28 Mar 2013


We all know the story of the Emperors New Clothes. The emperor hides his shame in the story and walks fully naked back to his palace with the laughter of all who see him passing by naked after the little boy finally had revealed his nakedness by shouting it out loud. He is keeping up appearances. Keeping up appearances is a worthwhile tool in life. You can use it to hide your feelings when necessary. But keeping up appearances should never be a way to hide your vulnerability. I bet this emperor was truly and deeply ashamed if his ignorance. He was hiding his vulnerability. After the discussion of vulnerability I did a discussion about shame, here I share what came out of that discussion and I thank all who participated. So what is shame and how do we deal with it?

(Shame is a followup on vulnerability, a post I have written previous to this one.)

The essence of shame

It is a dream a lot of people have, standing naked in front of people, and than you wake feeling awful and realizing it is a nightmare. It is the anxiety of failing, being scared you will fail. And in the dream we stand naked, the most vulnerable state a person usually can have in front of people who are not expecting you to be naked. We didn't have the choice in our dream, we didn't undress voluntarily we are in our dream, put in front of that group of people suddenly out of the blue. Shame is something that is involuntarily put upon you. Shame is devastating.  I will explain more but let me go into vulnerability again first.


We are vulnerable. Vulnerability is not a weakness, it is courage. You are courages when you show your vulnerability because there are a few things happening:
  • you take emotional risk
  • you are exposed
  • you are uncertain 
You have to leap forward without exactly knowing how all will go. You have to take a chance to change in life. If we want change in our lives we have to be vulnerable and courages to do so. Vulnerability is the accurate measure of courage.
Submitting is a courages thing to do. But in the same balance so is Domination, you hold the welfare of the other in your hands and you have to be prepared, and that counts for both that unexpected things can happen. You are reduced to"nothing". You are loving the power exchange. You change power, you go for change with a high level of uncertainty. Even sometimes wen all is extremely well prepared we still at times have to deal with the unexpected. We cannot hide or deny our vulnerability.

So what has shame got to do with this?

There is only one thing that can hold us back, can stop all and that is shame. SHame is telling us we are not good enough. We are not good enough to show ourselves naked as we think our body is not pretty enough. We will not stand or speak in front of an audience as we think that our comment will not add any value, or we think that we are not good enough to speak at all.
Shame is wanting to hide, not putting yourself into the limelight because you are not enough to do so. Shame can make you want to hide completely from others form yourself. Shame can make you stop progressing because you think you do not deserve to progress. 

Shame is not the same as guilt. Some mistake guilt for shame. Although guilt can become shame. There is difference between guilt and shame:

Guilt = Sorry I made a mistake (behaviour)
Shame = Sorry I am a mistake (negative self)

The worst thing about shame is that it is put upon us. We never asked for it. Nobody asked to be bullied at school, nobody asked to be humiliated or put down by their parents, nobody asked to be sexually abused. Nobody asked to be belittled, abused or laughed at.
Shame is devastating it is connected with eatings disorders, addiction depression, violence, aggression, suicide etc.

Shame needs 3 things to grow, secrecy, silence and judgment. Would anyone be prepared to be open about being sexually abused as a child. It makes us feel as Jerzy Kosinski's book titled: "the painted bird". We do not want to be an outcast we try to assimilate. We hide our hurt, we hide the shame we feel about it.

I think some of us here in this BDSM realm, start out with shame. Not daring to admit to all that comes with BDSM, power exchange, humiliation, pain etc. We are ashamed. I felt ashamed and odd with my feelings that weren't within the vanilla perspective of sexuality. Some of us are so ashamed we do not even dare to discuss with our spouse RL, not a close friend, not even a best friend RL.Of course that comes with how society perceives BDSM. We are these nutcases who want pain and to have slut written on our forehead.

The best thing against shame is empathy. Empathy is the antidote for shame.Empathy for your self, for that child, that person that got hurt along the way, empathy for the people around you and telling your self you have a right to be. It needs a leap into the darkness to try, fail and try again. You might need help along the way. Seek that help. Seek professional if you need it. But give your self the empathy to slip out of this "false safety" zone you are in. 

Why is shame such a powerful "tool" in BDSM

And please let me be clear here, that touching on shame is touching someone's core. You can only touch it when you have empathy and have learned the skills to deal with it. 

A Dominant might have to overcome the fear of administering pain. Violence is not is not accepted in the average Western society. You do not hit someone. You have to overcome that deep rooted internal shame to do so. Or even admit that also you feel he pleasure of giving pain.
BDSM offers a code in  SSC (Safe Sound and Consensual), or in RACK (Risk Aware Consensual Kink). To play with shame in this context asks for communication and empathy. Both are essential to deal with this. 
It doesn't mean that all are abused and need healing. It also not to say that BDSM is there to heal. But it can touch things that need a lot of empathy as it pushes someone past his or her shame. Admit when things went wrong, own up to your mistake when things went wrong makes it all worthwhile and talk commincate.

Someone said it beautifully in the discussion: ..."Shame is often written as a conflict or violation of societies values, society may have taught us that modesty is expected, but i would say that shame is a consequence of not adhering to that value, as Ara said you don't need to be shameful to have modesty, its a learned behavior. I would liken guilt to a a need of self, i feel guilty when i have not upheld my internal values and expectations. I don't attribute guilt or shame to play or any D/s activity in the negative sense. Humiliation in a scene neither, it would suggest it is wrongful and if its consensual and has been discussed and done with caring, then it is not wrong in my eyes."....

Overcoming shame

To overcome shame we need to be courages. To be courages we have to be daring to ourselves to step into life and face it. And we can only do that if we have empathy for ourselves and others. To dare to be vulnerable and take that leap of faith of wanting to live free of shame.
If shame might have prevent you to step up and take a leap to try new things. You have to be courages and be out there. You have to dare to fail and learn. You have to go past your not good enough.

To end with a wonderful quote by Theodore Roosevelt: "The Man in the Arena"
Excerpt from the speech "Citizenship In A Republic", delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910

..."It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
 The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."...

Any comments or question are more than welcome as I might have missed something while writing it.
After all I am here to learn.

For this post I have used a lecture of Brene Brown on shame

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