How Shame Can Block Accountability


– We’re really passionate about shame and how it shows up in people’s lives. It’s like a paralyzing force that causes you to just not acknowledge the power that you have, the way that things
are affecting you. It just causes you to shut down. Which I think the counter to
shame is unconditional love. It’s interesting because people use shame as a tactic to get accountability, but that’s actually the opposite, and you’re much less likely to get authentic accountability
if you’re shaming someone. When I think about shame
and what shame means and how it relates to the macro level, I think about growing up in a female body being told what I’m supposed to be, what I’m supposed to look like, how I’m supposed to act, and just recognizing that my internal self was totally different from that
self that I was told to be, and that creating a
foundational sense of shame over just not matching the
expectations of society and the people around me. And I think about, especially in capitalism and in the systems that we’re in, this expectation of individualism, being able to do everything yourself, this expectation of never making mistakes, the perfectionism, the meritocracy that if
you’re not doing well, or if you don’t have what you need, it’s probably because you’re
not working hard enough. Just all of these things that put the emphasis back on you’re to blame for whatever is happening in your life. Or you’re to blame if you don’t match what society tells you
you’re supposed to be. And that just creates this sense that, especially as like queer
folks, as trans folks, as Black folks, as people
who don’t fit the standard of what the right person
is supposed to be like, it creates this sense of a dissociation, a separation of self, that can lead to erratic behavior, that can lead to shutting down, that can lead to rejection
of self, society, the people around you,
the people you love, as a way to mitigate kind
of that gap in your life, the difference between the fantasy of who you’re supposed to be, the fantasy of who you want to be, and the reality of your life. – Yeah. So one of the ways in which
shame really gets in the way of taking accountability is really on the
physiological level, right? And shame is an affect which is a physiological response to an outside stimulus. And so those relate to emotions but they’re distinct from emotions. Emotions are culturally specific, which means that based on your identity, how you were raised, how
you express yourself, your personality, what triggers an emotion for you and how you express that is different from my emotions, right? But underlying that at
the physiological level, if something happens that
triggers a sense of fear in us, there are similar physiological things that are happening. And basically affects can
be put into two categories. There are affects that cause you to move towards something,
like excitement or joy, and there are affects that cause you to move away from something,
like disgust or fear. And shame is right at the center of that. And what shame does is
it shuts you down, right? And so, it causes you to go inward. You are breaking that relational bond that is necessary to
empathize with someone and to take accountability. And so, if your process
is based in shame, you might get a performative apology, you might get someone to just break down and say, I’m nothing, I messed up, I’ll do whatever you want me to do. But that is not accountability to me because accountability
I think requires taking some agency and courage and moving towards a new pattern of being. And it’s just literally
physically impossible to do that if your body
is in a state of shame.

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