Embracing Growth with the Prosocial Shame Ladder
Last night I made a confession to my husband, something I had actually never told him before. A pattern of shame that lives in my body daily that I have been holding in isolation, unconsciously. But to tell you about it, I have to set the scene of dinner last night.
Yesterday was Seth’s birthday, and I had planned a meal all week that I knew would remind him of his grandmother and make him feel connected to his ancestors on his special day. I wasn’t following a recipe, but I’d heard some stories of the Jewish Hungarian dishes that were her love language to him, and I innovated. I braised cabbage steaks, I fried mushrooms, I did my best approximation of farfel using pearl couscous, I made an herbal, sweet, and tangy sauce to tie it all together, garnishing with dill blossoms and serving it with all of my love.
My approach to cooking uses all of my creativity. It involves creating rich, complex, many-layered dishes that experiment with seasonal, abundant ingredients. I’m proud of the relationship I have with food, and many people have said that meals I’ve served are as good as or better than anything they’ve ever eaten in a restaurant. Last night, eating dinner, my husband said exactly that, with additional praise about how this was EXACTLY the meal he needed to feel more deeply into some ancestral healing work he was specifically focused on doing on his birthday.
I’m proud of that. So why do I have an intrusive thought in my mind, often, telling me that I’m probably not a good cook and that people are probably just lying to be nice?
Tuning in, I realize it’s not a thought in my head. It’s a feeling that washes over me. I feel it as a sudden gap I feel in the space between my belly and my chin, a sinking, empty feeling. And then I feel a blandness in my mouth, like no flavors truly differentiate themselves from one another, and every meal is the same.
This feels shameful.
It also feels sometimes like a part of the creative process that propels me forward.
I experience this specifically with any form of creative expression that feels vulnerable to me. It’s why I often don’t sing in public, show my poetry or paintings to literally anyone, and struggle with publishing essays like this one.
But what if we can lose the shame and have a creative process that propels us forward, truly feeling proud of ourselves and enjoying the fruits of our labors?
I’m curious, if you have areas of your life in which shame has been a protective boundary, which you are feeling ready to release? Feel so welcome to share with me, I will hold it with no judgement whatsoever, and celebrate the small brave step it takes to share like this.
Lessons from the Living World: Shedding Our Skin to Grow
When we observe the living world, we see examples of growth and transformation. Snakes, insects, and lobsters all shed their skin or exoskeleton when they outgrow it, allowing them to expand and thrive.
This happens only when their body has grown, with time, to need to take up more space than their current boundary allows. The process of shedding involves tiny chemical interactions throughout the entire body, signalling release. Release, release, release. The signal moves through every part of the body until the release is complete.
I imagine that the build up to that release is uncomfortable.
I imagine that the process of that release is ultimately profoundly pleasurable.
Understanding the Prosocial Shame Ladder
Humans are social creatures. Much of what we need comes from one another. Our growth-shedding cycle is psychological, and it happens by being witnessed by others. We grow in our sense of self, self-love, self-compassion, self-confidence. What do we shed to grow into this? We shed shame.
Cultures that are healthier than ours have rituals and ceremonies to bear witness to one another’s’ shames, failings, growth. There are circles for restoring trust in the community, rites of passage, and ways that ritual theater is employed to heal the shadows and the wounds and the shame of community members, so everyone can grow more whole, together.
There’s a fundamental principle at play here, that we must be witnessed in our shame in order to grow beyond it.
The prosocial shame ladder is a concept I learned about recently in the Trauma of Money course Seth and I are enrolled in. The prosocial shame ladder is a framework that helps us recognize and navigate different layers of shame. It illustrates how our feelings of shame can either hinder or propel us, depending on our response to them.
The ladder consists of four stages, which are interconnected with the concept of being witnessed and growing through our shame:
- Denial: At the bottom, we deny or dismiss our feelings of shame, remaining trapped within our psychological boundaries. In this stage, we are not yet ready to be witnessed by others or acknowledge our shame.
- Awareness: Climbing the ladder, we become more aware of our feelings of shame and their impact on our lives, preparing ourselves for a psychological shedding. This awareness opens us up to the possibility of being witnessed by others and encourages us to share our vulnerabilities.
- Sharing and Witnessing: In this stage, we allow others to bear witness to our shame, and we share our vulnerabilities with them. Through this process, we begin to shed our shame and grow into a greater sense of self-compassion and self-confidence. The act of being seen and heard by others helps us to accept and integrate our experiences.
- Transformation and Growth: At the top of the ladder, we have successfully moved through our shame, allowing it to transform and propel us forward. The shedding of our shame has allowed us to grow into a more authentic and whole version of ourselves. Our self-love, self-compassion, and self-confidence are strengthened, and we emerge more resilient and capable of facing future challenges.
By understanding the prosocial shame ladder and its stages, we can better navigate the complex emotions that accompany shame. Through sharing our vulnerabilities and allowing others to bear witness to our shame, we can shed the limiting beliefs and experiences that hold us back, ultimately growing into the best versions of ourselves.
Inviting Connection and Growth
Shedding our skin to grow is a process that we all go through in different areas of our lives. Whether it’s with our creative expression, relationships, or relationship with money, shedding our shame and limiting beliefs is an essential part of the growth process.
In our work, Seth and I have realized how connected the roots of sexual shame, financial shame, and religious trauma are. We also know that these forms of shame must be shed through connection with others. That’s why we’re convening a 12 week cohort to gently, thoughtfully, and deeply look at these areas of our lives, how they’re connected, and how we can grow in all three directions together.
Sex, God, and Money is designed to be a safe and supportive space for you to shed your shame, be witnessed by others, and grow into the best version of yourself. If you’re feeling that itch to shed the shame and beliefs that are no longer serving you, you’re so welcome to join us. Click here to learn more.