Usually when we think of someone engaging in shenanigans, we think of being mischievous and playful. We don’t normally attach a negative meaning to it. Normally we speak of shenanigans as youthful pranks such as covering a neighbor’s tree with toilet paper at Halloween or passing out laxatives as gum. Most shenanigans are more inconvenient than detrimental.
To speak of the problems associated with shame, we will define shenanigans as deceit or trickery. When discussing the crippling impact shame can have on our lives, I don’t want anyone to mistake that I’m taking things too lightly. It’s a serious matter and to help with this, we will look at a familiar story.
No matter your religious beliefs, most have heard of the story of Adam and Eve. Many women, from time to time, offer a threat or two regarding what they would do if they ever met up with Eve in a dark alley. There are others that will debate whether it was Eve’s fault that she and Adam were evicted from the garden, or if it was Adam’s complacency that was the culprit. Well, we aren’t going to get into that this time around. No, today we’re talking about the shame that resulted from those two fateful bites.
When you get a chance, read (or reread) the story of Adam and Eve starting at Genesis 2:21. Just after Eve was created, we learn that she and Adam were naked and unashamed. Skipping over to Genesis 3, we see how shame caused them to cover up, isolate and engage in finger pointing. Yet, Eve comes clean and admits she was deceived. The serpent’s shenanigans (deceit, trickery) started this famous downward spiral.
Shame can lead to:
- Becoming Self-Focused – Before eating the forbidden fruit, both Adam and Eve had no problems being naked. Yet, one of the first things they noticed and took issue with, was their nakedness. Shame tricks us into thinking we are the problem. The decision to eat the forbidden fruit is no longer the problem — our nakedness (our person) is. Shame can convince us that it’s not what we did but who we are that needs to be concealed.
- Attempts to hide or isolate – When Adam and Eve heard God arrive in the garden to commune with them, they hid. Shame not only causes regret but can have us thinking we are inadequate, unworthy and damaged beyond repair. This leads to attempts to hide out — either emotionally and/or physically. Believing other people have similar thoughts about us, we either isolate or hide behind emotional walls like anger and push others away.
- Shallow relationships – Both self-focus and isolation can lead to problematic relationships. Caring too much about what others think leads to inauthentic relationships. Wearing emotional masks, we become actors in our own lives. When we don’t address shame and call it out for what it is (paralyzing, crippling, deceitful), the shenanigans can have a long-lasting impact on our relationships.
“You can’t heal what you won’t reveal.”
How to combat shame
There is a saying that goes, “You can’t heal what you won’t reveal.” In order to overcome shame’s trickery, we must first take an honest look at its beginnings. We need to ask, “Am I feeling this way because of something I did, or because of something done to me?” If it is something you did, can it be undone? Is there a conversation or an apology that needs to take place? Now, let’s be honest — just talking about it won’t magically erase feeling ashamed — but it’s a start.
If it is something someone else did to you, release all emotion that you’ve been carrying because of their behavior. It isn’t always a good idea to expect an apology. And let’s face it, people can apologize profusely, but it’s still up to us to change our behavior and manage our emotions. So, let’s focus on what you can do for you.
- Write down every thought and feeling attached to what was done. This may take hours — it may take days. Burn what’s written and be intentional to dis-empower any old feelings that try to attach themselves to us. Oh, this will take time — but it’s certainly doable.
- Enter therapy, hire a life-coach or mentor, join a support group. Have clear goals about what you want to see different in your life. Do you want to address your communication skills? What about addressing feelings of abandonment? Improve your conflict resolution skills? Become an active participant in your healing by having clear goals.
- Give yourself time… LOTS of it. Deconstructing the emotional safeguards we’ve placed in our lives is not an easy task. We put them there for a reason, right? It takes time to figure out how shame hampers us. Be patient with yourself! Be patient with others too as they adjust to the new way you engage with them.
- Be brave! No matter the road you chose to undo shame’s damage, you will need to be brave. It will take being brave to ask friends to call you out on your stuff from time to time. It will take being brave to act in authentic ways that are true to the real you. You may tremble — but do it anyway!
This is not an exhaustive list regarding the different ways shame can trick you, or how to address shame’s shenanigans. Healing is an individual task. Remember, you can live a healthy and genuine life. Shame’s reach is only as long as we allow it to be. Honesty, time, and bravery are some of the tools it takes to dismantle unhealthy ways of relating to others.
And in case you didn’t know it, you have exactly what it takes to expose the shenanigans of shame. You got this!