I am going to go out on a limb and say that I am sure everyone reading this will have felt shame at some stage in their lives. Perhaps often. The white hot feeling, that presents like a mixture of dread and panic. Setting every cell in your body on edge. Making you want to run, to disappear.
I myself have experienced shame on many occasions. My earliest memory of real shame happened when I was very young. Five or six maybe. I had a friend who lived close by and was a little older. A little more streetwise, and naturally I looked up to her.
One day we were out rambling around our neighbourhood, when we found ourselves playing in the church grounds. We tried the door, and upon finding it open snuck inside like a couple of cat burglars. If you have ever experienced the feeling of being somewhere you are not supposed to be, you will relate when I say we were both thrilled and terrified. We tiptoed around, knowing we could be discovered any moment.
We hadn’t been there long when we noticed the “poor box.” Picking it up to examine it, we discovered what we thought was a £1 note inside. We were literally in for a penny in for a pound. So we decided to try to take. As the papery form slide out from the heavy wooden box, we realised our mistake. It wasn’t £1 it was £5.
That’s when panic really started to set in. It was the early 80’s and £5 was a hell of a lot of money. What on earth were we going to do with it? We set off to the local sweet shop, and try as we might we couldn’t spend even half of it (clearly we lacked imagination and guile.) Knowing we couldn’t bring the change home without being rumbled, we gave it to some older kids.
I will never forget what happened next. I went home and my mother was making dinner. Food was frying on the hob and a typical domestic scene was unfolding. Suddenly there was a knock at the door. My mother answered it, no doubt irritated by the interruption, to find one of the older kids. There to tell my parents about the money.
Time stood still. I knew the jig was up. I had no choice to come clean. No sooner had my mother extracted the truth from me, then she frog marched me, dinner long abandoned, over to the priest’s house to make my confession. It was a summer evening and I felt like the whole neighbourhood could see what was happening. I felt raw, exposed and utterly ashamed.
The reason I recount this story here is because we all have similar tales. Times when we have lied, cheated or deliberately hurt someone. And to be honest, at these times, we deserve to feel shame. The memory of the palpable sensation serving as a reminder, if we ever think of doing the same thing again.
It occurred to me lately, however, that a lot of the times we feel shame, we haven’t actually done anything wrong. We allow ourselves to experience this excruciating and low vibe emotion way more often than is warranted. Whether this is a hangover from strict parenting, religious beliefs or societal norms, I believe it is time we start trying to heal from this. Time to reparent ourselves.
To that end, I have started identifying a few instances when I have felt misplaced shame. I have made a promise to my inner Arwen to try to stop. Let’s see how many of these you have on your bingo card!
Sweating is 100% natural. It’s a function of a normal, healthy body, and yet, we dread it. We have been conditioned to try to prevent it, cover it up, and camouflage it. I started realising how nuts it is to be ashamed of sweating in the gym of all places.
I was doing a workout, working hard when I realised I had a big, sweaty bum. Not ideal I will grant you, but certainly not something I should have felt embarrassed about. But I did. I was practically walking sideways, praying nobody would notice and vowing never to wear light coloured leggings to the gym ever again.
It was only later when I copped on. Firstly nobody was looking at me and secondly, if they were, I doubt they would care. What exactly are they going to say? “Jesus there was a woman in the gym last night, and she was sweating! Would you credit it?!”
I no longer accept that I should feel ashamed of my body for producing sweat!
Causing Mild Inconvenience:
We have all had that experience. You get to the top of the que in the supermarket and something goes wrong. Your item won’t scan, your card won’t work, you spill your change trying to put it back into your purse and some minor delay is caused.
It’s agony! You feel the eyes rolling in the que behind you. You hear the tuts, real or imagined. You face gets hot, palms clammy and you just want Scotty to beam you up.
This is a universal human experience. Almost as much as sweating. I no longer accept that I should feel ashamed when these things happen.
Getting it wrong, with the best of intent:
We are not perfect. We are all flawed, learning and healing. None of us get it right all the time. We come up against unfamiliar situations, and sometimes we just make a balls of it.
I am an LGBTQ+ Ally in work and it is one of my greatest fears that I will say the wrong thing it this space. That in trying to help, I will inadvertently make matters worse. As an ally, and not someone in the community, I feel at risk of this happening, at least once in every meeting.
Here’s the thing. I am trying. I can’t promise to get it right every time. The landscape is changing and evolving quickly and maybe I will trip up. All I can do is own that when it happens, and be open to doing better when it is pointed out to me.
I will not let me fear of getting it wrong, and feeling shame, stop me from being an ally.
I could go on with this all evening, but I think I exposed myself enough for now.
My hope is that the next time you feel shame, and you will, that you ask yourself if it is justified or not. If you have genuinely done something wrong, try to fix it and don’t put your hand in the poor box again. If you haven’t done anything wrong try to acknowledge that this is a tiny unhealed part of yourself crying out, and give it some love.
Be well xxx