Shame by Christiane Pelmas
If I were given the opportunity to change one thing about our culture I would eradicate shame. All of us, to varying degrees, experience some version of shaming. Whether or not we are born to families who celebrate and encourage our innate individual expression, the culture we are born into is structured to shame us. In fact, the tenacity of the culturally dictated ‘status-quo’ depends upon the efficient and prolific shaming of innate human characteristics. Were shaming not an elemental part of our enculturation process we would live in a different world; a world in which the expression and cultivation of each person’s unique heart, body and soul were not simply tolerated but nurtured.
Shame is insidious. It is the feeling that who and what we are is fundamentally flawed (as opposed to guilt, which is the feeling that our behavior — what we did/do — is wrong). We feel shame when we believe that the innate, can’t-change-this-about-ourselves person we were born as, is wrong in one or more ways. You are feeling shame when, while making love with your partner, you insist on turning the lights off. Shame is what you are feeling when you stand naked in front of the mirror and you don’t want to look at yourself. Paralysis at the thought of speaking up in a group is often an expression of our shame.
We can change our behavior, but we cannot change who we are. And though the culture of media and advertising would like us to believe that surgery, cosmetics, gym memberships, or fashion can ameliorate the fundamental feeling of shame, it can’t. Unlike guilt, which lives in our minds and therefore responds well to traditional ‘talk therapy’, shame lives in our bodies and must be addressed that way — somatically — through a body-based process that brings us into a relationship of compassion and self-love.
In the work of Re-Wilding, identifying and stripping our shame is crucial. The re-wilded human is an intuitive, embodied, spirited creature; a person who understands that the world speaks to us equally through the landscapes of our bodies and our souls and that these landscapes are perfect as much as they are a reflection of the perfection of the larger world; a person who claims their own importance as an integral element of a vibrant larger system; a person who claims this importance as an opportunity to be of service to something much greater than themselves while knowing that their devotion to self lies at the bottom of it all.
Shame makes all of the above impossible. Shame serves to make us deaf and blind to the wisdom that lives within each of us. After all, if we believe that who we are is fundamentally flawed we are not going to listen to the intuitive voices within us that are whispering stories of our own perfection. In fact, to maintain the story of our flawed nature we must vilify these voices that are nothing less than our soul’s poetry, the most exquisite offering we have to give to the world.
In our shamed states we are highly susceptible to outside influence, whether it be family, community and/or culture. Given the ailing status of our global human community, as well as that of the planet itself, our ability to listen to the deep wisdom that lives within each of us takes on a do-or-die status. At this point, we can no longer afford the deafness caused by our shame.
I have just completed my certification in Sexological Bodywork. I did this because, after almost 20 years as an LCSW, I had to admit that the tools I had been using so far — powerful though they are — are not enough in-and-of themselves, to address the most pressing issues facing individuals, couples and communities right now. More and more, we are a species shattered by shame. And talking does not release shame. Talking alone cannot reprogram the crippling experience of shame into one of self-love and empowerment.
During my training at the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, I learned a form of treatment designed to restore sexual health while identifying both our individual and cultural shame. Through the repeated process of witness and touch, sexological bodywork helps us reprogram our shame efficiently and gently. In addition, sexological bodywork reinvigorates the body’s natural ability to process and integrate deeply held experiences of trauma, and express the crucial, though all-too-often silenced, emotions of grief and rage.
Because of our cultural shame around sexuality, combined with a hearty dose of fear regarding pleasure and intimacy, regardless of the clinical intention or the experience as perceived by the client, touching people’s genitals for money classifies me as a sex worker, not a therapist, and therefore makes this work illegal. It is not currently possible to perform the work of a sexological bodyworker from within the framework of psychotherapy. I am willing to take this risk because it feels clear to me that this law needs to be changed. We must work to change the profession so that properly trained psychotherapists can legally touch their clients’ bodies, in ways guided by rigorous standards upheld by state and federal laws as well as by the communities of professionals and citizens in which they practice.
I am eager to begin using these tools in service of the re-wilding of the courageous individuals and couples who come to see me. I have believed for many years now that insisting on using the mind alone to explore the somatically-rich landscape of soul is an absurd and dishonoring practice. Now I would say that solely mind-focused, talk-therapy actively colludes with the shaming that has already taken place. I am interested in helping to evolve the practice of attending to the whole health of the human soul so that it reflects practitioners’ desires to fundamentally empower people. Incorporating the many elements of sexological bodywork into my practice is one piece of this journey. Perhaps this is the beginning of a task I will call “Re-Wilding the Practice of Psychotherapy”.
A psychotherapist, facilitator, teacher and guide since 1990, Christiane Pelmas is dedicated to the re-wilding of the human soul working with individuals, couples and groups. Of particular interest to her is the important - and often misunderstood - dance between the masculine and feminine and the arenas of sexuality and intimacy. She is also founder and director of The Global Culture of Women, a non-profit organization which resurrects and celebrates women’s wisdom worldwide. She is a poet and writer, activist, dancer and mother, living in Boulder CO with her two sons. You can learn more about her work at www.therewilding.com.