Last April Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Love and Pray and her new book Big Magic wrote an epic Facebook post about tribal shame.
Liz Gilbert’s post is so worth the read, but the short version is this:
“…if you dare to leave your tribe of origin, or if you dare to question the rules of your tribe — it is extremely likely that you will be punished. Sometimes that punishment can be violent and extreme… But often times the punishment is more subtle. …the weapon they are most likely to use against you is shame. Shame is how they keep you in line. Shame is how they let you know that you have abandoned the collective.”
This tribe can be our family, our religion, our neighborhood, our nationality, our culture, etc.
Tribes are important to human beings, in fact, they are essential. There is arguably nothing more vital to the ongoing existence of the human race than the cohesion and protection of a tribe.
Tribes keep us safe, tribes keep our babies alive and old people safe. Tribes care for the sick and the weak. Tribes provide protection, nourishment and warmth to vulnerable individuals (and we are all vulnerable individuals at some point or another)… but most importantly, tribes provide meaning.
Simply put: Our tribe of origin tells us who we are.
Our tribe tells us what to believe and how to behave.
In order to remain safe and accepted within the boundaries of the tribe, you must follow these rules.
All you need to do is obey your familiar tribal rules (and pass those rules down to your offspring) and everything will be safe and clean and simple.
Or maybe not.
Maybe as you grew older, you found that your own values and morals and standards and aspirations were completely different than those that had been taught to you by your tribe of origin.
Maybe you did not want to be an abusive alcoholic.
Maybe in your tribe, nobody gets a formal education, but you wanted to go earn a PhD.
Maybe in your tribe, everyone is expected to get a higher education, but you never liked school, and couldn’t finish.
Maybe in your tribe, girls are supposed to become mothers at a young age and never to work outside the home, but you wanted to be a childless career woman.
Maybe in your tribe, everyone is expected to be a farmer, but you wanted to be an artist.
Maybe in your tribe, everyone is expected to be an artist, but you wanted to go into business.
Maybe in your tribe you were taught to be suspicious and hateful of strangers, but you wanted to love the world with a more open heart.
Maybe in your tribe, you were taught to expect nothing but poverty and oppression and deprivation out of life, but you saw the world differently, and wanted to expand your mind into a field of joyful abundance and prosperity.
In other words, maybe the rules of your tribe did not work for you anymore.
Maybe you decided to break your tribal rules, and choose your own path.
Maybe you went out and found a new tribe, composed of people who felt more like family to you than your own family did.
And maybe your tribe of origin was totally OK with that.
Maybe your tribe celebrated your differences and cheered you on, and said “All we want is for you to be happy!”
So….if you dare to leave your tribe of origin, or if you dare to question the rules of your tribe, it is extremely likely that you will be punished.
Sometimes that punishment can be violent and extreme, like: excommunication, shunning, disowning, physical abuse, or even murder (such as in the dreadful cases of “honor killings” of young girls by their own family members.)
The tribe will shame you by saying things like, “Now that you are a big fancy city girl, you think you’re better than us, don’t you?”
“Now that you have got a college education, you think you are better than us…”
“Now that you don’t drink anymore, you think you are better than us…”
“Now that you have lost all that weight, you think you are better than us…”
“Now that you are happily married, you think you are better than us…”
“Now that you have a good job, you think you are better than us…”
“Now that you speak French, you think you are better than us…”
“Now that you live in northern suburbs of Johannesburg, you think you are better than us…”
They will accuse you of being a traitor. They will use words like “abandonment” and “betrayal” and “disloyalty.”
They will sometimes say these words as a joke, but they know very well that they are not joking.
Shame can literally take years off your life.
I want you to ask yourself this question, in all honesty, have you ever sabotaged yourself, in order to be welcomed back into the tribe?
I have done it. I can promise you that, I have done it many times.
If you want to create, to explore, to leap, to reform, to transform, then it is necessary sometimes to admit that you have left your tribe of origin behind.
This has been incredibly useful information to me, and I hope it will help you all to live a freer and happier life.