Autonomy vs Shame & Doubt
October 15, 2010
“We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The will to do springs from the knowledge that we can do. Doubt and fear are the great enemies of knowledge, and he who encourages them, who does not slay them, thwarts himself at every step.” ~James Allen
In the last issue of Awakenings, I reflected on how Erik Erikson’s First Stage of Personality Development, Trust vs. Mistrust, could be looked at from a spiritual perspective in addition to a psycho-social perspective. This issue we will look at stage two: Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt and its corresponding virtue, Will.
According to Erickson’s Theory of personality, the Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt Stage is developed between 18 months and 3 years of age. This occurs when a child begins to assert their independence by distancing themselves from their mother in order to make choices about which toy they want to play with or what they’d like to eat, etc. If the child is supported and encouraged in their increased independence they build confidence and therefore feel safe to survive on their own in the world. When criticized, controlled or not given the opportunity for independence for whatever reason, they feel inadequate and therefore fearful that they cannot survive on their own in the world. This can result in an overly dependent person who lacks self-esteem and whose life is colored through the lens of shame and doubt. The question at this stage is: “Can I do things myself or must I always rely on others?”
Wanting to explore the world with curiosity and excitement is a natural human need. This stage creates the foundation for how we do so in subsequent stages and therefore, throughout our life. Many factors can impact a parent’s ability to lend healthy support during this stage. A fearful, controlling, or criticizing parent may unknowingly pass on extreme feelings of doubt and inadequacy in their child in an attempt to protect them. A neglectful, unavailable or absent parent contributes to feelings of inadequacy by their perceived disinterest.
When I was age three, my mother attempted suicide. This, of course, was a significant and defining trauma in my young life. However, imagine the state of my mother up to that point and the impact that also had on me. This is where the basis of my shame, my life lesson, was formed. I was not a wanted pregnancy, and therefore, my mother treated me as an overwhelming burden more than a welcome surprise. She was also prone to depression due to the abuse she too experienced as a child.
Prior to this defining event in my life, my mother was often nervous, depressed, unhappy, intoxicated and angry. I had to walk on eggshells and felt more “in the way” than I felt safe. I internalized my mother’s problems and assumed her inability to handle the world was how the world was and thus my perceived inability to handle the world competently developed during this stage.
WHAT SHAME DOES TO YOU:
Loss of Freedom:
• Freedom to think and evaluate
• Freedom to feel and have compassion and passion
• Freedom of choice
• Freedom to imagine
• Freedom to give and receive
• Freedom to heal yourself and others
• Freedom to ask for help
From a spiritual perspective, toxic shame can be an opportunity to seek spiritual guidance and learn to ask Spirit for help. The fear of being unable to survive on one’s own can catapult one on a quest for meaning, identity and spiritual connection as a way to alleviate the feelings of inadequacy. Therefore, a sense of WILL is the virtue born from this state. Willpower or lack thereof defines our sense and strength of self through the eyes of our ego.
Although spirituality often has a goal of leaving our ego behind, our ego is necessary and therefore, having a healthy, strong ego can lead to action-oriented choices in life that can be to our benefit. Ego and Will are not the same. Without a strong will our ego will attempt to “steal the show” making choices that further disconnect us from Spirit but garner superficial and instant gratification. With a healthy ego, we actually have a better chance of connecting with Spirit and remembering the divine being we are.
Although these early experiences created a shame-based foundation I perceived my reality through, I am very clear that this was part of Spirit’s Divine plan for me. Being able to reach the virtue of Will through my experiences was my lesson as well as the intense experience of shame. Since I’m happy with my life as it currently is, I can’t really express discontent at my early experiences. In fact, I have arrived at forgiveness and gratitude for them.
Further, I realize part of why I experienced them in such a way and got past them was through my own sense of Will combined with Spirit’s help and undoubtedly so I could be a living example for those struggling with the same issues. As Gandhi said, “ My life is my teaching.” and I intend to teach others through my life’s experiences so they can overcome any perceived obstacles, exercise their will and let their Divine Light shine in the world as we were all meant to do.
The beauty of Erickson’s theory is his belief that whether you experience the negative or positive extremes of each developmental stage we always find our way to the inherent virtue. I believe his spirit channelled through him this universal knowledge, suggesting that in reality, it’s impossible to “fall off” your spiritual path, even if you take different roads to get there and have varied experiences. If we arrive at the development of each virtue regardless of the experiences we’ve had, then we can always trust that Spirit is guiding us and therefore THY WILL, in addition to our own Will through free choice, will be done.
Shame is a spiritual affliction at its core, one where John Bradshaw, author of Healing the Shame that Binds You termed “spiritual bankruptcy”. Therefore shame can only be truly healed through spirituality and our connection to source. It may be minimized with a temporary band-aid through psychological tools such as psychotherapy and medication, but a true healing cannot occur without divine intervention.
Toxic shame inhibits us from sharing who we are with others. When we are ashamed of who we are and think we are bad, we also hide our soul’s essence, talents and gifts in an attempt to protect ourselves from further shaming. Even those closest to us may not get a glimpse of our fullest potential.
TOOLS AND EXERCISES FOR HEALING YOUR SHAME AND BUILDING AUTONOMY
MEDITATION: Give yourself back the freedoms you lost
Find a place where you won’t be interrupted. Get comfortable whether lying down or sitting up. Rid yourself of any distractions such as uncomfortable clothing or jewelry, outside noises, hard chairs, tickly blankets, etc.
Get your body ready to meditate by taking five long, deep breaths.
Go to your safe place in your mind’s eye. Some place in nature that is just yours and completely safe. Call on any Spirit Helper you wish to be present. I always invite my Higher Self. You may call on deceased loved ones, angels, ascended masters or guides as well. Get acquainted through a greeting of your choice: a bow, a handshake, a hug, etc.
Your Spirit Helper will guide you to an altar with some items present. There will be a fire, a pot, some herbs, and some significant items such as crystals, feathers etc. Don’t make them up, wait for your Spirit Helper to show you what they are. These will be clues to the guidance you are getting. Once all the items have been gathered and identified, the two of you (or more) will begin working on creating a potion that restores all of your lost freedoms. Each item gifted to you will represent one of your lost freedoms. The item itself or the energy of each item will be infused into the potion you are brewing. Your Spirit Helper will determine the appropriate method for each. Let them show you and trust the guidance you receive. Each of you will bless and/or say a prayer over the boiling brew. A healing potion will be the final product.
Your spirit helper will pour the brew into a container and present it to you for drinking. You will drink the potion with the knowledge that your lost freedoms, due to shame, will be restored to you by drinking this “magic” potion. Place the container back on the altar and thank your Spirit Helper. As your Spirit Helper walks away, you will slowly come back into consciousness.
AFTER THE MEDITATION:
• Rehearse the future with these freedoms present through meditation, daydreaming, storytelling or writing.
• Develop Remorse. Forgive yourself and others for making mistakes in life.
• Ask for help from your Higher Self, Guides, Angels or Ascended Masters on a daily basis to lift your shame and continue the restoration of your freedoms.
• Create an altar that includes the items you received in your meditation which represent your lost freedoms. Seeing these items and praying intentionally over them often will help invoke Spirit’s help as well as re-train your sub-conscious.