After Tragedy: an author on “healthy shame”…

Jul 21, 2012 | 4 comments

Yesterday I struggled to pull myself from the cable news coverage of the tragic and senseless killings in Aurora, Colorado. The day was pretty much a wash since I couldn't get all the sadness out of my head. I could have walked away… and I tried. I spent some time out in the absolutely beautiful weather that we experienced here in my part of Missouri. I even tried a meditation. I struggled to clear my head and ended up right back in front of the TV for most of the day. I don't live in the Aurora area, and to my knowledge I knew none of the victims or their families, but I was really affected by it all.
I follow the author Karla McLaren on Facebook and I've mentioned her here a few times. Among other things, she writes about and discusses empathy and the language of emotions. In short, she often speaks of how important emotions are when they happen. For part of yesterday, I told myself that it was okay that I spent so much time dwelling on the tragedy, even though most people would probably think it wasn't healthy. Maybe it was something I was meant to be feeling at the moment.
Then, Karla posted the following on her Facebook page.

As we read of yet another gun tragedy and send blessings to the victims, survivors, and the city of Aurora, I'm thinking so much of the vital, irreplaceable work of healthy shame.
In explosive violence, we can all see the panic and rage — out of control, brutal — but what I see more strongly is the absence of healthy shame, which helps people moderate their behavior.
So many of us learned about shame by *being* shamed — but that's not how shame works in a healthy psyche. In fact, an overly shaming environment can actually create the kind of explosive violence we see in these sorts of tragedies. When people can't access their own healthy, authentic, intrinsic shame, their behavior often goes off the rails.
Bullying, abuse, and violence — all are clear signs of serious shame impairment. Healthy and appropriate shame is an absolutely irreplaceable emotion that reduces violence and helps us become better people.

Today, along with feeling sadness and grief, I bow to healthy shame as the necessary emotion in this and so many other painful situations. Blessings to us all.

– Karla McLaren

I must admit that I don't get it exactly. I think I need some explanation. Any thoughts?


So it's 20 minutes after I posted this. I've read it over a few more times and followed some of the commentary on her facebook page. I think I understand better now. I initially thought she meant this as some sort of coping thing for the rest of us… which I didn't get. But I think she is just saying we should be really happy that “healthy shame” exists because it keeps us from getting into trouble and doing bad things. And be happy you have it, because apparently this guy is missing that skill or part of the brain. Am I there? Maybe? I don't know.