Madeleine Eames

- Psychotherapist
- Mindfulness Teacher

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Greta Thunberg and the Underbelly of Shame

If you are a young climate change activist these days, you have to have a thick skin.

For some reason, a 16 year old Swedish girl who wants to save the planet has triggered a backlash of anger and mocking by grown men and women in powerful positions so great it almost seems surreal.

“I don’t understand why grown ups would mock a teenager when they could be doing something good instead.” She responded.

Plain, cold and hard truth that begs a good question.  Why would they?

We lash out when we feel threatened. But what could possibly be threatened? Power? Self-interest? Can a young teen from across the world threaten their power? Or are they threatened by their own guilt?

We all have a part to play in climate change, which means we all have a responsibility to acknowledge where we could do better.

I have a part. I could take less flights. I could never use a plastic bag again. I could reduce my own carbon footprint. I could only buy and eat organically. I can see all these things and more, admit it, and know I can do better. I’m not perfect.

But what happens when you have not to not admit fault, be vulnerable, and open up and admit mistakes?

You pack a lot of shame. Shame that divides, that holds us apart and separate and keeps us locked in a false state of defensiveness and projection.

How do we project shame? By being so triggered into anger it dumps a vitriolic shame bucket all over another person. I’m sorry Greta, or other youth activists, you have been dumped on by a collective shame bucket of those who never learned how to manage difficult emotions and have to resort to blame. As a brilliant youtube video on ‘The Greta Thunberg Helpline” states sarcastically “We all know that Greta is the problem, not climate change.”

Shame breeds fear: fear of exposure, fear of rejection, fear of loss. When that fear is triggered, watch out. The vicious jaws of blame will chew you up and spit you out.

We can laugh and also project onto the ones who are outspoken with their anger, but that’s not helpful either. To resolve shame, the only place we can look is within ourselves. It is time now. We see the repercussions of unresolved shame and repressed emotion all over the news…. in anger, blame, nasty tweets, unbelievable defensiveness and cover-ups in the most visible and powerful politicians.

I believe that truth is finding it’s way. I see more and more people coming out, standing up, and speaking their truth. I also see a huge tidal wave of people interested in a higher consciousness, in taking responsibility in a world that cares, and looks after itself.

How can we do that?

Well, I have a secret fantasy about Donald Trump that might help.

Nothing kinky or homicidal. Just this.

I say “Donny, stop. Put your hand on your beating heart and breathe.” He does and sits for a minute or two.

DT: I can’t breathe! I’m too mad.

Me: Just breathe. What do you feel inside?

DT: Anger. I’m so freaking angry.

Me: What else?

DT: I’m so pissed off at the Democrats, at Greta Thunberg, at Justin Trudeau, my staff, at…..

Me: Hmm. What else?

DT: I’m ready to explode. I feel rage, disappointment… deep, deep fear.

Me: Hmm. What else?

DT: I’m worried. I feel afraid.

DT: I’m sad. I am tired.

DT: I am so, so alone. I can’t trust anyone.

DT: I’m scared. (cries for about 10 hours). I feel better. I feel lighter. I feel…. at peace.

The truth is, we all have a scared version of ourselves inside. The one that has to defend, rationalize, shame and blame others. Fixing others or our situation won’t ever solve the problem.

Only by going in deep, feeling and acknowledging the small, scared self and all the emotions that have been stuffed away, smothered and are trying to release, can we ever really release shame. This requires vulnerability, to say “I feel (emotion) in my body.”

The underbelly of shame is a rumbling, destructive force that can only be healed by empathy.

We are watching the deep repression unfold and explode all around us. The only way is in. In to heal and feel empathy.

Empathy for ourselves, empathy for others who walk a difficult path whether it’s Greta Thunberg or Donald Trump.

4 thoughts on “Greta Thunberg and the Underbelly of Shame”

  1. A very thoughtful, thought-provoking message, Madeleine. You continue to do wonderful work. And so many of us benefit from your efforts.

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