When I first considered this topic, it seemed fairly simple to address. But that word. “Shaming,” hit me like a ton of bricks, yet inspired me to explore it further in order to really understand and explain the nuances between the two. Not as simple a task as I had first thought, but a perfect example of a much larger issue that nobody seems to ever want to talk about.
Shame, like hate, is a word and emotion loaded with power and meaning for every one of us and it is not one size fits all. All of our emotions are biologically driven reactions to stimuli which assist in the survival of the human race. A sort-of GPS system for the body and mind, if you will. It has been suggested that some purposes of shame and shaming were once to avoid disease, and to ensure conformity with cultural and social rules, laws and ideals perceived by the status quo as a necessary means of deterring individuals from engaging in behaviors outside of them. Many say that this psychology of cultural valuation/devaluation is universal to all cultures.
In theory, it may seem legit: Eliminating W behavior by shaming X (participants in W) would be beneficial to Y (all or some group of the population) in Z way. We’ve all seen countless examples of this scenario played out throughout our lives and definitely throughout history since humans have existed. But this concept, however prevalent, is an extremely dangerous and destructive way of using feelings about thoughts, or opinions/perceptions to then make assumptions, which turn into beliefs, which are then used to justify all kinds of behavior–often much worse and more harmful than the originally perceived transgression. It is an unhealthy and unjust misuse of the emotions.
Brene Brown, renowned author, Ted Talk presenter, and vulnerability, shame, and perfectionism researcher defines the noun, or feeling of shame as “The intensely painful feeling that we are flawed and unworthy of love and belonging,” and points out that the real impact of all abuse–especially sexual abuse–that does the lasting damage to the psyche is not the act of abuse itself, but the shame of it.
As a verb, “to shame” is the act of privately or publicly disparaging the person/people and/or behavior the shamer believes to be “wrong” or unacceptable, in an attempt to change said behavior by assigning blame and inducing guilt, shame, or humiliation and making the participating person/people feel badly.
There are a few reasons why shaming has been so prolifically used. One is that it allows the shamer to communicate their displeasure with the shamee without being accountable for their own feelings, actions or role in the situation, and it affords them feelings of self-righteousness and superiority over the shamee with the assumption that the shamer’s opinions or assumptions are “right,” and those of their target are “wrong,” when they are actually just different. This holds true in the context of “NMK,” which stands for “Not my kink,” vs. kink shaming.
In an article I recently read about shaming, despite my disagreement with most of it, some interesting points were made. It described different types of shaming and opined that some of those can be considered “good-natured” shaming, such as “child or baby shaming,” ie: making your child wear a sign announcing it as a punishment, and what for, or “pet shaming,” as in sharing photos of your dog’s naughty behavior or its results with friends or publicly. I see this point and how one could arrive at that conclusion. However, it went on to propose that really anyone can be shamed and it is now trendy to “shame” people for literally anything–even something very mundane, hence reducing “shaming” to an overused buzzword that really has little importance or meaning, and simply just “isn’t a thing” any longer. While I can understand how that point could be made, I find it a very slippery slope into denial of a very real, very serious problem in today’s society that I believe we all could benefit from taking a closer look at.
I say that in all seriousness because after all, shaming, which is actually one of the many forms of bullying, is deeply and intricately woven into the fabric this country was founded on, and is still heavily indoctrinated into our schools’ history books to this day, and into large swaths of our communities through generations of familial upbringing. I realize my point may not be popular, but humor me for a moment.
Humans have been revelling in the violence toward, humiliation and misery of their fellows since the beginning of time. “Mob mentality” is seen clearly in history, from the bloody battles at the Greek Coliseum for entertainment to concentration camps, to hate groups and crimes we see in the news almost daily. In so many ways it appears we as a species have missed or ignored the lessons we could have learned long ago from fear-based wars, catastrophes, tragedies, and loss on an almost incomprehensible scale. It seems that really, not much intellectual or emotional evolution has occurred despite an abundance of time and opportunities in which to do so. Brene Brown makes the undeniable assertion that “shame(ing)” is lethal–that we have a visceral reaction to it and nobody wants to talk about it,” and in my experience she’s correct. Far from an exaggeration, not conforming to societal rules or norms can and often does lead to alienation, disconnection, harm in any of its numerous forms, and finally, death. Massive amounts of it. Hardly a “buzzword” with some perspective, no?
The aim of this post is not at all to project blame, but on the contrary, bring our attention to the opposite by suggesting we consider taking some personal responsibility in the shame epidemic and discuss openly how we all, at some point or another have used or use shame to try to influence or control others–to “teach” them the lessons they “need to learn,” in our opinions. We’re so quick to perceive their differences to us as “wrong” simply because they trigger specific fears in us, without pausing to examine the deeper reasons for what exactly is the source for what we’re feeling, what exactly it is we are wanting to communicate, and why. Because that’s all just so much work when we can just judge and condemn. Right?
Since I’m already squarely planted on my soap-box, I’ll wander down the rabbit hole even further and suggest this issue is at least a factor in, if not at the very core of so many of the worst problems facing us and our planet today, and is one of the main things that actually perpetuates and worsens them. If you examine each one closely, you’ll inevitably find that ignorance, fear, hatred, and motivations not based on facts or true knowledge are glaringly present in them all.
Which (finally) brings me back to the difference between commenting “NMK,” and kink shaming–because they are different, but perhaps not as much as one might think. To outright denounce, ridicule, or express disgust, disbelief, or even hatred of another person’s kink in any respectable forum or setting is considered absolutely unacceptable and is typically nipped in the bud swiftly and permanently, and for good reason. It’s out-of-pocket, as one would think it would be likewise considered most anywhere. Kink and the lifestyle surrounding it have long been considered very taboo and “on the fringe” of society in the first place, which is why, if you belong to a traditional kink community for any significant amount of time, chances are you probably earned your place at the table, by asking pertinent questions, observing, researching, experimenting, learning and following spoken and unspoken protocols where appropriate, sharing and interacting with other members, and behaving in a respectful and respectable manner.
Kinksters and what it is that we do, have been condemned by society, the law, doctors, psychiatrists, neighbors, people we thought were friends, you name it, from the beginning. Only quite recently has it gotten a bit cozier with the mainstream, but only slightly, as it has been largely misrepresented in mainstream media, hence most people have no idea, or just completely misunderstand the complexities of what it’s all about. Moreover, it takes a significant amount of time and energy that many are unwilling to invest and for most of it, you can’t just simply google and get credible answers or information. It remains a fairly tight-knit and still somewhat “underground” lifestyle for the aforementioned reasons. That being said, in my personal experience, so many kinksters I’ve met have not surprisingly proven to be some of the most solid, talented, disciplined, decent people I’ve encountered, and I’ve heard many say the same.
So why might “NMK” not be as appropriate as one may think? Yes, it is absolutely okay to not participate in any activity that doesn’t resonate with you. Yes, everyone has the right to express that in a non-judgemental way, which many consider “NMK” to be. But let me play devil’s advocate for a second and ask, what really is the point of commenting “NMK?” It’s not supportive. It’s not-so-much neutral. It’s not really necessary, frankly, if you’re secure with yourself–and thus others–having very different tastes than yours, which will always be a given. The way I see it is, the statement begins with “not,” or in essence, “no,” a negating word. Personally, I’d rather contribute a supportive or no comment rather than a negating one, and that applies to most situations in my life. I like to look for and think of ways to feel unity with others vs. division. To try and speak and act from a place of acceptance, honesty, and love as opposed to a place of avoidance, disdain and fear because I’ve seen & experienced the results of both, and have witnessed the first as surprisingly beneficial to most people and situations. This can be very challenging to remember to do. It takes a lot of practice. But I’ve found it to be totally worth the effort. By no means am I the poster child for all things virtuous–those who know me are probably laughing out loud right now. I can get heated, fly off the handle, find myself judging instead of trying to understand, opening mouth and inserting foot–more often than I’d like to admit. But when I encounter a post or discussion about a kink or most anything that doesn’t resonate with me, I try to ask questions if I’m truly curious to understand, or just keep scrolling/listening and say nothing. Because I can! And because it feels much better to me than “yucking someone else’s yum.” While it’s not in the same league as shaming, “NMK” serves no purpose to communicate support, or even that it’s okay for the person who took the time and made themself somewhat vulnerable in sharing something quite personal, to safely express an interest in something that may be very different from your interests, but is every bit as valid.
If we could consider celebrating our differences instead of demonizing or ridiculing each other for them, or even agreeing to disagree, and instead find things we do have in common, as well as the differences, we would likely be able to understand and accept one another more, learn a thing or two, and maybe even make a great friend along the way. Next time you find yourself reacting to something, consider trying before responding, to ask yourself “Is it necessary? True? Kind?” Or “What are the feelings motivating my reaction to this, and what is or was it that really caused me to feel this way?”
When you operate from a place of love rather than fear, a mirror is presented to reflect the only person who can really control or be responsible for how you feel about something or react to it. With that realization, for me comes an incredible sense of freedom, conection, and wholeness–some of the most beautiful things about being human. I can only speak for myself, but to be in that head space as much as possible, or at least striving to be, is a far more worthwhile endeavor than judging, blaming, or making irrational assumptions about others. When we can face our fears with courage, honesty and compassion, we find ultimately that there really isn’t anything to actually fear or be ashamed of anyway.