Burning Shame

(About the wheel of pain, Cape Town – 18/01/2018)

Every person should read this book. Gay and straight people. ‘The Velvet Rage’ by Alan Downs is one of the most powerful readings I recently did.

The book describes with astonishing precision a mechanism I have been trapped in. Something that it is not exclusive to myself but that applies to every person who receives a constant negative reinforcement/message during his life from a non-inclusive/hostile environment. Something that the book defines as ‘shame’ which is described as the feeling that some of us are flawed individuals. That, in essence, there is something about us that is at least a disadvantage if not something that makes us defective.

In this case, and that is where this book focuses, the fact that someone is gay and has to live constantly with the feeling of being essentially flawed. But the same applies with other discrimination factors in this society: race, physical appearance or social class for example (hence the importance of understanding this topic). Things that define who you are, who are intrinsically part of you (you cannot change those things) for which you have been constantly receiving a negative appraisal or reaction from the people around you.

The book touches many issues but the backbone of the narrative explains how the pursuit of success and perfection (excelling in all the aspects of your life: career, partners, physical shape, lifestyle, etc.) is a compensating mechanism for the feeling of flawless and shame (that’s the term the book uses) that most of us have been storing inside throughout our upbringing within a non-inclusive (and most times hostile) environment.

There are 3 phases clearly identified. So after drowning ourselves in ‘shame’ during phase 1, most of us enter phase 2 which is defined by being driven by this overcompensating mechanism to show the world we are not the flawed human beings we grew up thinking of. Obviously that mechanism doesn’t lead to anywhere… We spin the wheel of compensation compulsively without knowing we are doing so, until it crashes and we get ready to enter phase 3. The phase where we shift the attention towards ourselves, towards who we really are. A phase where we source joy and validation from the relationship we have with ourselves instead of obtaining those from external sources.

Compensating for shame was one of the mechanisms behind the unsustainable life style that lead me into my sabbatical. A mechanism in the shape of the pursuit of ‘success’ and proving myself above all, bringing my life to a collapsing edge. Same scenario as uncontrolled money driven capitalism would lead this planet: a breaking point after all resources are burnt. The therapy, support, readings and reflection I had during the months preceding my departure made me understand that. Also, made to realize that the compensating mechanism and other behaviours I had, were just a way for me to burn that pain and shame I had inside. There was lots of non-acknowledged (and therefore, unprocessed) pain inside of me that was the fuel for all the toxic mechanisms that occurred in my life.

Becoming aware of the pain and understanding the acting mechanism, although not easy process, was liberating. Once you stop the spinning wheel of burning shame, you start to see your life and things in a different manner.

I said few times in this blog how privileged I am. Having the opportunity, time and money to do such reflective work on myself is not a thing everyone can do. As I mentioned when I wrote about homeless people, many humans do not have a safety net or cushion to mitigate the crash when it comes. That’s why I started the trip with the idea of giving something back and sharing the knowledge I have acquired during the process.

The issue of burning shame is very present in gay men, although many other groups participate of the same mechanisms. And society tends to portray gay people in a non very healthy manner. There is a bad press about certain behaviours many manifest. But behind any destructive behaviour that our society condemns, there is a person suffering, a person that is burning pain. Pain received by the environment.  People in LGBT community carry a huge amount of internalised pain, in most of the cases, without themselves noticing. So, rather than playing the victim card,  it is time of taking responsibility. Us, as society. It is time to uncover the mask and see the real face. To identify the pain we collectively create.

Since I read the book, I have been discussing the subject and with friends and other people I met on my way. It was more like an informal thing, based on the spur of the moment. But when I was in Cape Town, I felt I had to do bit more than feeding homeless. So I embraced the idea of doing something for gay men/women who were in a difficult situation.

Pride Shelter, 1 Molteno Rd, Oranjezicht, Cape Town, 8001, South Africa         https://www.pridesheltertrust.com/

Pride Shelter in Cape Town hosts gay men/women who are in a situation of vulnerability and/or exclusion. People who had been attacked or expelled out of their places by their family or neighbours (just for being gay), people who had lost their job (and therefore income) because they were gay, people who got trapped in drug addictions leading them into the loss of their jobs, house, health and/or families…. The list is vast, but if you dig down the history of everyone there, the common link is the pain that everyone carries. A pain that is originated, ultimately, by the rejection and hostility that people around them had because they were gay.

So I contacted the shelter, they asked me how did I think I could help them and I offered myself to have a talk with the residents on the topic of  ‘Burning shame .

I am not an expert in gay issues. I am not a therapist. I am just a person who has been through quite a lot and learnt very valuable lessons from it. And I just wanted to share that.

So we had the talk. And it went well. They listened to me and I listened to them as well. All I did was to tell everyone in the most honest manner, what have I been through. And despite that in appearance my history might look different from theirs, I made them see that I am not different from any of them. I was processing same feelings, just that I had luckier circumstances and better environment. We were all burning pain that comes from the feeling of disconnection and rejection from the environment around us.

Everytime environment makes someone feel inferior, unworthy, deffective, inmoral, inappropriate or just not as good as the others, we are wheeling the wheel of pain. And pain is at the root of any destructive behaviour we have towards ourselves or towards others. The more destructive the behaviour, the more pain is behind that.

It is time for society to understand that. It is time to stop the wheel.

2 thoughts on “Burning Shame”

  1. What a brave thing to do! You could’ve easily gone the route of “lecturing” others from theory but you chose to open up and speak of your experience reaching out and connecting with others people’s experiences and feelings instead.

    You should be very proud of yourself.

    I am.


    1. Thank you for your words. We all are part of the wheel of pain. Lecturing only adds shame to the cycle. Glad to see my words and experience resonate in others. Thank you

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