Some Opposites of Shame
Photo Cred: Dorothy Attakora-Gyan
I had a conversation with Gabriel Kram last week. He is the Founder and CEO of Applied Mindfulness, Inc., Co-Convener of the Restorative Practices Alliance, Co-Founder of the Academy of Applied Social Medicine, and author of Restorative Practices of Wellbeing.
In our dialogue, the topic of shame came up. Gabriel mentioned a word that I used in my research but haven’t really touched on too tough because I was focused on showing my committee that I understood the literature. He said how the antidote/opposite of shame is sovereignty. Ding ding ding. Nailed it. Home run!
Here’s why: so much of shame is about power. Shame leaves us feeling as if we have nowhere to turn, which draws more shame, making us feel even more powerless.
In my dissertation, I started the introduction of the chapter Parable of the Talents: Unraveling Shame by writing, “Shame thrives where power is struggled for, abused, in excess, or imbalanced. Those with excess power who abuse it weaponize shame to control others for personal gain.” That’s precisely how shame works in tandem with power to move us. Essentially, shame is all about power struggles, power imbalance, unequal power, abuse of power, and toxic control dynamics.
I used Octavia Butler’s novel Parable of the Talents to explore how shame's association with power is interwoven with anti-Black racism and white supremacist violence. When shame operates in these ways, the antidote as Gabriel Kram notes has to be sovereignty, autonomy, freedom, liberation, and an escape from bondage. As Lauren and her community struggle to achieve, with the help of Mother Nature and the rains, of course.
Sovereignty is one opposite of shame. There are others.
Jack Halberstam suggests pride is the opposite of shame. Though he asks us to be careful of how we enact and engage in pride. If our pride doesn’t come with an awareness of shame, meaning that we try to separate shame from pride and refuse to see that pride and shame are both occupying the same coin, just different sides, then we risk a superficial sort of pride that really just overcompensates for not addressing our shame. We perform hyper-superiority when in actuality, there is a deep inferiority complex being masked and hidden.
Melisa Harris-Perry says that recognition is the antidote to shame because shame is all about misrecognition. Brené Brown says vulnerability and belonging are the antidotes because shame leaves us disconnected and fearful of vulnerability. In this way, connection is the opposite of shame.
I go so far as to say that truth and reconciliation are also the opposite of shame. And yes, in an Indigenous context type of way. In the literature, it says that when the European settlers first arrived on Turtle Island, they believed that the native people didn’t have/know shame because they didn’t blush. Many Indigenous communities worked with shame differently, which is not to say that they didn’t have it. I'll do a blog on that in the future. Instead, they may have used embarrassment or humiliation, lesser variations of shame, says historians like Peter Stearns.
But I also raise truth as the opposite of shame same, along with radical honesty and transparency, because so much of shame is about covering, hiding, masking, lying, and performing.
Lastly, knowledge, awareness, reflection, and introspection, these practices are also the opposite of shame.
In Trauma and Its Institutional Destinies, Karyn Ball (2000) shared that for Jean-Paul Sartre, shame resulted in self-consciousness, whereas for Virginia Woolf, shame provided insight into the “dynamics of power” (p. 32). According to Ball, Virginia Woolf believed that shame shows us where power is being violated, abused, or sent out of balance. These readings of shame as providing enlightenment and raising our consciousness were also found in ancient Greece and China. Studies show that shame featured prominently in shaping seminal texts in Greek and Chinese philosophy, as well as other intellectual life, including the book of Genesis in the Bible.
It’s getting long so I’ll wrap this up.
To summarize, shame causes us to seek power over others in unequal ways that result in power struggles. Its forceful nature makes us want to take control in disastrous ways. Sovereignty then is needed as an antidote. So are belonging, connection, pride, recognition, and other buzzwords used here.
Until next time, in solidarity.