The Psychological Effects of Shame
On my first day in graduate school psychology, the professor began class by writing on the board, “the problem is never the problem.” He went on to explain that almost every person who comes to you for counseling will tell you what they think their problem is, and they will always be wrong. Several decades ago, I started teaching something called “The What, the Why, and the Who.” When a person walks into your counseling office and tells you what their problem is, 99 times out of 100 they give you a “What.” The What is the thing you do or don’t do, the external circumstance, the problematic behavior.
The “Why” is the internal, underlying reason for the circumstance or behavior. This is what most experts, writers, doctors, and therapists today would say is your real problem—but in my opinion, they are wrong. The true source is the “Who”—that is, your internal identity and sense of safety and self-worth, not the English rock band known for classics such as Baba O’Riley and Who Are You. What you really need to be okay here is a belief that you are inherently a good person, and a knowledge that you are loved just the way you are. If you have those, your internal identity will be positive, and you will naturally start to mend everything else. Since the Who is really at the root of the Why, if you get the former in balance, the latter will naturally start to fall into place. And of course, the What can’t help but follow. You’ll find your behavior starting to match your desires almost without effort! Of course, you won’t be perfect, none of us ever are. But you’ll have peace. And anyone who has peace is doing alright.
There are two universal laws you can choose to live by: natural law, or spiritual law. Natural law is external, spiritual law is internal. Natural law is, well, a law, while the spiritual law would actually be more accurately called grace, meaning freedom from the law. If you hear nothing else today, hear this: I’ve never seen anyone living by natural law who was happy, healthy, fulfilled, and consistently at peace. I don’t believe it can be done under that system. It’s rare to find someone truly living under grace, sadly, but when you do, you inevitably see peace, love, and joy as its natural results. This is because you’re living according to real love, rather than an illusory, business-deal love that checks out when something goes wrong.
Another word for having the wrong Who—a negative identity, lacking self-worth, etc—is shame, and it may be the most crippling thing on the planet. It is inextricably linked to unforgiveness, usually of yourself. Switch systems, and that shame lifts, replaced by positive identity, joy, and peace.
Have a blessed, wonderful day!