Pablo Picasso Mandolin and Guitar - Courtesy of the Guggenheim Museum
"Art is a lie that makes us realize truth" - Pablo Picasso
I heard the above quote during a news broadcast about the models being used in tracking the COVID-19 virus. The scientist being interviewed was asked why many of the models often differed and frequently changed over a brief period. His explanation was intriguing.
“Models aren’t meant to reflect what’s happening in the moment,” he remarked. “They try to predict what will occur based on the data input.”
In other words, what are the different possibilities this virus would generate when certain social distancing and other precautionary measures are or are not used. They analyze multiple scenarios utilizing predetermined factors to forecast what may occur. The models are designed to help us realize what could be factual. Then he used Picasso’s quote to help clarify his point.
Frankly, the quote was what drew my attention. Its paradoxical nature piqued my curiosity and spawned a moment of introspection. Was there something in my life which was plainly a lie yet was trying to show me the truth? This felt vaguely familiar, and then it suddenly dawned on me what that feeling was.
A lie pointing towards truth
One of the most common themes throughout my articles is the subject of shame. It’s been 7 years since I came to the realization how my own shame gripped me so tightly I couldn’t see its impact on my daily actions. I had no clue of the depth, influence, and control it caused in nearly every aspect of my life. Prior to that awakening, shame was that lie in my life which was not allowing me to see the truth…about who I was.
Unquestionably, shame has more than one meaning, but when it pertains to us on a personal level, I use this definition:
“Shame is the culmination of all the negative things we’ve come to believe about who we were and are.”
Shame is not the emotion we feel when we make a mistake or a bad choice. Typically, that is guilt. Shame leads us to believe the reason for those terrible actions is because there is something innately wrong with us. We can’t help but make blunders because it is who we are and it won’t change.
We all have different experiences with shame and the example above is a bit extreme, simply to illustrate how it can entrap us without realizing we are even caught in its web.
The multiple ways of responding to shame
Shame is the one construct which creates an entire range of emotions. The first reaction most people associate with shame is one of insignificance or unworthiness. Somehow, we are not enough. But that’s only one end of the spectrum.
It is also the major factor behind arrogance, self-importance and conceit. When people display these kinds of behaviors, it’s to counteract their true feelings of inferiority. However, if they can convey a façade of superiority, their hope is others will interpret those actions as confidence. Isn’t it ironic how easily these kinds of behaviors are blatantly superficial to everyone except the person exuding them?
Shame also can affect us in physical ways. For years, I walked with my head bowed, looking at my feet with rounded shoulders. I can’t tell you how many times my mother snapped at me with “straighten your shoulders”! I wasn’t purposely trying to have poor posture and it puzzled me for years why I did. The answer resounded like a fanfare soon after I realized it was the lies I believed about who I was. Being taller than my peers, hunching down was my reaction to lack of self-confidence and trying not to stand out.
One of the difficulties in explaining the various ways shame plays a role in our actions is because each person responds to it differently. Our life’s experiences influence, manipulate, and ultimately determine how we learn to manage and deal with it. Some are fortunate not to have had those moments in their younger years when parents or others negatively impacted their self-esteem. There are also those who have a natural disposition or temperament which successfully helped them overcome destructive situations which for many were extremely detrimental.
Truthfully, if someone had asked me 8 years ago how much shame had impacted my life, I would have probably shrugged my shoulders and replied, “not very much.” One of its “geniuses” is the ability to remain hidden, undetected, and out of sight. It is also a self-fulling prophecy. The more shame we pile on ourselves the more it thrives and continues its stronghold over us.
Realizing the Truth
Hearing the Picasso quote reminded me how at one point in my life, shame was a lie. It lied to me about what a terrible and unworthy person I was. It deceived me in ways I had never imagined. I also believe it had no intention of exposing the truth because the truth is what set me free. It broke those figurative chains which bound my confidence and compelled me to live far below my potential.
Thankfully and with the guidance of my incredible therapist Dr. Shannon Smith, I was able to become aware of this insidious emotion and begin to heal from decades of its damaging effects.
It may sound as though at times I refer to shame as if it were a separate entity – detached from ourselves. I believe this is exactly how it wants us to feel. Deeming it to be something other than ourselves allows us to blame external factors and relieving us of the responsibility for many of our actions.
My realization came when I understood it was precisely the lies I was believing about who I was. Although what others said may have had a great influence on my shame, it only became shame once I believed their terrible and hurtful words. Fortunately, after my realization, shame transformed into the lie that made me realize the truth.
Next week’s article will delve into some of the ways to heal from these devastating effects. My thanks to the Guggenheim Museum for the world-renowned photo and I look forward to your comments.