“What a shame.”
“Shame on you!”
“Shame on me!”
Have you ever heard any of these “shame” phrases?
Have you ever seen what a child does when they are shamed? During the immediate moments of experiencing shame, the child might yell, throw something, hide, tell a lie, cry or run away. Other times a child may do nothing except sit in silence. As time passes though, when shame has a chance to work, suddenly a behavior never seen before manifests itself and everyone around, including the child, is unsure of what just happened or why.
Sometimes, as adults we may act out of shame too. It might not look the same as a child’s acting out but some of us have witnessed behavior in an adult that has baffled us. Perhaps their behavior isn’t all that baffling. Consider, could they be reflecting their own feelings of shame? Maybe that person is you. Maybe your feelings more closely resemble embarrassment. But what do you do with those feelings? Are you kind to yourself or do you hide or say mean things to yourself? Do you hold on to negative feelings or act like you are the embodiment of a title like, ‘Miss What-a-Shame’ or ‘Mr. Shame-on-me’? This embodiment has long term effects and must be challenged since shame is almost always accompanied by an inability to accept all aspects of yourself.
In “Secrets: Good or Bad?” I challenged readers to take their first step in dealing with a secret by acknowledging it and asking it to live somewhere else. If you have done that, I applaud you. You are courageous. Now, I’d like you to imagine all the accompanying feelings of shame, embarrassment, fear, pride, guilt, or blame being packaged up in a suitcase. Imagine the secret is inside the suitcase along with all those feelings. Those feelings and that secret is something you have been carrying around. Guess what? That suitcase feels heavy. My challenge to you this week is to lay that suitcase down! It’s kind of like the example we’ve heard before about laying down your baggage because baggage in this instance represents “emotional weight”. If we can lay this down a while, we can do the work to analyze it, separate it from ourselves, and work on processing through it in a way that heals. Is it easy? Nope. In fact, it’s hard work. Is it worth it? I think so.
Here is an example from my life that I have told several people about and will share here so you can get an idea of how shame manifested itself in my life and how I chose to rid myself of the accompanying feelings.
When I was a little girl, about 6 years old, my family and I were gathered with a large group of relatives for probably a family reunion. Two of my distant cousins (boys about 14, whom I will call “Bob’ and “Al”) approached me. They wanted to take me for a “walk”. Of course everyone thought that was a great idea including me. So we set off on our walk and I was rather excited about having two older boys (kind of like brothers) pay so much attention to me. When we got to a secluded spot – I think it was a barn or shed, one of the cousins decided we would play a game. It was a game called “sex”. One of the cousins, “Bob”, came up to me and started to unbutton my top pant button. I resisted and said I didn’t want to play that game. I knew in my 6 year old brain this was not my kind of game. My innocent mind actually thought they were calling the game “six” not “sex”. They corrected me. They also said a whole bunch of stuff that didn’t make any sense at all to me. “Al” looked completely out of it like he was using drugs and he started smoking something. Finally Al said to Bob who was still trying to unbutton my pants …. “Ah, leave her alone.” We soon (much to my relief) started walking back to where everyone else was but not before both of them made me so afraid to tell a soul about the game or about the smoking. I felt shame almost instantly. I was afraid and for years never told my family because I felt dirty for almost letting someone take off my pants.
Fast forward years later, I did not like going to family reunions and felt total anxiety if I knew one of them would be there, especially “Bob”. At some point in my teens, I had a choice to make. I could either tell someone about it or I could continue to carry my secret. What I decided to do was tell my mom and one other relative. This helped me because I could first get the secret off my chest and second, I could start to deal with my shame feelings. After that, I felt separate from my secret and because I also decided to journal the experience, I had an opportunity to deal with feelings in a way that began to heal me.
The shame feelings for me had something to do with taking on the responsibility for others choices. Well, “Shame” is a liar and it made me believe I must have been bad or nasty for these boys to want to take my pants off. I actually wondered what was wrong with me that they would want to do those things to me. I know… despicable, right?
My walk of shame ended….. and it ended the day I told someone my secret. I also realized the secret wasn’t going to be a good thing or bad thing for me anymore. I wrote about it and I could finally separate myself from the shameful feelings I had over it. The secret wasn’t going to harm me, lie to me or have any power of me. The secret wasn’t really the problem here anyway. It was really more about the shameful feelings I carried. Well, carrying around feelings like these certainly did not help me move forward. It won’t help you either. What to do instead? Acknowledge the secret (like I shared in the “Secrets: Good or Bad?” Blog post.) Next, begin to let go of the negative feelings.
Friend, what sort of feelings have come up for you in regards to your “shame” memories? Have you also experienced this kind of violation? If you have, then I’m truly sorry. Things happen in life that we didn’t have any control over and sometimes we don’t have the tools even as adults to handle them. But you are reading this and you are here now and have an opportunity to challenge yourself to acknowledge your secret, acknowledge the shame, acknowledge any other feelings that have come up for you (guilt, pride, fear, blame…) and to realize that in this moment you have the support you need. You can be your own best friend or you can talk to a friend, a counselor, or someone you trust. Maybe you just want to talk to yourself or write to yourself or if you pray, then maybe now you can finally find the healing words to pray. Don’t worry. You have my support. You will have the support of others too. You are not what happened to you. You are not shamed anymore. You are safe, loved and valued.
For those who want to do the work of healing, here are my challenges:
Challenge: (Choose one or two)
1. Please repeat (out loud) or write the following:
I choose to let go of these beliefs… “Shame on you” or “Shame on me.”
I will no longer carry or embody shame.
I am strong. I am good. I am lovable. I am worthy. I am loved.
2. Find a quiet place for at least half an hour. Have a chat with the person you were when you experienced the “shame” feelings. What kind and uplifting words do you have for that person? What advice do you want to give them? (Before you answer this I want you to imagine a baby, a beautiful baby that depends on you for everything. The baby is soft and special and smells so good. The way you would speak to that baby is the way you want to speak to yourself in this challenge.)
3. Buy yourself a healing journal. Record your feelings for a week or month or longer.
If you don’t know what your feelings are then google “feelings”. I’ve done this before and discovered there are whole articles and helpful visual charts on the subject. Figure out which ones are your major feelings. Sometimes there are recurring feelings. Pay attention to them. For example, at the root of frustration might be anger. At the root of anxiety might be sadness. Understanding your feelings are key to your healing so please do your best not to judge your feelings.
4. Consider talking to a therapist, chaplain, or any kind of people helper you trust to help
you to process through any negative feelings or secrets you’ve held on to. A good resource is your workplace, your place of worship or if you have medical benefits, you may also have therapist coverage as well.
A great resource to search articles and find therapists is https://www.psychologytoday.com.