Shame as a transmissible disease

There is no role of greater importance or service to humanity than that of being a parent. It is not only the fastest track to your own healing, but is also the fastest track to the healing of the whole world.

Richard Rudd, The Gene Keys #48

It’s unavoidable to be human and not be living with some form of internalized shame (times when you feel unworthy or bad) and those unhealed parts of ourselves can lead to unconscious behaviors. Shame can be so painful to experience that most of us carry our shame unconsciously, and others cope with addictions, become abusive to others, or develop mental disorders (one even became President).

If you pause to consider how much repression there is around (for instance) nudity or poop in our society, it’s pretty clear that a lot of this collective shame is unconsciously fed to us as children. Why are we adults so grossed out by poop? Or public nudity/breastfeeding? Our children sure aren’t, because it hasn’t yet been transmitted to them.

And then it hit me. Shame is like an infectious disease. Any shame that our parents unconsciously held was passed onto us, and in turn (if we don’t heal ourselves first), we pass it along to our children. Children are most susceptible to catching shame because their emotional immune systems haven’t matured yet.

Unlike COVID, there is no vaccine to inject that prevents us from passing shame onto others. And while sick people usually wear masks or stay home, most of us aren’t even aware of our shame, let alone actively avoid projecting it onto others.

What if we started treating shame as a pandemic that required immediate worldwide attention? With a swooping emergency public mental health declaration by the WMHO, we could dramatically increase funding for mental health, set up field hospitals for emotional trauma-healing, and educate people on how to prevent the spread of shame in their families and communities.

Teachers and caregivers, armed with the knowledge of how to detect the early signs of shame infection, could protect the weakest among us. Tech companies, motivated by government grants and tax incentives, could innovate mental health tests and early detection programs. Annual mental health check ups could be normalized and covered by insurance companies. Medicines that treat trauma like MDMA could be given emergency use authorization.

If our culture took mental health as a serious crisis worth prioritizing, what could we accomplish? With sustained effort, what universal mental health and societal issues could we wipe out?

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