The Black Hole of Shame
By Brian Lynch, M.D.
What is a “black hole?” Albert Einstein predicted the existence of black holes and later doubted that prediction. It turned out that he was right, they do exist. They are very large objects in space that have very powerful gravitational fields, so powerful that everything that comes near them falls into them, even light. So it is very hard to distinguish them form the black space around them.
I am not the first to think of shame, in it’s intense form, as causing a person to become a human black hole. Many times I have noted that when we feel bad and feeling bad can be expressed as feeling a sense of shame, we can only move through a series of possible activities that are remarkably restricted and those activities are, we can "withdraw", we can "attack" ourselves or others or we can "avoid" and all these can be can be envisioned as such:
Now envision a circular rail connecting the four poles of this “Compass” that enables the person to go from one pole to another in a clockwise fashion starting at “withdraw.” Now imagine the “train” that is taking the person around this rail going faster and faster. The faster the train goes the more centripetal force there is holding the person in and like a black hole everything that comes in contact with it will be drawn into the circle.
It seems at times that all the love and interest in the world one might heap on the person is of no avail, it simply gets sucked up into to the black hole of shame. Why shame? Because shame is the fuel for the train, shame that turns to guilt and embarrassment and being ashamed for even existing. Nothing matters but the pain of my shame. I cannot see the pain I cause others as mine now has become so great and it continues to feed on itself.
This is the toxic shame that should never have been for shame is not meant to be toxic. Shame is meant, and this will sound strange, it is meant, to be a friendly reminder that something is out of place. Shame is that feeling that things are not going right and we should pay closer attention and fix the problem. Not that we should turn away or blame ourselves or someone else for the problem. These “solutions” only delay getting back to life’s pleasures; back to love, friendship productive work. Yes, easier said than done but nevertheless true.
This is not to say it is easy or that the pain that people have is not incapacitating. People do not choose this pain. It is hoped that at least now that we can write about it and understand it that reading and understanding about it will empower some to be able to control the pain. How? We can begin to take action on the fact that it would be impossible to have such excruciating pain without the fact that that pain has to have a cause. What is the cause? It is the desire for something just as good as the pain we are suffering. Just as powerful. Powerful enough to cause such pain! Take the first step to regaining that which you lost. The pain gets better.
Tomkins, Silvan S.: Affect Imagery Consciousness NY: SPringer Publishing Company, 1963.
Shame and Pride : Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self by Donald L. Nathanson Paperback (March 1994)
W.W. Norton & Company; ISBN: 0393311090
How To Get Where You Want To Go Brian Lynch, M.D. 2000 PageFree