THE GOOD SIDE OF SHAME
It had been 67 days exactly. Probably not the longest of my life, but the longest I could remember.
And I was proud.
I had been going strong. Temptation – when it reared it’s ugly head (a rare thing as of late) – was beaten back with an iron will.
I was “clean,” and feeling the benefits of sobriety already.
Which is why I was surprised when the impulse to look at it blindsided me.
Most days it wasn’t even on my mind. And then, suddenly, bam.
Out of nowhere I wanted it. Hell, I needed it. And my mind was ready with a slew of rationalizations to help me indulge.
Why not? What’s the big deal? It won’t make a difference. Just this once.
I couldn’t resist. In fact, I didn’t want to.
And just like that… I was back to Day 0.
I had looked at porn.
I felt like crap.
But truth be told, my malaise wasn’t because of the porn – or at least, not entirely.
You see, I have many vices. There are probably (definitely) many things I shouldn’t be doing that I am.
But this one… porn… I had made a commitment to get rid.
I had taken stock of my life. I knew even occasional porn was not serving me. I knew it was a form of procrastination that distracted me from my goals. I knew it was brainwashing me with filth. I knew – in all ways – it was a life-mediocritizing habit. And I knew it was time to be finished with it.
So when I “broke,” it wasn’t looking at the porn that made me upset. It was that I had made an agreement with myself to not look at it, and I didn’t follow through.
The disappointment wasn’t in viewing the videos, but the lack of discipline.
What shamed me was not my vice, but my weakness.
And – believe it or not – I am grateful for that shame.
Many coaches say, “shame is bad.” They are wrong. Shame is the immune response of someone with a growth mindset.
Many of you are probably confused right now, as I have been on record often encouraging people to escape from a life of shame.
But in truth, I have no problem with shame, just as I have no problem with stress. In fact, I embrace shame, as I know exposure to it is necessary for growth.
The issue is not shame, but chronic shame — and its most nefarious form — social shame.
For instance, I have nothing but love for my religion, Christianity, as I grew up in a loving family and church. They rarely if ever “shamed” me. All I felt was deep love and a sense of community.
But I know others who grew up in stricter religious backgrounds than me had a different experience. They were shamed constantly. And the shame they were programmed with tortured them so much — told them that they were so flawed and irredeemable — that when they finally broke free of it they had nothing but contempt for religion. To them, it was not love, it was a dictatorial enterprise that wrecked their lives.
Those scars are the impact of social shame. They are a terrible.
Social shame is ubiquitous in society, and takes many forms beyond religion. The largest source of social shaming today in the West, in fact – somewhat ironically – comes from political correctness enforcers and social justice “activists.” They, like religious fundamentalists, guilt or ostracize people for thinking the “wrong” things. They use moral judgments to intimidate people to submit to their social order. They don’t care about people’s self-expression or individual conscience; they care about them becoming slaves.
So do not misconstrue me on this topic of shame. I hate social shame. Social shame is a cancer on your mind and will indoctrinate and intimidate you into living a squelched life. It must be resisted wherever it is found.
Personal shame, however – shame based on you not living up to your own principles – is different.
This shame doesn’t come from others (or at least, it has been accepted from others voluntarily).
It comes from you.
And unlike social shame which seeks to make you weak and malleable, personal shame makes you stronger and better. It is the shame that makes you into a man.
Shame feels shitty for a reason: It is supposed to guide you into making better decisions. Do not attack shame; attack the bad decisions that create it. You must deal with the cause not the symptoms.
Personal development these days is filled with a lot of feel-good fluffy talk about how you shouldn’t feel shame when you break your personal vows – that shame of any kind isn’t healthy.
But does that really make sense?
Hot metal incinerates your cells when you touch it. Would you argue that we shouldn’t feel pain when we touch it — that we shouldn’t have some warning against it? No, of course not — that would be absurd — otherwise we wouldn’t take the very real damage to our bodies seriously.
People who say “don’t feel shame” when you do something self-destructive are telling you the pain you feel when you touch that red hot burner is the real problem, not the burner itself – even if touching that burner will eventually result in your finger disintegrating from your hand.
Their logic is inverted.
In small doses, shame, like physical pain, tells you when you are doing something that is bad for you. If you are an ambitious man, it is not your enemy; it is your friend.
People who tell you to “be free from shame” when you make bad decisions are telling you the lie that you can do whatever you want without consequences. They are hurting you in the long term to make you feel better now.
Yes, everybody in this life wants to feel better. But not everybody in this life understands that in order to feel better, you must often first feel worse.
I do not mince words with my clients: approaching girls when you’re not used to it is scary. You will feel like absolute shit beforehand. Interactions are often awkward and can end up embarrassing.
Like cold showers, they are painful at first.
Only afterwords do you feel good.
When the approach is over.
When you know how to approach and can do it without thinking.
When you can actually talk to the girls you want and turn them on.
When you have this area of your life handled.
Understand: You have to suffer to grow.
But more than that, you have to grow to feel good.
All this “love yourself” bullshit sounds good on the surface, but it’s empty platitudes. If you are not happy with your life and you do not change how you behave, you are going to remain depressed. Telling yourself otherwise is reinforcing a delusion. Indeed, this inability to confront reality is why so many in the “spirituality community” feel lost, despite trying to “find themselves” for years.
You must accept that changing behavior will always be painful and discomforting at first. Why wouldn’t it, you are changing you brain’s wiring! Push through it. Once that pain subsides, I promise you will feel amazing.
The role of shame is simply to warn you when you are not confronting the pain you must embrace.
If you feel shame, it is a sign that you are choosing fear and indulgence over courage and discipline.
Don’t get pissed off at the shame, listen to it.
It may not be the tough love you want, but it is the tough love you need.
You should feel ashamed when you violate your personal code. But you must also not internalize that shame. You must forgive yourself. Chronic shame, like chronic pain, does not guide you to better actions, it creates a burden.
Shame reminds you to do better next time. It is important for you to grow. But after that reminder, you must let that shame go.
And to do that, you must learn to forgive yourself.
Forgiveness reminds you that what’s done is done, and it’s time to move forward. Forgiveness stops you from wallowing in self pity. Forgiveness stops shame from becoming chronic.
Forgiveness reminds you it’s ok to fail.
The truth is we have all fallen short in our lives. Being imperfect does not mean you are not worthy of love.
Be sure when you mess up to not internalize your shame, lest it become self-abuse.
Shame can be good, but once shame becomes chronic it stops being a sign and becomes a burden. Once that occurs, it stops helping and only makes it harder for you to move forward.
Do not fall into a state of self-loathing.
Instead, use the shame to push you towards self-mastery.
There is only one way for a man to truly feel confident over time: Conquest. And the most fulfilling conquest of all is the conquest of one’s self.
Men are depressed and aimless today because of many reasons, but one sticks out like a sore thumb.
They have been told conflict is bad.
This is a tragic lie. And as someone who bought into this bullshit for years, I can attest to its gangrenous effect on a man’s soul.
For a man, conflict is not only healthy, it’s necessary.
Conflict is how you feel alive.
Conflict is what gives you purpose, because it taps into your masculine nature, which is based on competition.
Although for some men this drive manifests itself in war, you do not need to fight another man on a life-or-death plane to engage in conflict. You can fight in elections. You can fight nature. You can fight in science and academics. You can fight in business. As many different paths as there are in life, there are opportunities for conflict.
But most of all, you can fight with yourself.
The more I look at my own problems and the problems of the men I work with, the more clear it is why they are suffering.
Men just don’t have a fight in them anymore.
They are weak, and they feel it in their bones.
And even if they don’t know it consciously, this weakness manifests itself as self-disgust which affects their state of mind and self-worth.
It inundates them with shame.
And the way out of that shame is not pity.
It is not even vulnerability.
Shame is a form of control. It can either be used by others to control you, or by you to control yourself. Always ask yourself why you feel shame and make sure you are ashamed for the right reasons.
In many ways, I was ashamed to write this post. Not only is it controversial, but it opens the closet of my sins to any number of unknown, untrusted people who might judge me for it.
But in many ways, that is why I needed to say it.
When I confess to you, I am taking your control over me away.
I am making myself just a little more free.
You should do the same.
If you feel ashamed of something, always ask yourself why. Is it coming from you or someone else? If it is external, either accept it as your own going forward or reject it. Shame is a guide, and feeling ashamed of criteria that is not your own will only guide you down a path you do not want to go.
If you like porn and you don’t think it affects you in an appreciably negative way, that’s cool. I am not moralizing, and this is not the ‘Church of Pat Stedman.’ Take inventory of your own life and assess your values and see what makes sense.
When you go off your course your shame should come from you, not from a man in a frock or a guy on a blog who has an opinion.
Remember: Developing your own code and sticking to it is how you become a man.
And until you feel like a man, you will never be happy.
PS Part of what I work on with clients is finding out what they really want. Most guys carry around decades of external shame that paralyzes them around women. If that sounds like you, sign up to work with me. Together we will eliminate that social shame, and make sure you are fully aligned with your goals.
The only thing you should be ashamed of is not becoming the badass you’re capable of being.