Let’s face it. We say some horrible things to ourselves: “No one loves me. I’m worthless. I’m all alone.” These beliefs become magnified under the herpes microscope of shame. And we can take them as a larger version of the truth or recognize them for what they are — overblown negative fantasies. Sometimes being faced with the reality of herpes is what we need in order to finally challenge our previous self-sabotaging perspective. Yes, at first herpes might seem like one of those teachers who was stern and just plain cruel for no good reason, but sometimes teachers push you because there is such untapped potential that is so worthy of bringing out.
Yes, herpes kicked my ass for a few years. It forced me to ask myself some tough questions about the kind of person I was in relationship: emotionally distant, needy, closed off, shallow, constantly seeking approval, self-absorbed … Having herpes brought depth into my relationships in an ironic way: By getting me to face my demons of self-hate, shame and worthlessness, I was able to finally see they were actually opportunities for connection in disguise.
I can hear you asking now: How could those horrible aspects of myself be opportunities? This isn't an opportunity! Because everyone has the unfortunate tendency to shame themselves, to think less of themselves … and the more I share that I have these insecurities (that everyone has to some degree), the less control they have over me and the more this connects me to other vulnerable folks. And there lies the opportunity. An opportunity for vulnerability, honesty, authenticity. All very high on the scale of deepening relationship. Herpes makes a test of your values immediate: You either don’t want to tell anyone so you stay safely distant (yet alone) or you find it in yourself to risk the inherent vulnerability in saying “I have herpes” in service of vulnerability and connection.
If we're open to it, herpes can teach us that there is more to relationship than the fear of a simple skin condition — that the beauty and power of relationship lies in the shared humanity of two people going through life exploring it together, from the pain and shame to the joy and happiness … and everything in between. So the big shift from shame to opportunity lies in identifying more with care than with fear.