by Phil Zaffos, LPC
The power and complexity of contempt reaches far and wide in our world. It can be found hidden beneath a subtle and seemingly humble remark that deflects a compliment. More egregiously, it can be a flagrant banner of hatred used to justify heinous crimes. The cruel irony of such a destructive force is that we often use it to protect.
Protect who? How? Well, anyone. Everyone. We arm ourselves with contempt when we want to take the easy way out. Think about it; why do you feel contempt for others or yourself in your own life? Just because? Or is it because someone has hurt you? Someone has misled you? Taken advantage of you? It is through the afflictions we endure, whether through a face of disappointment, a crushing comment, being ignored or treated less than the worth you have, being violated, that offers us the tempting choice of contempt for others and ourselves.
So what am I protecting from? In these moments of pain that come in many forms, we are faced with the realization that all is not well. We are being treated less than what is fair and beneath our inherent human value. Our needs are infringed upon and the discrepancy between the treatment we deserve and the treatment we receive creates a deep sense of loss, from which we can choose to adopt as our new value as ‘less than’ or build a wall that keeps others out. Yet, if we allow ourselves to move beneath contempt, we will find a hurt and shame, which desperately needs nurturing.
When our value is wounded, shame often settles in. The messages sent, whether the pain delivered is intentional or not, speak to our value and disrupts our sense of self. What we do in these moments, and so often how we have been taught to respond, is ever so crucial. Do you turn on others when you feel shame? Do you turn on yourself? Or do you have the capacity to offer kindness and soothing, validation and understanding to yourself in order to salve your wound, giving space for the sadness and grief and offering repair in that hurt to insulate and protect who you are?
This is a powerful shift from an often deeply rooted pattern of allegiance to contempt and therefore, self-abandonment. To begin to step into a position of advocating for yourself allows for this contempt to dissipate and to finally reveal a deeper truth beneath it. When we work through our shame, we re-discover a space within us that is often suffocated by the world’s whims. We find a life that dares to feel, dares to desire and dares to live again.
Phil is a Licensed Professional Counselor and founding director at Foundation Counseling. He enjoys working with groups, individuals and families in the Marietta & Kennesaw area. Learn more about him and other therapists at Foundation Counseling here.