The Shame Game by Marcia Yerman
How does shame shape who we are and how we live our lives?
This was the question that editors Amy Ferris and Hollye Dexter put to twenty-six women. The result was the anthology Dancing at the Shame Prom: Sharing the Stories That Kept Us Small. The essays include examination of alcoholism, sexual abuse, suicide, distorted body images, hoarding, alienation, racial identity, and anxiety.
The response was tremendous. It opened the floodgate for narratives to finally be shared openly. It didn’t hurt that Brené Brown had delivered a TED talk in 2012 on the subject.
In tandem to the book’s release, I did a health article about the subject. I learned how shame specifically impacts girls and women. Shame is a belief that reinforces the concept, “I am bad.” Shame is feeling worthless. Shame is quite specific, as in, “I am damaged.” It creates low self-esteem and a poor sense of self-worth, usually accompanied by a lot of “should haves.”
Since most women are “relationship-centric,” they often end up bringing childhood shame and a “less than” mindset into their adult interactions.
As an emotion, shame is frequently at the root of mental health problems like depression and anxiety. It can create a sense of isolation, which diminishes an individual’s self-esteem. Often, people are unable to even speak out loud what they feel ashamed about. The source of shame can be directly tied to a core value, thereby necessitating the need to cover up at all costs. It leads to an ongoing internal negative dialogue, with refrains such as, “I wasn’t good enough” or “I deserved it.” This often paves the way to the desire to stay invisible. Who wants to feel vulnerable? Yet, this stunts our ability to grow and can translate into a fear of takings risks.
Often, women don’t readily acknowledge shame as a presenting problem. They can have body image dread and not realize it is shame. Feeling shame about one’s body, for whatever reason, can lead to eating disorders. Shame about sexual abuse can lead to avoidance of intimacy. Shame about an addiction can delay or sabotage efforts to recover. In essence, shame is connected to self-perception and how you think people perceive you.
And let’s not forget the impact of societal expectations. The issues of class, race, class, gender, sexuality, ideology, and economic status readily supply eternal pressures. How often are we forced into a false norms…rather than challenging those norms?
Women have been conditioned to demand perfection of themselves.
They want to be accepted and are afraid of being different. Trying to measure up to airbrushed celebrities and models is no easy task. The result can lead to self-hate of one’s body and oneself.
The foundations of shame are laid at the ground level where the family of origin’s dynamics evolved. It then moves outward toward group identification. If there is a family behavior such as alcoholism, suicide, sexual abuse, or domestic violence, it remains with us. The same can hold true for the larger identity commonality, such as race or religion. The flip side of that is the use of shame as a tool to promote a specific ideology, thereby keeping group memberships and affiliations intact.
The Shame Prom anthology has been functioning as a tool for dialogue while allowing readers to discover, “Oh. It’s not just me. I’m not the only one.” They have named the emotion and now realize that they are not alone.
Sharing experiences gives rise to empathy, which is essential to healing. It helps to normalize the shame experience and release blame.
Reaching an audience through the dramatization of these personal accounts is the next step in amplifying the need to let go of shame. The actresses are in place; the audience will be an integral part of the equation.
A talk back with authors and the director will directly following the reading.
Please join us.
Marcia G. Yerman, based in New York City, writes profiles, essays, and articles focusing on women’s issues, human rights, the environment, politics, culture and the arts. She has been published by AlterNet, The Raw Story, Women News Network, RH Reality Check, and The Women’s Media Center. She has verticals at The Huffington Post, Open Salon, and Daily Kos. Her articles are archived at mgyerman.com. Yerman comes out of the world of the visual arts, where she has exhibited for over twenty-five years. Recognized for her narrative and psychological paintings, her artwork can be seen at marciagyerman.com.