I’m sure everyone probably has their own opinion of the breakup haircut, a. k. a. when a relationship ends and you feel the urge to make a dramatic change in your hair cut, color or style. Is it a harmless form of reckless behavior? A desperate cry for attention? An affirmation of freedom and celebration of new life? A phenomenon that is beyond explanation? Let’s talk about it.
I suspect some people might view the breakup haircut as a desperate cry for attention. A plea to “notice me” without having to get into the real pain underlying the action. I think the problem with this outlook is that it reveals the pervasive sense of shame we inflict upon one another, and ourselves.
Shame Is a By-Product of Trauma
I’m a trauma-survivor-turned-trauma-informed life coach. I research, think, write, and/or teach people about trauma every single day, and I have been doing so daily for the past several years. I mention this to give you some context regarding my perspective on the breakup haircut.
A huge part of my journey of recovering from abuse has been about learning to recognize and combat shame. Shame is different from guilt. Guilt says, “I did something bad”, whereas shame says, “I am bad”. Some other ways shame can be expressed is through judgment, criticism, perfectionism and blame. We inflict shame on others, to be sure, but throughout my trauma recovery, I’ve realized how often our harmful behaviors or thoughts toward others are direct indications of the shame we feel toward ourselves. Whether our shame was given to us by an abuser or oppressor, or whether it was developed as a painful way to make sense of our mistreatment, having unhealed shame running the show can lead to a lot of projection onto others, which brings me to the breakup haircut.
How Shame Becomes Judgment
When we are OK with who we are and able to view our inner world with compassion, curiosity, and gentleness, we are much more likely to look at other people in the same way. We can still disagree with people’s behavior, to be sure, even to the point of fighting or resistance when necessary. It is critical to hold people accountable for their harmful behavior, and being shame-free is not about never being affected by other people. However, I think the judgment that can surround something as innocuous as a breakup haircut is a shame problem.
Here’s the thing: If we judge someone for making a dramatic change to their appearance after they go through something really painful because we think it’s a cry for attention, we probably have some sort of core belief that needing attention is something to be ashamed of. Ouch. Having a trauma-informed perspective, there are a plethora of reasons one could have this belief. Perhaps you were raised to believe that needing attention, care and support from others was a sign of weakness. Perhaps every time you reached out for help, you were ignored, bypassed or dismissed. Perhaps every time you showed a hint of vulnerability, it was used against you. All of these circumstances could easily result in someone believing that their own—completely normal—human need for attention is something to be ashamed of, ignored or repressed. Unfortunately, the uncomfortable needs and feelings we try to get rid of don’t actually “go” anywhere. They just get buried deeper inside. When this happens, it can become easier to judge others for the ways they reach out for help, make themselves vulnerable, or appear to seek attention.
When Judgment Feels Good
Let’s be honest. As hard as it is to admit, it can feel really good to judge others. When you’re struggling with your own self-worth and shame demons, judging or shaming others can be a way to regain some amount of power. We might tell ourselves that we would never behave that way, therefore we have a leg up over that person. We are stronger. We are more independent. We are less weak. Whatever it is, self-righteousness is not a solution to a core sense of shame. Projecting our inner pain by judging others might be a knee-jerk reaction to feel a greater sense of control over our own lives, but that sensation quickly fades. With unhealed shame, we always come back to where we started: not OK with who we are and eagerly trying to get rid of the pervasive grief that lies just underneath.
Accepting Ourselves and Others
So, this article about the breakup haircut really has everything to do with the ways our inner state can be reflected in our world view. Healing shame is tricky, and rejecting the words shame says to us is no small task. But I firmly believe that when we are able to do the inner work it takes to stop making shame be our one source of guidance spewing poison in our minds, the more we’ll stop feeling like we need to judge others for the ways they process things such as breakups. We remember that everyone has a need for attention, even us. We can celebrate the ways others choose to harmlessly express themselves, instead of searching for the high that self-righteousness momentarily grants us.
When it comes down to it, a breakup haircut might be a way of attracting positive attention toward us during a difficult period of time. It might be a form of radical empowerment and a proud ritual of rebirth. It might signal the end of something and the beginning of something even better. It might just be a fun, impulsive thing to do. What’s nice is when we get better at being kind and curious toward our own thoughts, behaviors and beliefs, we don’t have to analyze, judge or assume that we know everything about others. Instead, we can turn toward ourselves and those around us with an air of curiosity, making life less of a competition and more of a fascinating journey we are all walking together—with all the heartbreak, celebrations and dramatic hairstyles along the way.
For more on trauma healing, rejecting shame, developing self-worth and creating supportive relationships, feel free to follow me on Instagram @Blooming_Forward. Tag me in your breakup haircut selfies; I’m here to celebrate you doing YOU.
Featured Image via Instagram