This article was originally published on Elephant Journal here.
When, if ever, is shamelessness a form of self-deceit?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been an advocate of shamelessness.
It showed up in smaller ways at first: an insistence on wearing brightly colored mis-matched socks all through elementary school, followed by a dogged determination to start a paper recycling program in my high school, despite the groans and rolling eyes of my teachers, who preferred not to be bothered. My favorite T-shirt read, “Why be normal?” – a motto that I follow to this day.
These days, however, shamelessness is the focus of my work: helping to heal the epidemic of shame in our society through one-on-one counseling work and group workshops to reveal the truth that we are not and were never alone.
But is it ever possible that when we staunchly insist on shamelessness, we’re really just covering for a deeply held belief that we are, indeed, shameful? To the extent that I stand with my legs wide, hands wound into fists on either side of my hips, saying, “I will not move,” and “I will be shameless,” might I be covering something deeper and more vulnerable?
Perhaps the tightly bound nature of my fists is the clue. Perhaps when they are clenched tight, I know that “shamelessness” is serving my oppression, not my liberation.
To use a personal example, in my intimate relationships, I have quite often been the one who wants more alone time, who is scared of “losing herself” in the relationship, and who chooses to focus on work over date-time, most of the time. I can easily dress this penchant for alone time in the language of “shameless dedication to my work,” and “shameless self-connection,” proclaiming my love for my needs for meaningful contribution to the world and self-connection.
And yet, I find that my “shamelessly” extolling the benefits of autonomy is sometimes just a cover.
It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, albeit a wolf who has an unfathomably more innocent sheep within.
And the wolf, if it could speak, would say something like: I am scared to love.
I am scared to love because I may be turned away, not wanted, rejected outright. If I come forward with the vulnerability of my heart’s desire, I may end up utterly alone.
And so I hide under the cover of “shameless self-determination,” “shameless driven-ness,” “shameless dedication to my work.”
But underneath this determination is a fear of closeness, hiding a belief that I am not lovable.
And if, then, I am really to live this “shameless hearted” thing, if I mean it, then I must touch that one, the one in the corner under the dirty laundry, the one I don’t want you to look at, and to hold it to the light, and to let it ask:
Am I lovable?
In the willingness to suspend knowing, to hang in utter uncertainty for a moment or an eternity, the opportunity to true shamelessness arises.
Shamelessness cannot be just another identity covering our fears.
Shamelessness means taking a stand for vulnerability, for not knowing, for being willing to be seen where we are scared the most.
Yes, shamelessness means that.
And so I invite you to notice…
What are some ways that your pride or your “shamelessness” are a cover? Where might they be not a reflection of your glowing self-love, but of a well-hidden belief that you are somehow defective and not enough, and that you must therefore hide to have love and connection in your life?
These are the beliefs that we must “out” if we are to heal. These are the beliefs that we must hold to the light if we are to transform the illusion of shame into the truth of all is welcome, and the truth that who we are is love.
It’s the decision to unclench our fists and to ask the vulnerable questions within us that are the source of our healing. Healing does not necessarily lie in receiving the answers. Healing is not in the affirmation.
Rather, healing lies in the unclenching itself, in the choice to let ourselves be seen and known and to enter the wave of life, letting it roll and lift and move through us, reminding us that we are stardust in motion, the whole river of life moving through this single drop of water called “me.” True shamelessness lies in the willingness to face the unknown again and again, even as the river carries us downward and home.