Odd as it may seem, we often feel shame about the best we have to offer—our generosity, humility, tenderness and ability to love—just the same as we do about the petty, selfish and small parts of our nature. On the surface, this may sound crazy, but in the deep recesses of our souls, there’s a tragedy going on that is worth exploring and understanding.
There is, in fact, one key factor responsible. It goes something like this.
At some time in our childhood, we felt rejected, and typically we felt more rejected by one of our parents than by the other. Whether this was a justified feeling or not, it doesn’t matter. It might even have been the case that the parent who seemed more rejecting had more real love for us. All that counts, though, is the way we felt at the time. For that’s what formed the inner impressions that, over time, added up and created our hidden beliefs, called images, which are essentially deep-seated wrong conclusions about life. These are what later in life create the patterns in our emotional experiences.
But let’s go back to the child. As children, we wanted to get more love and approval than we got, especially from the parent who seemed to reject us. When we didn’t, we felt rejected. Deep down, getting love and approval from this particular parent then became even more desired, largely because what we wanted seemed so impossible to get.
As children, we wanted to get more love and approval than we got, especially from the parent who seemed to reject us.
Keep in mind, as children we wanted exclusive love and approval. That’s just the way all children are wired. But then we mixed up this desire with the fact that one of our parents withheld it. In short, we got confused and we attached our desire for love and acceptance to what we actually felt we got: rejection. When that happened, the rejector became desirable.
To us, it seemed that the rejector was unloving, so we concluded—unconsciously, of course—that being unlovable is desirable. In our immature child’s psyche, we came to believe: “If I am unloving, I will be desirable.” And that’s how we have come to now think—again, unconsciously—that being cold and void of feelings is a behavior pattern that will get us the goodies.
Does this make sense? Yes and no. To the adult mind, it’s illogical and hard to fathom. But there’s also a peculiar, understandable logic that fits into a child’s mind, and this is what slips into our unconscious. This is also what colors our emotional life as we grow older, making our emotions seem so confusing.
With all this bubbling inside us, we have the deep sense that our loving parts are undesirable. For after all, we’ve concluded that what’s desirable is to be cold and rejecting. We’re ashamed, then, to show others that we desire to love and be loved.
Often, it’s not really that we fear being hurt that holds us back, it’s this hidden confusion, as just explained. For let’s face it, it’s humiliating for a child to yearn for love and affection, but to instead receive a stocking full of rejection. Later, all this often gets buried under various compulsions and twisted-up drives. As such, this conflict, with all its chain reactions and unintended consequences, can cause heartbreaking problems.
If we try to simply ignore this issue and align with our Higher-Self desire to love, we will fall short because we will feel so ashamed. This, in turn, makes us feel guilty for being self-centered and selfish. But loving, when there is shame associated with it, feels equally awful. So what are we to do?
SEARCHING FOR CLUES WITHIN
There are symptoms we can search for that can reveal this hidden conflict within. To find them, we must search for our oh-so-subtle inner reactions, which show up in certain situations. For example, when we feel ashamed to ask for something we desire—to have our true needs met—this conflict may be at work. Or when we feel ashamed to show that we care. Or perhaps we notice that we feel ashamed to pray. For doesn’t revealing our truest selves with all our best intentions, as we do in prayer, represent the highest interest of our best selves?
While finding the roots of this conflict may be tricky, it does exist in at least some small way in all of us.
If it seems particularly elusive, here’s another approach to try. We can consider how we reacted towards the other parent, the one who was more free in offering what we had hoped to get versus the more rejecting parent. If the rejector was outwardly the more “superior” person—always the winner, if you will—while the loving parent was more subdued and apparently weaker, perhaps even under the domination of the rejecting parent and maybe even a little bit despised, then the conflict we experienced may have been even greater.
Because in addition to feeling rejected ourselves, we saw that the more loving parent was also rejected. This creates the impression that the loving parent is weak and the rejecting parent is strong. To love then, is to be weak, and to be aloof is a sign of strength. It’s possible this conclusion about our parents is completely wrong: the rejector may actually not be the stronger one. There are many factors at play. In general, the more obvious the parent’s faults are, the easier it will be to sort things out. The more subtle they are, the more complicated it can be to get to the bottom of the problem.
While finding the roots of this conflict may be tricky, it does exist in at least some small way in all of us.
It’s important to realize that we have many wrong conclusions, which have sunk down into our unconscious. This happens because they are illogical, so as we grow up, our mind lets them slip out of our conscious awareness. But once they are lodged down in the dark depths of our unconscious, we can no longer refute them with our logical mind. This gives them more power, not less, to create unpleasant patterns in our lives, but which we then don’t understand and can’t correct…until now, when we are ready to bring them to the surface.
Our work is to unwind this rubber-band ball of twisted wiring. To do so, we must recognize that as children we absorbed the inner situation, registering it very finely in ourselves. But we only retain the outer situation in our intellectual memory. The latter has far less effect than the former. No matter how things looked on the surface, we came away with the feeling that the more dependent, “weak” parent was inferior, while the one who rejected us more was stronger and superior.
As such, in some subtle way, we make the rejector out to be our ally, and together, we reject the other weak-seeming parent. We’d rather be accepted by the rejector, whom we believe to be more desirable, than identify with the dependent parent we believe is weak and needy.
It doesn’t actually matter whether we betray the weak parent with our words and actions, or if we just desire to do so. Deep down, it’s all the same. And so too, deep down, we are betraying our best self, abandoning the very thing we long for: to love and be loved.
In this way, we cripple our ability to love. And at the same time, we betray the parent who has actually been giving us what we were hopelessly trying to get from the other parent. In fact, we feel contempt for that more loving parent whom we unconsciously think of as being more weak.
THE REAL ROOTS OF BETRAYAL
Most of us have had the experience of feeling betrayed at some point. But we’re innocent! we lament. Well, here’s one possibility of where betrayal might be living inside us, which of course can then attract an experience of betrayal to us. And while such an inner betrayal may seem subtle, it is often one of the dominant conflicts within us.
Finding and stopping this inner betrayal then is vitally important, not because the parent we have rejected suffers from our behavior, but because we do. This betrayal weighs us down with the guilt it creates, which is, among the many guilts we carry, the very deepest. It darkens our whole outlook on life, destroying our sense of self-confidence and self-respect, and creating feelings of inferiority.
Finding and stopping this inner betrayal is vitally important, not because the parent we have rejected suffers from our behavior, but because we do.
When there is such a betrayal lodged deep in our souls, we can’t trust ourselves. For how can we trust ourselves when we are being a traitor to the best in us? And if we can’t trust ourselves, how can we trust anyone else? Such is the chain reaction. And naturally, if we don’t trust people, we’re bound to attract those whose behavior will constantly confirm that we have no reason to trust them.
By contrast, if we are able to genuinely trust others, we will have the right kind of discrimination and judgment to attract those who warrant our trust. To get to this place, we must unearth the reasons for not trusting ourselves. And that means finding and eliminating the real nut of the betrayal just discussed.
FEELING THE EFFECTS EVERY DAY
But what if we’re not in a position to find out how this operates with our parents? As luck would have it, we can always look around for where we’re transferring those same feelings onto someone else, who in some remote way is standing in for them psychologically. This could be a friend, a spouse, or a boss; it will likely be someone who is near and dear to us in some way.
Whenever we reject someone who is ready to offer us help, friendship or maybe even genuine love, and who for one reason or another we have dubbed as “weak”, helpless or dependent, we have slotted them into the role of the weaker parent. On the other hand, if there’s someone not quite ready to give us what we wish—acceptance, admiration, respect or love—they adopt the invisible cloak of the rejecting parent.
We won’t find the subtle behavior of betrayal just by searching our outer actions.
Our work is to search through our more subtle reactions and our most elusive emotions. We must dig beneath the surface of our rationalizations and discover where we’re committing a betrayal, all over again, both against the other person and against our innermost self.
We won’t find the subtle behavior of betrayal just by searching our outer actions. If we’re committed to only finding it there, no one will be able to convince us that it exists. For we will always be able to justify our behavior and therefore never put our finger on the root cause. As such, we can go on fooling ourselves that this doesn’t live inside us. Our heart, however, will remain unconvinced. And that’s what really counts.
HOW & WHY WE HOLD BACK
Some will say, “This doesn’t apply to me; I’m very demonstrative. I give my love freely and fully.” For many, this is so, at least in part. But for most, only part of the true self will be revealed, and the rest remains hidden. Sure, we may have a generous heart and all, but at the same time, we hold part of ourselves back behind a wall. So we put part of ourselves on display but then “borrow” the rest, so to speak.
We assume a veneer of outgoingness and offer a version of love that isn’t quite real.
What we’re doing is “borrowing” a similar behavior pattern and using it as a substitution for something more real. Why would we do this? As just explained, we feel shame about our loving self, causing us to hide it. The effect of our inauthenticity is feeling condemned to always being rejected and left alone. We end up reconsidering loving, rather than rethinking this notion that loving is shameful.
In the end, we assume a veneer of outgoingness and offer a version of love that isn’t quite real. We don’t dare to show our real self, but instead, in a subtle way, we dramatize ourselves and our love. This is often what shows up in couples.
The goal of doing our personal work of self-development is to free our true selves. That’s the real meaning of freedom. It’s also the only way to be in a strong and healthy relationship. And the first step in opening our own personal prison doors is to see how this conflict around shame of our best self lives in us. Then slowly but surely we can learn to let ourselves out.
Adapted from Pathwork Lecture #66 Shame of the Higher Self