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A couple of months ago, my friend, Michael, made his first visit to Chicago. In addition to other planned events, we spent some time at the Chicago Art Institute. I dig the museum but hadn’t been in a while. Michael is a sophisticated man and knows his art. I basically had a personal docent walking with me through the museum. Eventually, we came upon the sculpture, Eve After the Fall, depicted above. While Michael shared his knowledge of the piece’s history, I was struck by Rodin’s ability to capture Eve’s shame. May be more so, the pain of shame. I have given a lot of thought to the concept of shame because it has come up often in the MenLiving spaces I have frequented over the years.  Though it is not an emotion I experience, I am curious about how it emerges and sticks with a person. This piece of art provided me with a stark physical representation of how some of my friends might feel. Rooted in how one views themselves in relation to others and how one thinks others might perceive them, shame, as I look at this sculpture, is not only about pain, but about withdrawing from others, hiding.

Regarding shame and hiding, not long ago, I read the following in an article by Satya Robyn, a writer, psychotherapist, and environmental activist:

“What begins as guilt will mutate into shame, which is much more sinister and decidedly heavier on the soul. It doesn’t just weigh on the heart; it slithers into the gap of every joint, making everything swollen and tender. We learn to walk differently in order to carry the shame, but then we become prone to manipulate things like nearness and connection just to relieve our own swelling.           

Yes—shame slithers. Shame is icky. Shame threatens to isolate us from our fellow humans, telling us that we are utterly unworthy of love, and maybe even that the center of our very being is toxic. Shame has great power. No wonder we spend so much of our energy trying not to feel it.”

What was most powerful for me in this excerpt is the perspective of how shame can isolate and manipulate those possessed with it from engaging with others. Again, hiding. Tragic. I believe the greatest joy in life is found through connecting with other human beings and connection is the antidote to most anything that ails us including shame. Author Ann Voskamp supports this point stating, ‘Shame dies when stories are told in safe places.’ I think most anything ugly can die when we talk about it especially in safe spaces. Every day, MenLiving is striving to create these spaces. I don’t want to minimize the courage that might be required to overcome the hiding, but it’s no surprise that the doing the opposite, emerging, engaging, can fix the ick.


  • martin mcleish says:

    hey Shaun great article. unfortunately i came to know shame well. Due to a childhood incident that was not handled appropriately by any of the adults involved, i began believing that i , as an eight year old must have somehow been responsible for initiating the whole thing. WRONG!
    after a number of years it felt as though shame was part of my DNA.
    this theory is not really that far fetched in my opinion. possibly not the DNA, but certainly i carried the feelings of shame in my body, not my head.
    Hot toxic shame, that separates from one from others . the attempt to hide oneself, and thus the shame is really damaging to self esteem and mental health.
    Shame, left unchecked, will write its own neural programming in the brain, and the longer it is internalized, the more work that is required to deprogram the neural memories of how shame feels, however i believe there is a strong “muscle memory” component as well.
    i base this on the fact that when i started dealing with the shame, shedding tears was a strong component of the healing.
    Talking and sharing the shame are definitely the way to address this “sticky malady”.

  • Shaun,

    I appreciate your honesty and also astute observations and links to others perspectives.

    In my experience — personally and working with boys and men for over 25 years — shame is the #1 paralyzer and killer (literally) of men. Mentoring men through incredible crises like loss, suicide attempts, and betrayal… nothing saps vitality and makes us turn against our own selves like shame — the inner destroyer who fools us into believing he is our only trusted advisor and protector.

    And like you emphasize, shame starts to lessen and die in the light of open conversations between us. Thank you for breaking the ground here for that to happen. Even if one man reads this post above and it gives him a shred of courage and the tinniest sense that he may actually not be broken or flawed, then we may have saved a life.

    As you can see, I am very passionate about this topic also because my purpose is to help men create unbreakable bonds, cultivating true and lasting love. Shame is the greatest barrier — it divides us internally and creates wedges between us and others.

    If you or men in this community are curious about how I recommend we can begin to UN- shame ourselves — whether in men’s groups, therapy or other supportive contexts — I leave a resource here of the 5 phases I have seen men go through to become more humble, whole and at peace with all that we are…

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