We, as humans, are a species that is hard wired for survival. Our primal instincts, those automatic thoughts or behaviors that we have are intended to keep us safe. I think that it is this process that is the birthplace of judgement and shame. Hear me out, I do not intend to insinuate that judgement and shame are pleasant experiences, especially not in this modern-day world. What I mean is that our instinct to judge and shame (others or ourselves) is rooted in our instinct to survive.
We are a social species. We are drawn to spend time with other people, and we desire to couple up in a romantic relationship and build a family (whatever that looks like for you). This is because there is safety in numbers. We do not have the ability to watch out for ourselves 100% of the time and need help in doing so. This is as true for our modern-day world as it was in the caveman days-we are simply looking out for different dangers now. Today, it is a betrayal, a bad business deal, bad grades, poor social status, financial ruin, the list goes on. Back then, it was a lion. Or other wildlife that could eat us, right? Or the danger of starving because we could no longer find any food. The dangers may be different, but the fact remains that we need each other to give us the best chance of surviving this life. We need someone to watch our backs because we simply can’t see back there. This is the instinct that draws us to find others who can help us survive and that are worth putting ourselves on the line for so that they may as well. There are a lot of references in the personal development world and on social media to the idea of a “tribe” and that is because we are trying to find one that we believe will help us survive the dangers of the life we live.
How do we find our tribe? Well, we judge and shame each other and ourselves. That may sound harsh, but that is because of the way that judgement and shame have evolved today, but the function is what drives us to do those things. How do we decide if a tribe is going to protect us? We have to evaluate what they can do for us, don’t we? We have to decide if we think they are valuable enough to sacrifice ourselves for, right? Then, what makes sure we behave in such a way that we can fit into this tribe? At its core, the function of shame is to tell us when we have stepped outside the morals and boundaries of the group that we are trying to be a part of. When we do not feel as though we belong with the tribe that we are seeking.
Now, I am not over here touting “let’s keep judging, let’s keep shaming-that is how we survive!” but I am over here wondering where judgement and shame took such a toxic turn and why it has become a tool that isolates us rather than unifies us with the tribe that best fits our needs. I think it lives in the world where things are “better than” or “less than.” We have begun using shame and judgement to evaluate the level of “good” in others or ourselves as opposed to the level of “fit.” We generally feel shame now in such a way that it causes us to believe that we are not enough. Not pretty enough, not smart enough, not funny enough not rich enough, not (fill in the blank with just about anything) enough. And that, my friends, is one of the most awful feelings around. That, my friends, is what causes us to behave in ways that step outside our morals and values so that we can find the love and belonging that we are so desperately searching for. But the result of stepping outside of that causes us to feel more vulnerable and less protected-which is the exact opposite of the intended function!
So, we have to start with ourselves. We will not be able to find the tribe we are most safe with if we cannot be safe with us. We do not have any control over the behavior of others, nor do we have control over the things that they say. We do have control over our self. So, begin by noticing just how often you pass judgement on yourself or shame yourself in such a way that the message you are sending is that you are not ___________ enough. Then, stop freaking doing that. You are a valuable. You are precious. You are enough. Begin each day by telling yourself that and then hold yourself accountable to the behaviors that support that. Engage in self-care. Engage in affirming yourself. Engage in setting boundaries in your relationships. Engage in being your own tribe first. You. Are. 100%. Worth. The. Effort.