Healing from Shame, Opening to Love
I spend my days teaching about love. How to find it, how to grow it, and how to keep it.
Part of my work is helping people find their way to intimacy and romantic fulfillment. Although everyone’s story is different, this truth endures: The love and peace we want to know in our lives begins inside of us.
This has been on my mind lately as I’ve dug deeply into the other part of my work: leading anti-racism trainings. I have witnessed many people sharing their stories about how their lives have been affected by racism.
Now I’m ready to share mine.
The Message of My Brown Skin
I had never heard of racism when I first encountered it as a 6-year-old. One day at school, my classmates and I were told to line up two by two and hold hands. I extended my hand, but the girl standing next to me refused to take it.
“I can’t hold your hand,” she said matter-of-factly. “My mother told me your skin is brown because it’s dirty.” I was confused. My skin was brown, but it definitely was not dirty.
My young brain didn’t understand why she said that, but immediately I felt the sting of her rejection and the shame of the notion that there was something wrong with me. At that moment, I knew what it was to feel unsafe. I didn’t disagree with her. I didn’t tell my teacher. And I couldn’t tell my parents.
I felt especially afraid to tell my mother about what happened. A teacher herself, she had always taken special care that my siblings and I left for school scholastically prepared, neatly dressed, and immaculately groomed.
How could I tell her that one of my classmates refused to touch me because she thought I was dirty? I imagined her anger at learning such a thing. And I knew her anger would be directed at me, so I said nothing.
The message that my brown skin made me inferior would be reinforced in my teen years by the school principal, who expressed surprise that someone of my color could score so high on an intelligence test, and later in graduate school from the department chair who was more interested in my race than my qualifications, and from the landlord who candidly admitted he was denying me housing because I am African American.
Past and present hurts can cause us to shut down and miss out on the joy that life has to offer, the joy all people deserve. We learn to hide in plain sight.
The Internalized Shame and Rage of Discrimination
That first experience took root in my mind and soul, and many other experiences drove it into me. The shame I felt in that moment was the beginning of a spiral of internalized pain and rage that would take me years to confront and heal.
Maybe you’ve felt that same pain. Maybe you were made to feel different because of your skin color. Maybe you were treated unkindly or unfairly because of your family’s origins, or for your appearance, or your gender identity or sexual orientation.
Those early lessons stay with us and rob us of our feelings of belonging and security. Past and present hurts can cause us to shut down and miss out on the joy that life has to offer, the joy all people deserve. We learn to hide in plain sight.
Sadly, when we feel too hurt or afraid to let ourselves out, it becomes impossible to let others in. We can also feel cut off from the freedom and love that are ours by right, as spiritual beings, as children of God.
The Only Way Is Through Self-Love and Inner Work
The path out of shame isn’t easy, but I know it’s possible. Years of psychological work, spiritual practice, self-care, and healing have freed me of the shame, pain, and anger that weighed me down for so many years. I have used my healing experiences to inform my work of teaching self-insight and self-love to those who are hurting.
The pain from our earliest wounds goes deep, and though we can take part in protests and push for legislation to eradicate racism and dismantle other systems of oppression, we are also called to do our deep inner work.
More and more people are awakening to the ways discrimination and prejudice are part of everyday life and are taking the steps to create a more equitable world for everyone.
But for all the work we do outwardly, we cannot bypass the work we must do to heal ourselves and open fully to the love we all deserve. It’s hard but necessary work to break our chains and live as the love we are.
Although a path to lasting healing and freedom looks different for each person, I share a prayer to open the heart and invite that healing to begin.
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