I grew up at a time and in a culture filled with hard binaries: everything was either right or wrong; good or bad; heaven or hell; black or white; man or woman; American or foreign. The list could be expanded. Everyone from whom I heard those messages passed them on to me as faithfully as they had been passed on to them.
Constructing a world of hard binaries around myself can feel safe and secure as I am doing it, but it can create collateral damage in the process. If someone questions one of those binaries it becomes a threat to the system that holds it together (and produces fear and fear-making). When I am afraid, I may find it easy to strike back with judgment: “no, that cannot be true because it doesn’t fit the two options that we allow.” To discover or even wonder about a third possibility is to risk the shaming game: “I can’t believe you would even consider that!”
Fear. Judgment. Shame. They make a pretty wicked trinity of harm. Fear, judgment and shame all land on someone who is supposed to be “the problem”, but they are all really about the one hurling them.
They are emotionally reactive attempts at silencing new perceptions and halting someone else’s journey. When fear, judgment and shame land on a person for venturing too far from that safe view of the world, they wound so deeply that they are likely to begin to believe them to be true about themselves rather than reflections of the suffering of the one who hurled them.
I can count dozens of times in my life when I noticed that I was feeling frightened, or judged or shamed by an interaction that offered no real cause for any of those feelings. But, they are all there, deep within, silently running the control board of my life. If I do nothing about these observations of my inner dynamics, I will most assuredly do them to others.
The power of vulnerability begins to spark when we begin a conversation: Fear, where did you come from? Judgment, how did I learn to let you run me like that? Shame, what events or memories are you associated with? If we keep asking, they will tell us. Each inquiry into those vulnerable places within me is a step on the search for truth and meaning.