Meandering thoughts as I learn principles of Relational Life Therapy and noodle on healthy remorse, toxic shame, and grandiosity (one of which is useful, and the other two are garbage).
Healthy remorse is uncomfortable, but also potentially expansive and educational, based on our fundamental human desire for intimacy and connection. In healthy remorse, our focus is on the relationship, the emotional ecosystem we inhabit together. We recognize and attend to the harm we have caused another, rather than focus on the misery of our own experience of guilt. When we damage a relationship with harmful behaviors (personal, interpersonal, societal, or spiritual), we pollute our own ecosystem. We feel the effects of the pollution because we live in the ecosystem. The discomfort of remorse informs us that it is in our own self-interest to repair the damage, learn from it, and move on. This is a healthy system at work.
Toxic shame is not merely uncomfortable; it is deeply painful and rooted in a laser-focused self-contempt. There are two hallmarks of toxic shame: 1) self-centering and 2) contempt for self. Shame’s mirror twin is grandiosity, or what we affectionately refer to at our house as “being shitty,” a term that can cover anything from interpersonal shittinesses like micro-aggressions, passive-aggression, self-righteousness, and ‘splaining, to blatant verbal or physical abuse, systemic oppression, and everything beyond and in between. Grandiosity’s hallmarks are 1) self-centering and 2) contempt for others. We see these two self-centering states play out in predictable patterns when white comfort is de-centered. (For a deeper dive into what this looks and feels like, read Margo Stebbing’s essays and poetry on Medium: https://medium.com/@margostebbing/latest.)
Contempt and self-centering are such curious things. People rarely—I’ll just go out on a limb here and say never—deserve or are changed in wonderful ways by hatred. Unjust systems, ideologies, policies, and constructs deserve our contempt and tearing down; you and I certainly don’t. Also (and I really do say this with pure love), it’s not all about you, and I say this because you are truly not alone; we share an ecosystem that is all at once emotional, spiritual, political, and physical.
We are in ALL of this together. If you are busy hating yourself or someone else, and thus further polluting the ecosystem, nobody gets the connection, resources, safety, etc. they need to thrive—not even you. I’m not judging the morality of contempt and self-centering; they just seem like generally ineffective strategies for… well… almost anything meaningful.
That’s all I’ve got for now.
In case no one has told you today, this is a gentle reminder that you are loved, you delight the Universe, your existence and humanity require no further justification, joy is your birthright, and uninterrupted comfort is not.