I watched the re-made version of The Lion King recently, and as I watched it, it struck me how much Simba’s story is all of our story. We might not experience it in such an obvious way – there might be no Scar framing us and then passing the blame, but so often we end up carrying responsibility for something that has happened to us that isn’t ours to carry.
Often we carry the responsibility of others and live as if we have caused things to happen. We take responsibility for parents who don’t take responsibility for their own behaviour, or take responsibility for abuse that wasn’t our fault. We take responsibility for a work project even when it was a group effort, or we take responsibility for a relationship and believe that it is struggling because there is something wrong with us.
In the film Simba says “I did something terrible. I don’t want to talk about it.” And this is the voice of shame. Shame says I am bad. I can’t be forgiven. I’m not OK. Shame pushes others away because it believes that if other people knew what you were really like then they wouldn’t want to be around you. Shame keeps secrets. Shame desperately hides the truth from others because it doesn’t believe that others can accept in us the very thing we can’t accept in ourselves. Shame is trying to protect us, but it hurts us in the process.
Shame tells us we are bad, rotten to the core. If people really knew what we’re like on the inside they’d reject us. I haven’t just done something bad. I am bad. In the film Simba worries that if Nala knew the truth about his past she’d turn away from him. He believes that “nobody needs me”. This is the story that shame tells us. We’re bad, we’re unworthy, no one needs us.
Shame kept you alive – you can’t afford to hate the people who hurt you, or failed to love you, so you had to hate yourself. When your needs weren’t met, you concluded that you were wrong to have needs instead. Your shame prevented an uprising. Carolyn Spring.
Shame grows in the darkness. The more you disconnect and hide, the more it confirms the story that shame is telling you. When Simba ran away, nothing challenged his story that he had caused his dad to die. No one knew the truth. It was only when he heard “I know who I am, but who are you?” that he risked going back to where he came from. He risked finding the truth, and in his case, the truth set him free from the lies shame (and Scar) had told him.
The antidotes for shame are compassion and empathy – being heard, seen and known. Telling our struggle to someone else and experiencing their listening, their understanding, their acceptance and their empathy transforms shame and makes it dissipate. It can feel incredibly scary to brave telling someone else about your inner world. What will they think of me? Will they reject me if they really knew?