Many of us struggle with habitual feelings of guilt and shame, worried that we are not doing, earning or being enough. Marlon Percy’s song ‘’Shame’’ explores this collective sense of inadequacy, and in a sign of the times we’re all living in, was written and recorded entirely at home during lockdown.
‘I’ve been overthinking tonight, and my mind is going at a hundred miles an hour’, he sings.
It is a lament for modern times.
According to Marlon, the purpose of his song is to remind listeners of two things: how important it is to talk to others to relieve these feelings of inadequacy; and to normalise that it is ok to struggle with a sense of purpose.
Talking to someone
When we’re feeling shame, often the last thing we want to do is talk to someone. The very nature of shame makes us want to cover up our feelings, which can increase our sense of shame over time and leave us feeling trapped.
When this happens, our amygdala is running the show. This is the part of the brain that, among other things, handles the fight or flight response. When we get stressed, this part of your brain can take control and even overrides more logical thought processes.
Our brain and our body get a lot out of talking things out. Research shows that putting our feelings into words – a process called ‘affect labelling’ – can reduce the response of the amygdala when we face upsetting or worrying things. Over time, we can become less concerned over something that bothers us. This is especially the case with shame: the more we expose our fears and hiding strategies to safe others, the less ashamed we feel.
Talking to someone through counselling also has a positive impact on our health and immune system. A recent study by the Southern Methodist University in the US argues that holding back thoughts and emotions is stressful. We have the negative feelings either way – but we have to work hard to repress them. That can tax the brain and body, making us susceptible to getting unwell.
Of course, that isn’t to say that talking to someone about our shame will automatically fix everything or make us happy and healthy. But, regular exercising and healthy eating, it can contribute to overall improvement in our wellbeing. And more importantly, it can help us understand how and why we feel the way you do, so we can handle our emotions more effectively in the future.
Struggles with purpose
Percy’s song also points to our need for guidance and clarity during challenging times. In the Bible, the psalms of lament cried out for the same: divine guidance and help in times of darkness.
The overthinkers and worriers among us usually get wobblier during times of uncertainty. Let the following tips help normalise this and equip you with a new and more hopeful perspective:
• Think of purpose with a small ‘’p’’
Purpose with a capital ‘’P” often scares people away. But purpose doesn’t always have to be a single calling or a big, selfless commitment to altruism. Purpose can also be about how we act with integrity and commitment on a day-to-day basis – living purposefully and mindfully in the small, regular activities.
• God’s purpose is that we become more like Jesus
The most important thing to God is that we conform to the image of his Son. We can get caught in thinking that making a difference for God and for people must necessarily involve a big and expansive capital ‘’P’’ purpose. Whilst this may well be the case, don’t let it distract you from what is in fact dearest to God: that we imitate Him and live more and more from the indwelling presence of His Spirit.
• Find purpose in being connected with a few others
Purpose is related to true fulfillment (joy) rather than short-term gratification. Using brain scans, scientists have now proven that gratification and joy register in different parts of our brain. Consider the following if you are singularly linking financial success to your purpose: a series of studies show that in order to match the wellbeing benefits from seeing a relative or close friend on a regular basis, the average person would require a $100,000 salary increase. “You need a lot more money to move the needle on wellbeing,” says Christine Carter, who was involved in the study. “You do not have to have a lot more friends.”
Or, in the words of Proverbs 27: just as lotions and fragrance give delight, a sweet friendship refreshes the soul.