Shame Intolerance

We have all heard the expression lactose intolerance. The definition is the inability to digest lactose, a component of milk and other dairy products, due to the lack of an enzyme called lactase found in the small intestines. Common symptoms and side effects are diarrhea, bloating and abdominal cramps. About 65% of people are lactose intolerant.

Have you ever heard of shame intolerance? I may have made up the expression, but I would say the definition is the inability to digest shame, a component of judgment and criticism, due to the lack of an enzyme called self-worth. Common symptoms and side effects are low self-esteem, self-hatred, wanting to disappear, and addiction. What % of people are shame intolerant?

I don’t think anyone is immune to feeling shame. If you have felt judged, criticized, minimized, or not accepted, unconditionally loved or respected, you have probably experienced shame.

I’ve been fascinated recently about the topic of shame and have been reading a lot of literature about it. I have come to believe that it’s almost impossible not to have been shamed by a parent, teacher, rebbe or friend. It’s also impossible for me to take back how I have shamed my children over the years.

I don’t think we do it on purpose. We may not even know why we want our kids to look a certain way or behave a certain way, or we think we are educating them, teaching them right from wrong, but doing it in a way that they feel ashamed.

If I didn’t know that Hashem created all human beings resilient, I would think the system of being raised by imperfect parents is inherently flawed. There is a piece of the literature that I disagree with though. Yes, I have to do my part not to shame someone, but I don’t have to live my life as a victim to other people’s judgments and hostility. I don’t have to internalize and believe I am bad when someone says something hurtful.
I’m just curious. What if the premise of shame intolerance is based on a misunderstanding? What if we do have the ability to ingest shame? By definition we all have self-worth just by the fact that we were created b’tzelem Elokim (in G-d’s image), but when we lose sight of our own Divine magnificence and we believe a shaming comment, that belief is what hurts. The core isn’t touched. I just believe that that there is something wrong with me. What if other people don’t have as much power to hurt us as we give them?

Shame seems to be the deepest rooted pain, formed from early childhood, powerful enough to erode our sense of self, but what if shame is also a temporary thought creation? What if healing shame isn’t necessarily about uncovering your deepest fears, but about waking up to the beliefs you took on in your childhood for whatever reasons about yourself and now, in this moment, being open to the truth that those beliefs may not be relevant in your life anymore, or maybe they never were but you didn’t know any better.

What if the depth of your greatness were revealed to you? This might sound so farfetched that you can’t even imagine it, but what if you deeply believed you were being taken care of by a loving G-d? What if you believed you were unconditionally loved? What if you were safe, but for your fearful thinking that takes away your secure feeling? What if you didn’t need to protect yourself and guard yourself from being shamed?

What if shame is a passing feeling, like all feelings, that you have the capacity to handle, feel, let flow through you and bounce back from? What if you weren’t defined by your shameful feelings? What if under all the shame there is a pure, innocent, resilient, powerful person waiting to be seen?

Breaking through our old and even deep thought constructs gives birth to new possibilities. Rosh Hashanah is a time of renewal, an opportunity to tap into the truth of Hashem’s greatness and His intense love for us. The only reason we don’t feel this love is because of an innocent thought that passes our mind saying we are unworthy, but what if it’s not true? What if you are a glorious expression of goodness regardless of your mistakes or your feelings about yourself? Can you give yourself permission to just reflect on that possibility before dismissing it?

Wishing you a ksiva v’chasima tova. A glorious, growth filled year of closeness, connection, healing and joy. May you feel Hashem’s love and shine your own light.

One thought on “Shame Intolerance”

  1. Yaffa Seruya says:

    Beautiful insights and eloquently stated.

Comments are closed.

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