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Shame. On. Me?

“What a shame.”
“Shame on you!”
“Shame on me!”

”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.
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A secret. Good or bad?

If we take a moment to recall the days of our innocence, a secret could mean the surprise our Aunt has waiting for us after school, or the sparkly present under the tree that has our name stretched across the gift wrap. It could mean your best friend leaning over to whisper, “I want to tell you a secret,” and the secret is about a boy she thinks likes you. This kind of secret may cause anticipation, but generally feels good and can even cause a burst of laughter.

But the other kind of “I want to tell you a secret,”  is the kind we think can’t be spoken in a sentence, or even told over a cup of coffee. It’s the kind that may take years to talk about. The kind we’ve carried throughout our lives that feels like a whisper of our personality, the dark parts we don’t wish to reveal. This secret can lock you into yourself and may rarely be noticed by us until one day it pops into our existence even though we were completely convinced we had buried it. It’s the kind we don’t speak out loud for fear we will end up being swept away by it’s persistence or else we think if those close to us knew, they just may walk away. This kind of secret feels bad.

So what do we do with the bad secrets then? If there was an easy answer to this question there would never be any need for counselors, pastors, priests and other people helpers. If the answer was easy, it would mean all the bad secrets could be spoken out loud without fear.

Friend, has your secret been making you afraid? Has it been showing up as the bully of your current existence? Has your secret been tearing at your soul making you wander or feeling like you’re unable to find the whole person you used to be?    

For a moment, I’d like you to imagine the “you” before the secret. What was that person like? What if you asked that person to tell you about how you used to like to play? What are the things you enjoyed? What adventures did you look forward to? Did you like to have many friends or just one?

Now imagine going to a remote place, one that is full of things you love and the things you surround yourself with to relax.  When you are ready, think about the secret you’ve been carrying so long. Unwelcomed, it’s popped into your existence. It’s uncomfortable and scary but you are safe. Your secret has snuck it’s way out for a reason.  It’s not trying to be bad or good. It’s just that it doesn’t serve you anymore. It doesn’t want to live deep in your soul. Your secret needs a different place to live.

Friend, can you give yourself and your secret the gift of having its own place to live? You don’t have to provide or protect it anymore. In time you may want to share it with someone. It doesn’t have to be today. It doesn’t have to be this week. The big challenge in this moment is to acknowledge your secret. It’s lived with you a long time. It’s brought up a lot of bad feelings. You may need time in this moment to be alone, to write, or cry, or pray or listen to music. Whatever you do, just acknowledge it and if you are feeling brave,  thank it for sneaking out and kindly ask it to live someplace else.

Give yourself time today to really think about this and if you want to, journal your experience.