert in this direction. The first stage on this particular road within the path is to become aware of what you have so far hidden from yourself. When this is done to some degree, ask yourself if you have utilized such findings, or whether you have allowed them to become hazy again. True liberation cannot come in half-measures. Making the conscious recognition half-conscious again is due to the specific reason, my friends, that you may not yet be ready and free enough to express to another person — your helper — the shame that you have finally admitted to yourself. And because you cannot make yourself admit it, you becloud it again. The recognition becomes foggy again.

It would be much better and vastly more constructive for you to admit to yourself, “I can’t yet bring myself to reveal and discuss this or that aspect of my personality.” Do not force yourself, because then your anxiety will cause such a strong counter-current that the benefit may be lost and you would present the aspect you find shameful in a slightly distorted, untruthful, colored way. Hence the gain would be questionable. This would make you feel guilty and, in turn, breed new problems in the relationship between yourself and your helper. This is more harmful than the free admission, “I am not ready to reveal myself.” In this admission you are honest. You do not use too much force. Then you do not breed guilt and therefore resentment. This is infinitely better than speaking out of a dutiful and harried self-discipline, doing something you are not yet ready for.

Ascertain in your daily review, “This or that factor brings me embarrassment. I feel too uncomfortable to discuss it.” Come to terms with it, instead of neglecting to face the significance of your lack of freedom. Find out where you stand, how far you have come, what remains to be accomplished to gain your freedom from shame and pretense? Come to terms with your restraint and inhibition, and tell yourself that perhaps in a week, in a month, in a year, you may get to this point. But in the meantime observe yourself and perhaps, little by little, without forcing yourself, you will reveal more than you thought you could. At the beginning you will be uncomfortable and anxious, embarrassed and inhibited, but each time it will become easier. As you gain inner comfort while freely expressing what seemed to be so shameful, suddenly you will see that your entire shame was an illusion. This is your yardstick of liberation.

I advise all of you to think about this specific part of the path. Are you aware of what you are ashamed? If not, you will need to find it. If you are, to what degree do you tackle the issue? Take it into your self-confrontation, by yourself, and probe deeply, bringing out the issue that causes your shame. Do not try to find immediate reasons and answers, explanations and justifications. Simply admit those aspects that cause you shame. Write down in exact and precise terms what it is and why you feel you need to be ashamed. The usual answer is that your are afraid of appearing less in the eyes of others, less lovable and respectable, inviting belittlement and humiliation. Find how this general observation applies specifically to you. Then challenge yourself to confront the issue of discussing it openly. Observe the increase of inner freedom as you succeed, even if only to a small degree at a time. Maintain your awareness. Do not force your self-revelation unduly, though some courage may be necessary. If you decide to wait, do not forget the issue; continue to observe your daily reactions from this angle. You may be sure that your deep-rooted unresolved problems stand in direct relationship to your shame, your inhibitions and your daily disharmonious feelings.

Each private session gives you an opportunity to open this particular door a little further. Each time you will find it easier to discuss what was formerly inadmissible. After each session, note your reactions, how far have you come, compared to previous occasions, in revealing yourself, and how much you still falsify and present a different front, if ever so subtly? Perhaps a good way to begin would be to discuss with your helper how you still have restraints and feel that you are as yet unwilling or unable to give them up. In this way you touch upon the general area of your shame, without as yet going into details. This may prepare the way and create the proper climate. It goes without saying that what is “inadmissible” applies much less to certain facts in your past life than to an emotional pretense, a falsification of personality. The latter is infinitely more damaging.

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Thanks:

To my teacher Marieke Mars who taught me self-honesty. To my courageous and loving pathwork helper Dottie Titus.

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