There are many layers to shame. The definition of shame is a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.
We, as humans, have some basic instincts that make us susceptible to shame. First, we are very motivated by pain! We want to avoid it at almost any cost. Second, we are social creatures, so we want to do things that help us to be part of society. Loneliness can also be painful, so that instinct to be social is a double whammy. Those two instincts are enough to drive us into doing whatever we have to do and behaving however we are “supposed to” in order to “be a part of.”
I believe that one of the best ways to control a person is to control their sex. By making certain activities wrong or foolish, institutions such as religion, government, and even our family of origin can exert control over us, making us behave according to specific criteria, whether we agree with it or not. Many times we don’t even know to question our beliefs about what is right or not because we are so thoroughly conditioned. Then, when we have divergent or unconventional desires, we feel shame, pain, and distress because we are going against everything we have been taught, and we face the pain of exile and loneliness.
Shame has more power over us in isolation and secrecy. When we are inside our minds and feeling bad, then we can build up a negative feedback loop about how bad we are, that what we want is wrong and that if we ever get found out, we will be ostracized and alone. Society’s messages constantly reinforce these ideas adding to the negative self-judgment. The more a person is embedded in the social machine, the more they have to lose by wanting so-called wrong and foolish things.
In the modern day and age, things are changing as communication is improving, and people can connect and discuss things more freely. As more people confide in each other that they feel shame, the shame is released. The more each individual is out and open about what they want and need, the more it gets normalized. Sometimes this happens in small private groups, sometimes at a public level.
Being witnessed is the fasted way of releasing shame. I believe this is why people who practice alternative lifestyles, such as nudism, swinging, and kink in community have so much freedom. By practicing what is usually deemed inappropriate and being seen and accepted, possibly even encouraged, the layers of programming and judgment melt away. It’s just not possible to be ashamed of your nakedness when you are walking around nude and being wholly accepted precisely as you are.
One challenge that the many people face is that the leap from the conventional lifestyle to any alternative lifestyle is enormous, and they don’t know where to start. Also, as everyone falls in different places along the spectrum, an individual may be experiencing shame but not have any desire to be in a group or semi-public situation such as a nudist resort or lifestyle event.
That is where individual or private witnessing comes in to play. A witness is someone who can see you in whatever state you have shame around and hold space. To hold space means to be present, keep attention on the activity at hand, and to express acceptance and approval. Ideally, the witness has some experience with holding a lot of sensation as it can be very intense for a person to be working through all their layers of shame and possible self-hatred and judgmental thoughts. The witness needs to be able to set aside personal opinions and be present emotionally and energetically for the witnessed person.
As a witness, I suspend my own opinions and judgment. I take in what is happening and allow my inner observer to be the dominant voice in my mind. Any reactions, thoughts, or opinions are relegated to the back burner to be processed later. I take in the individual, what they are doing, and experiencing as completely as possible. If they get stuck, I may ask questions or make statements in the spirit of keeping them present and aligned with their goal.
Before a witnessing session, we clarify goals. We do our best to identify the specifics of the shame and pain, such as where it came from and how it’s affected the life of the one I’m witnessing. We clarify our intentions for the session and set a timer. And then they do what it is to move through the sensations of shame and more while I hold space. After the timer goes off, we debrief. We discuss the experience and the emotions of the witnessed one. In the event of intense emotions or trauma coming up, we talk or journal or do other practices for soothing and decompression.
If you have shame to release and would like to be witnessed, please let me know. It can be incorporated into your coaching package. If you would like to learn to witness people or hold space for your partner, I can help you develop that skill as well.