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Shame with Benefits    

Shame with Benefits

Hashem implants in each of us a tendency, a pull towards the things in which we have talent. That is part of the way He helps us find our mission in life…


Shame kills. It kills joy, it kills motivation and it kills self-esteem. Shame is a crippling, degenerative emotion and it makes us hide from other people and it makes us hide from ourselves.


I grew up in a home where the act of shaming was considered an educational tool. My father must have believed that making his kids ashamed of themselves would act as a deterrent against misbehavior.


I think that in a lot of cases it just drives misbehavior underground or transforms it into other forms. Shaming is never productive.


Parents need to know that shame may produce secrecy and lying. It can lead to addictions, food disorders and other forms of self-harm. The feeling of shame is so agonizing that kids will do almost anything to escape it.


As observant Jews, shame is what we fear when we imagine the world-to-come, where all we have done or failed to do is clearly revealed and assessed. And the terror of shame is what keeps so many of us on the path of righteousness, a path that is often rocky, lonely and dark. Of course we are also motivated by the best of reasons, to become closer to the God we love, but the concept of shame is uppermost in many people's resistance to sin.


My father was a sensitive man and later in life he mellowed and became a pleasure to be with. But when I was very young I was often humiliated by his punishments and his pronouncements about my character. I suppose he knew no other way to manage his displeasure.


Unbeknownst to my parents or teachers, I had dyscalculia as a child and couldn't understand simple math, especially word problems, let alone algebra or geometry. Hour after hour I sat next to my exasperated father, tears streaming down my face, as he explained mathematical equations to me over and over again. I just couldn't get it and I felt like a complete and utter moron. In those days, no one knew much about learning disabilities. If you weren't succeeding in school, you obviously weren't trying hard enough. Or you were simple-minded.


As if I wasn't suffering enough, I was then sent to music lessons. My father decided I should learn to play the violin, an instrument I came to loathe. Finally, after three years, the teacher told my father I had no future playing in a symphony orchestra, at which point my father promptly had me take up the clarinet, another instrument I came to loathe, and only pretended to play at school band practice. I was faking it and eventually that too became clear. By that time, I was also loathing myself for being so incapable, and a smoldering rage began as my shame intensified. Why was I made to do things I wasn't good at and had no interest in? Why was I being forced to fail again and again?


It was during those six years of music lessons and math difficulties that I began overeating, developing a food disorder by the time I was twelve. This added to my feelings of shame and I became desperate to feel better about myself. There were a few things I truly enjoyed. One was reading, one was writing stories and poems and the third was my relationship with my siblings and friends. Eventually I knew what I was good at. And it made complete sense that I became the mother of a large family, and a professional writer, editor and coach. Because if you persist in what you love, you cannot help but succeed.


Hashem implants in each of us a tendency, a pull towards the things in which we have talent. That is part of the way He helps us find our mission in life. Hashem made us in His image but unlike Him, we are not the ultimate in everything and we are not omnipotent. We have to discover what gifts we have been given and focus on those.


However, even in the things we have an affinity for, we need training and many hours of work to become an expert. According to some researchers, you need to do something for 10,000 hours to become a true master of your craft.


Most of all, you need the humility necessary to become teachable. If you won't allow anyone to see your deficiencies, you will never be able to improve. I am blessed to have a very gifted teacher/mentor who is patient and persistent and understands my fear of failure. I urge you to find someone you trust who will encourage you to develop your God-given talents. We all need people who believe in us and in the gifts we have.


So many people had difficult beginnings and were shamed as children for infractions that were common or normal. I have many clients who were made to feel like zeros for not excelling in yeshiva or because they didn't do household chores well enough. I have clients who never provided their parents the nachas they craved, or the status they desired. An unattractive child may be a real embarrassment for a parent, just as a kid off the derech can be, or a son who isn't athletic enough or sufficiently popular. Children figure out early what their folks want and try to give it to them. If they fail, they conclude that they are failures. It never occurs to them that their parents may be unrealistic or misguided. It never occurs to them that their parents may not see them for who they really are.


But Hashem does see us. He sees us so clearly, it’s nearly unbearable to contemplate. It can be frightening. It can also exhilarate!


And unlike earthly parents, Hashem doesn't need us to be anything or anybody other than ourselves. He is constantly placing us in the right situations so we can learn what we need to know to accomplish our soul corrections.


I look back on my troubled childhood, a time I felt very unloved and ashamed, and I know there's a reason I needed to have it, with all its pain and confusion. I believe it gave me insight and compassion; I have earned whatever wisdom I have. It's the same for all the things I have gone through, both happy and heartbreaking. These experiences have brought me to where I need to be right now and will continue to escort me along my spiritual journey. Truly believing that Hashem loves me exactly as I am hasn't come easy. Understanding that He loves me unconditionally, yet pushes me to be more, is not a contradiction. I like to think of it as the ultimate love...with benefits.



* * *

Rebbitzen Yehudit Channen is a certified Emuna Therapist for Breslev Israel. You can set up an appointment with her by contacting staff@breslev.co.il 

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