Shame is often a concealed and dangerous emotion, informing us of our inadequacies and unworthiness. It is an emotion which can lead us to believe that we are entirely flawed, bad, wrong, unwanted and un-loveable. It motivates us to hide who we are for fear that who we are is not enough. In a society where we are encouraged to be anything and everything other than that which we are, it is easy to disguise ourselves, our lives becoming a staged play, lived behind masks and the façade of fake social media profiles. And in hiding we create separation; separation from our true selves and separation from others. This separation fuels feelings of loneliness and isolation. Shame and isolation feed into each other keeping us trapped in a cycle of negative thinking.
Shame has many sources. It may last a brief time or be a core experience of the self. For some, shame is first experienced in childhood and continues well into adulthood. Some people will be conscious of their feelings of shame whilst others won’t be. Shame is associated with many mental health conditions, either being part of the cause or else being the resulting feeling following a diagnosis. Shame has been associated with behaviours such as addiction, eating disorders and self-harm and studies have shown consistently that shame can also play a role in suicide.
When it comes to our mental health breaking stigma and overcoming shame are imperative because shame is often the biggest barrier for people when it comes to reaching out and seeking support. I know. I’ve been there. I remained trapped in a cycle of self- destructive behaviours for years, silently screaming, wanting my pain to stop but not knowing how, afraid of judgement and rejection. But pain is unrelenting and at some point our need to end the loneliness, the isolation and the shame outweighs the risk to be vulnerable. It has to. I stared at the alternative a few times. We have to make it easier as a society for people to take the risk to step back into their humanity, to reach out and seek true belonging, for them to know that their story, their voice and their pain matters too, and to know that they are ‘not the only ones’ feeling this way.
Everyone has a story to tell. In sharing our stories we find commonality with others. Stories help us to understand ourselves and each other; they connect us to universal truths about ourselves and our world. Stories help us to understand other peoples’ perspective and experiences. They highlight prejudices and can prompt social change.
In finally finding my voice and the courage to read aloud my own unread chapters, I very quickly found myself amongst a supportive community of people willing to do the same. A community of people willing to make themselves vulnerable and exposed, the truth of who they are out there for all the world to see. And through vulnerability comes an incredible amount of power and connection. This is a huge catalyst for healing, growth and change. In embarking on the journey to collate The Silent Scream anthology I found healing through a shared vulnerability with a group of strangers that liberated me from my feelings of loneliness and unworthiness. In facing my fears I found connection without rules, outside the lines and in places where I thought I wouldn’t. Connection with others reduced my experience of shame, and just as shame feeds into negative thinking, connection feeds into positive thinking, therefore overcoming the shame which so often keeps us trapped in silence, isolated and alone. So speak up and speak out because the more we do, the more we overcome shame, increase connection and improve our mental and emotional wellbeing.
Words by Maria Alfieri - June 2020
The Silent Scream: An Anthology of Despair, Struggle and Hope is a collaboration of raw, honest and inspirational stories and anecdotes about struggles with mental and emotional wellbeing, ranging from eating disorders, sexual abuse, self-harm, drug addiction, PTSD, cancer recovery, parenting, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation and general feelings of unworthiness in a world demanding conformity and accomplishment. The Silent Scream is a friend, a hold in the hand companion, a book to dip in and out of, ready to reassure you that normal does not exist. As collaborators we make our mess our message: you are not alone.