HOLIDAY SURVIVAL GUIDE (WEEK 5): SHAME & VULNERABILITY, part 2+ pleasure
1. a feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment.
PLEASURE, SHAME & THE HOLIDAYS
Aaaah, the pleasure of the Holiday season, so full of joy, connection, sharing, and shame. Wait, what? Yes, for so many of us, the experience of pleasure is deeply connected to the shame that comes with cultural messaging. Around this time of year, we are thrust into a capitalism-driven cacophony of *buy this!* *buy that!* set to terrible Christmas-themed jingles. We are forced between a rock and a hard place this season. Do I indulge? Dare I enjoy myself? What would *insert judgmental friend/spouse/relative/neighbor’s name* think if I didn’t get that thing for her? Will my relatives finally stop asking if I’ve lost weight? For the 88th time, am I seeing anybody? Or… yup. There it is. The shame monster.
PLEASURE & SHAME ARE INTIMATELY CONNECTED
A lot of what I’ve noticed come up for people with the topic of shame is the resistance to also discussing pleasure. For some reason, we can easily talk about the role of shame in our lives. The things it holds us back from, or the way we’ve experienced shame, but it seems far more rare for people to gleefully discuss what pleasures we actively pursue in our everyday lives. Somewhere in the fabric of the (white, heteronormative, cis, and able-bodied), American cultural attitude is a thread that insists that the pursuit of pleasure for the sake of itself is a bad, bad thing to do. I won’t bore you by turning this into an essay on the dangers of capitalism, but I fully blame capitalism.
FOOD, SEX – INDULGE, AND FEEL THE SHAME
Think about the way you were taught about sex. For most of us, the conversation was tip-toed around and definitely didn’t center the topic of pleasure. HA. It’s almost laughable, right? To imagine any public school health class discussing sexuality in terms of how good it is for us is almost goofy. We learn through the way we discuss sexuality in an academic setting, religious settings, and through popular media depictions of human experience that the people (i.e. women) who pursue pleasure in any capacity should be… wait for it… ashamed of themselves.
We hear so many shame-inducing messages. Here are some really super ick but super common examples. Restriction of caloric intake equals beauty equals worth. Indulgence is an action that is best done in secret. Pleasure is a finite experience and one that should be approached with the utmost discretion. Society centers discipline, follow-through, and productivity over joy, happiness, and fun. Busy is good and stressed is best. We are taught that to do it any other way means certain destruction. Enter in shame and its all-encompassing capacity to suck the joy out of everything around it.
HOW SHAME THRIVES OFF DEMONIZING PLEASURE
This can be seen throughout our worldviews, too. Diet culture, white supremacy, and economic division all thrive off of the demonization of pleasure. These things that create our feelings of shame in the first place cannot thrive without our shame. If we were to approach all things first with the pursuit of pleasure in mind, perhaps those institutions of shame would collapse in on themselves. Perhaps a culture made up of people who understand their fundamental worth and power in this world would be one in which the footholds of oppression couldn’t solidify. Perhaps this is wishful thinking.
Although, I’m very much not alone in this. Adrienne Maree Brown, author of Emergent Strategy and Pleasure Activism writes about this throughout their work. Part of their work is the decidedly brilliant shift toward recognizing the pursuit of pleasure as activism, particularly for folks who are part of cultural groups that are oppressed. Though I am a forever-student of this work, it is very much their lane and I direct you there to learn more.
CENTERING A PLEASURE-FIRST ATTITUDE
I do think that there is something really marvelous about having a conversation about what to do when shame comes up by centering a pleasure-first attitude. At the very least, perhaps this can serve as an introduction into an alternative worldview that says we can actually opt-out of the narratives that have us so thoroughly convinced that we are wrong, broken, and in need of fixing. Now, this is a lifelong process and I won’t pretend it is as easy as reading a blog post and boom you’re saved from the wrath of shame. Instead, I offer this blog post to you as the first step in exploring the idea of pleasure in your own life and experience. So, give a try to reflecting on the following.
What is your relationship with pleasurable things? Do you feel an overwhelming sense of shame if you “overindulge?” What does “overindulgence” mean for you? If it isn’t pleasure, what do you want your life to be in pursuit of? If you were to actually reject the status quo and begin living in pursuit of a pleasurable life, what do you suppose might happen? Does the thought bring up a lot of anxiety for you? Fear? Excitement?
WE ARE ENOUGH
This isn’t to say that I believe we should shirk our responsibilities, sell everything, and live in a cabin in the woods. Though, I’m also not saying that we shouldn’t either. Actually, what I’m hoping to introduce is the concept of total and complete authority over our own lives without having to worry about whether or not we’re enough. We are. Full stop. Enoughness isn’t really a debatable. It just is. The experience of feeling “not enough” comes from the shame of being who we are in a culture that expects us all to be exactly the same.
PLEASURE, SHAME & THE HOLIDAYS: THE TAKEAWAY
In this holiday season, the messaging is really very convoluted, isn’t it? Indulge, but not too much! Enjoy, but only within reason! Have fun, but don’t you dare be too loud about it! Eat the pie and then here is the physical exercise we recommend to punish yourself for it!
Begin by pausing, for even just a moment, to consider the possibilities in our lives beyond the not-enoughness, too-muchness or unworthiness of shame. This way, we can slowly begin to see the forest for the trees and decide exactly who we want to be this holiday season, and in our world. And, perhaps we can even find the courage to slowly start being that version of ourselves.
STAY TUNED …
for part 3 next week: What do to fend off shame and center your very own pleasure-first attitude 🙂
MONTHLY RELATIONSHIP WORKSHOP – DEC 1, 1PM-2:30PM
YAY! The Holiday Survival Series is going IRL! Join us for our very first Monthly Relationship Workshop with Marriage and Family Therapy Intern and self-care super-fan, Lindsay Strong, this coming Sunday, December 1 from 1pm-2:30pm.
Let the Self-Caring begin 🥳