If you spend more than three seconds in the #cannabisindustry on Instagram, you’re bound to come across memes like this one from memesbams.com:
For most cannabis-using people, this meme evokes a lot of strong emotions: anger at the FDA for its restrictions and unfair regulations. Outrage that we give children synthetic heroin at all, when there is scientific research to back cannabis as an alternative treatment for epilepsy. And even bitterness that a government agency can control such a large portion of our individual decisions regarding our health and the health of our families. And we agree! The illegality of cannabis is a travesty when compared to the harmful effects of some legal prescription drugs.
However, the argumentative and combative nature of memes like this, though they may be true, may also be an unhelpful response to cannabis shaming. Feeling upset doesn’t effectively heal shame, and it’s all we knew to do -- until now.
To get a more in-depth look at what shame is, see a previous article we wrote on this topic. In short, since most cannabis users have been exposed to society's condemnation of cannabis since we were children, we have probably internalized some of this biased and ignorant messaging on cannabis, even if on the surface we feel fully comfortable using it.
We may experience shame if we are criticized by someone for using cannabis, encounter anti-cannabis messaging in the media, or even imagine someone disapproving of our cannabis use. Experiencing shame means that you feel, overall, like a bad person; this is an intensely painful and isolating emotion that demands attention and healing. Read a shame story from one of our staff here.
In Dr. Brené Brown's breakout work on shame, I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't), she touches on the work of another researcher, Dr. Linda Hartling, who outlines three common, but unhelpful, “strategies of disconnection” people tend to have toward shame: moving against, moving away, and moving toward. Let’s unpack each of these to see why they are not so helpful and end with what an ideal response to shame is.
The meme above is a common example of “moving against” in response to shame. Moving against can take the form of being aggressive, arguing, and, frankly, using shame to fight shame. This is not at all to say that arguments against hypocrisy, ignorance, or injustice are not valid (they are!) -- they just aren’t the best way to respond to the painful, or even shocking, experience of shame.
Classic example of Moving Against . . .
A stranger smoking a cigarette outside a bar says: “Weed is addictive and dangerous!”
You: Are reminded of school assemblies that told you the same when you were just a kid, which leads to a feeling of shame. Then you tell the person that you are having a hard time hearing them because your internal “hypocrite” alarm is going nuts.
Being shamed for cannabis use can often cause an instinctual urge to withdraw, hide, go silent, or decide to keep your use a secret. This is certainly understandable; it sure seems easier to not talk to people who are against cannabis use, or even be near them. But again, “moving away” may seem like a helpful way to cope in the short-term, but it still leaves you with your shame. Alone.
Classic example of Moving Away . . .
A fellow parent at a kid’s birthday party says: “No responsible parent would ever use cannabis!”
You: Feel your insides freeze up, leave the party as soon as possible, and promise yourself you won’t ever talk about cannabis with anyone except fellow users ever again.
This is a desire to “appease or please” the person who has shamed you. It might mean trying to prove yourself or make your cannabis use seem more acceptable to others. There may even be good intentions in such behaviors, but shame will not dissipate by trying to change how others feel or think about you.
Classic example of Moving Toward . . .
Your manager at work says: “I have become aware of your cannabis use, and now I’m concerned whether you will deliver on your projects.”
You: Work twice as hard, keeping in touch with your manager multiple times each day, showing them that you are just as good of an employee as anyone else, if not better.
All of the Above
You may already be thinking that each of these responses seem familiar to you, and that’s because it is very common for people to respond to shame in each of these ways, depending on who or where it came from. The point is to notice that all three ways of responding to shame do not actually help heal this painful and isolating emotion, though they may seem like they help at the time.
A Healthy Response to Shame: Seek an Empathy Connection
First, find someone you trust, who is capable of expressing empathy -- this means that they are willing to meet you in your uncomfortable and difficult emotional space and stay there with you. They might do a bad job by telling you to just ignore what that person said or they might tell you how much worse of a shaming experience they had. If so, tell them that you need a compassionate listener who is willing to be with you in your pain.
From there, an abridged version of your conversation might go something like this:
You: Someone said something negative about cannabis that caused me to feel shame. This hurts a lot and I feel very isolated in this emotional pain.
Them: That must be really hard. I can be in this space with you so you don’t feel alone.
You: Thanks. I just wish people wouldn’t be so closed-minded about cannabis.
Them: Yup. I know what you mean. Hearing what others blurt out about cannabis can be like walking through a minefield.
You: Exactly! I appreciate you listening to me.
Them: Thank you for your courage and vulnerability . . . wanna go smoke a bowl? :)
The best part of an empathy connection is that it is, by definition, with someone else. This means you are no longer alone in your pain. Plus you are getting a nice dose of compassion and understanding, which naturally heals the pain of being unfairly judged and misunderstood. Bask in the healing connection you have made with this person and tell them that you will probably need to talk again -- and that they should share with you too, if needed.
Thanks again for being willing to learn about shame in our industry -- this hugely important, though not often discussed, topic in cannabis culture. We hereby extend to you a virtual seat at the table and welcome you to the conversation. To more clearly identify shame and take a step into the Cream of the Crop community, consider sharing your shame by completing this exercise. You can also introduce yourself to us here. Dig deep, speak your truth, and open us up to see the world from your point of view.
See you next time!