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Our shame culture detaches us from our child-like innocence. Our Source of creativity.
“…the first step toward creating the life you want, is to courageously show your vulnerability to the world.”
Our relationship with innocence
As children, we are born innocent, beautiful and happy. Our innocence is the key to our wonder with the world – everything is new and exciting. This drives our creativity and our desire to learn. But over time, most of us distance ourselves from our innocence and as a result, our creativity and learning.
It’s not that we’re stupid, un-creative or have nothing left to learn. But rather, we fear that our innocence makes us vulnerable. We’re ashamed of being vulnerable. So we hide it from the world. But everyone is vulnerable. We are all physical, finite beings who will one day die. So there’s really no point in pretending that we’re not vulnerable.
We’re told to put on our big kid pants, and accept that this is all part of growing up. Life’s tough. Stop complaining and get on with it. But this is very unhelpful. In fact, ironically, not properly addressing the difficulties we face in life, and the suppressing of our childlike innocence, keeps us locked into immaturity. We get stuck in our development. Whilst our bodies age and grow, we remain (psychologically) children.
Trauma is not well understood in our culture. Traumatic events literally change the way our brains work. Neural pathways are forged/reforged and brain cells are damaged, sometimes permanently. Trauma could be as subtle as our Mother flashing us a look of anger as a baby for crying too much. The reason being that Mum is God when we’re a baby. We look to her to make sense of things going on around us. We learn from her responses to those things, including to our own behaviour.
So if we receive a flash of anger from her, and we’re too young to rationalise that as “maybe she’s having a bad day”, then we turn that anger on ourselves. “There must be some thing wrong with me” we think. This can cause a lifetime of self-esteem issues, anxiety and depression. So imagine what more obviously traumatic events can have on us. Imagine what sexual abuse can do to us, for example.
As I’ve said above, we’re all vulnerable. But when we become aware of our trauma, we feel even more vulnerable. Our culture teaches us to feel shame about that vulnerability. If we succumb to shame and pretend everything’s alright, we will always remain, on some level, unhappy and unable to create the life we desire. It may not be a totally conscious thing. But even right now, on some level, you probably feel that something isn’t quite right with your life.
Fear of judgement
If we do express our vulnerabilities and shame, then we may receive negative responses from the people around us. But that is purely a result of their own feelings of shame about their own vulnerability, perhaps relating to similar issues. It is scary to be confronted with a truth that you’re unwilling to accept. If you’re having an angry response to this, that’s probably you and you should pay attention to the next bit.
We, all of us, given the proper incentive, are capable of the greatest acts of love and the greatest acts of hate. We all have the potential to become a Ghandi, or to become a Hitler. So stop demonising others! Our experiences are relative to our experiences. My worst experience is felt as strongly to me, as your worst experience is felt to you. It’s all valid and in order to get through it and the first step toward creating the life you want, is to courageously show your vulnerability to the world.
The beauty of doing this is that you begin to reclaim your innocence. This will start opening you up to your innate creativity, your wonder with the world, your excitement to learn always and the creation of a happier and more successful life, by whatever criteria you measure that success.
So here I present my vulnerability. I will lead by example, as all good Servant Leaders should. I will allow myself to be seen by you in the hope that you will allow yourself to be seen by others.
This is baby David, born on a rainy November evening in Cardiff, 1985. In many ways I had a blessed upbringing. I had parents who worked very hard to provide, so I never wanted for anything. I was born in a country with relatively vast freedoms as compared with a lot of the “civilised” world.
But shortly after this picture was taken, my health deteriorated. I suffered various infections, a major operation and convulsions until the age of 4. Due to the illness, I wasn’t socialised much, which led to me being physically and psychologically bullied every day for four years of secondary school.
I became withdrawn, lonely, shut down emotionally and creatively, and had mild learning difficulties. Seeing a chance to take control back, I pursed a career that I thought I would be good at.
So from 14 years old I pursued my career in IT. Being angry. Having rock bottom self esteem and confidence. Having difficulty getting on with people. Feeling that things were not quite right with me and the world I was building around myself. This went on for 7 years, until 2007 when I had a breakdown.
Some may call it a “spiritual awakening” and I certainly had some experiences that felt supernatural to me. In reflection they were just altered stated of consciousness, “peak experiences” that are available to all of us naturally. But I still didn’t know what to do with myself… I was emotionally unstable, intensely anxious, agoraphobic, claustrophobic, un-directed and profoundly confused. I realised my choice of work was built on fears, not genuine enjoyment of the subject.
During this time, I started to feel like I was being pulled along by the current of something beyond my control, but which I felt totally at ease with. I was “in flow“. I volunteered for an environmental charity, which led to me being hired by them. I bulk-bought food with friends, which led to us founding a social enterprise. I attended various forms of therapy, I began training intensely in the martial arts and I studied psychology.
I slowly (and at times rapidly) started to open back up, reclaiming my innocent, wondrous view of the world. I started to notice and work on my strengths – those that had been persecuted due to the insecurities of others, such as my aptitude for seeing through people’s facades. I started to develop my creativity once again. I was moving toward a life that felt authentically my own. But the work is on-going, and has become part of who I am and who I wish to project into the world.
For more of the above story, please read – My Vulnerability.
A message to the men
Most recently my work has taken me to study masculinity. You may have heard that “masculinity is in crisis“. I don’t believe that. I think we are remembering what it means to be a man and at the same time, figuring out how to apply ourselves to the challenges the world currently faces.
Society tells men not to show “weakness”, by which is meant vulnerability and its associated shame. We’re told to be “strong”, meaning emotionally hardened. However being strong in this way is the single most weakening thing you can do to yourself. It’s probably a huge factor in suicide rates among men being three times higher than with women in our society.
My studies in this area have included a course by Charles Eisenstein – see that here. That course then led on to a 3 month men’s rites of passage – Reclaim Your Inner Throne. RYIT is heavily influenced by the work of Neo-Jungians Robert L. Moore and Douglas Gillette – “King, Warrior, Magician, Lover“. I’m currently in week 2 – “Reclaiming Lost Innocence”. Thanks to Eivind Skjellum and the RYIT team for the work they’re doing. Moving more men into authentic, mature masculinity will play a vital role in tackling the huge, complex issues we’re facing on a global scale today.
If any of this is hitting home and you’d like to chat more about my and/or your experiences, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For now, here are some videos for you to get your teeth into.