In This is Us Season 2 Episode 8: One, we get to see more of Kevin's backstory as he spirals downward in present day. Seeing more of what Kevin went through helps us understand why he was so moody but that doesn’t change how difficult it was to watch him treat Jack and Rebecca so poorly.
This episode highlights the impacts of shame. At its best shame tells us where our boundaries are. It tells us what we are okay doing and being and what we aren’t. The problem is, shame has a toxic side as well. At it’s worst, shame tells us to be enough in life we must be super human, perfect, perform the best. If not, we are at risk for being less than, unworthy, unloveable. It’s all on the line. We must do whatever it takes to protect our sense of perfection to keep from being seen as less than.
Teenage Kevin is trying so hard to be seen as perfect. He wants to go to the school that will make him look a certain way. He needs the recognition he gets in football to tell him he is worth something. He thinks he has it all together because he sees himself as superhuman - he’s winning. This status is so fragile though, that it is worth it to him to attack and belittle the ones he loves to keep things steady. Jack’s struggle with alcohol, his weakness, threatens Kevin’s sense of control. He fears the way his dad’s lack of perfection with taint Kevin’s believed perfection. His need to keep himself at the top allows him to see his family as less than and Pittsburgh’s coach as less than, in order to keep seeing himself at the top.
Because we can’t keep up the facade of perfection for long there is a natural flip where shame starts to tell us we are subhuman. There are a few times in life that Kevin makes this dip. He doesn’t know what to do with his life when he hurts his leg, when he dad dies, when he throws away his job as the Manny, and now while he is struggling with addiction. Each time he before he figured out a way to pull himself up by the boot straps and convince himself and others that he was perfect. This time he seems a little more stuck. We see him struggle to see his worth at all when he visits his highschool. He tells everyone that he actually doesn’t deserve the honor at all. He sees himself as a fake. He knows he hasn’t actually been perfect all this time so he must have been worthless.
The problem with toxic shame is, it doesn’t give us permission to be human. Humans make mistakes, they fail sometimes, they have needs and emotions. Kevin doesn’t give himself permission to have any of these things. With recognition of his shame - all the things he is disappointed in himself about, the times that he thinks he didn’t measure up, the times he thinks he fell short of perfection - he will be able to heal from this wound and start living as a human instead of expecting superhuman things of himself or the opposite - treating himself as subhuman.
Some Things to Consider:
1. Shame gets in the way of how we treat not only ourselves but others. Are there people you see as less than in order to elevate yourself to super human status?
2. How might you give yourself permission to be human this week. How can you allow for mistakes, needs, and emotions?
3. One of the ways to heal from shame is to expose it. Who might be a safe person in your life who you could be honest with about your mistakes, needs, and emotions?