Category Archives: The Culture of Shame

survey says

A few days ago, while waiting to be called for my appointment at the hair salon, I picked up a copy of Redbook Magazine.   I flipped through the pages and found a survey Redbook conducted of 1,000 women.  The survey was about lying.  Here were the questions and results of the survey:

Honesty Takes a Backseat When:

  1. I’m trying to protect someone’s feelings: 58%
  2. Someone asks me something too personal: 19%
  3. I’m attempting to stay out of trouble: 12%
  4. I’m worried the truth will change someone’s opinion of me: 11%

I found this super interesting, especially in light of my last post.  What I found so interesting is that besides the first reason of trying to protect someone’s feelings, all of the reasons are shame-based (although I can make an argument for ALL of them being shame-based, actually).  If you read my last post, reason 4 should not surprise you at all, but the other two may not be as obvious.

  1. Someone Asks Me Something Too Personal:

Obviously, it’s our decision whether to answer a personal question or to decline divulging something that is none of the asker’s business.  I firmly believe in placing boundaries, and that includes politely declining to answer a question that is too personal.  But politely declining is clearly not the same as lying.  It may feel uncomfortable to tell someone their question is too personal, so I think that is why 19% of those surveyed said they answer too-personal questions with lies. I think this is all tied to shame.  And why is it uncomfortable?  Because we are worried about what that person will think if we say that to them.  They might think we’re rude.  They might think we’re stuffy.  They might think we have something to hide.  They might think we’re bad.  Boom, the connection is lost.  I get it, I really do.  In fact, my husband and I discussed this very issue when I wrote my last post.  We considered that some readers might think the omissions I made at the beginning of our relationship were much worse than what they actually were.  By not divulging any details, I ran that risk.  And by stating that he had experienced something similar to what I had experienced and not told him, we ran the risk that people might think his experience was worse than what it was.  Despite this, I clearly decided to go ahead with what I wrote – absent the gritty (haha) details and all.  So I definitely understand worrying about what people will think and wanting to answer in a way that will prevent others from thinking whatever “worst” they come up with, but if what is said is a lie, most likely it will cause harm and create further disconnect.  If we’re all just honest with one another, there is such a better chance for connection.  Saying something like, “I don’t feel comfortable answering that question,” is sufficient.  Remember, boundaries.

  1. I’m Attempting to Stay Out of Trouble:

This is a good one.  I’m fairly certain we have ALL been there.  My husband and I have an ongoing battle with this with my step-kids, and a battle it is.  But it’s not limited to children, and it goes to vulnerability and again, revealing ourselves.  Who wants to get in trouble?  I think the desire to stay in good graces stays with us our entire lives.  But I know I don’t need to tell you that lying to stay out of trouble almost always backfires.  My husband and I tell my step-kids (and every time we do it serves as a reminder to me – because let’s be honest, it is an ongoing struggle) that lying to stay out of trouble will always result in, wait for it, getting in trouble!  If we admit our truth, we may still get “in trouble.”  If we hide from it, we will never experience the vulnerability that could lead to deeper connection.

  1. I’m Worried the Truth Will Change Someone’s Opinion of Me:

And this is the big one.  This has shame written ALLLLLLL over it.  Obviously, I do not have to tell you that I have been there.  If we’re being honest, haven’t we all been there?  Whether it’s a “little white lie” or a whopper of a tale, we edit our life stories and what we tell someone in order to be thought of in the best possible light.  The fear of disconnection is powerful, and it tricks us into believing that we will be much better off painting ourselves a certain way.  But here’s the problem:  if we’re all, (yes, I realize only 11% owned up to this, but I have a sneaking suspicion shame kept a lot more from admitting they lie for that reason) lying about who we are and what we’ve done, aren’t we doing the disconnecting ourselves?  And what if when we tell the truth, we receive a “me too” response?  What if we get, “I’ve been there”?  That’s a connection.  Making that connection is incredibly powerful, and a lie all but guarantees that chance for connection will be forever lost.

I had to laugh when I read that survey – not because it’s funny, but because when you start to look at things through the lens of shame, surveys like this and their results are not at all surprising.  Plus, it speaks to exactly what I have been writing about.  It was just so timely.

I think we can be honest and still set boundaries.  I think we can be honest and still be accepted.  I think we can be honest and still be secure in who we are.

And that brings me to the first survey option – When I’m trying to protect someone’s feelings.  So yeah, this is a tough one.  Unless you’re cold and heartless – or lashing out, most people don’t want to intentionally hurt someone’s feelings.  But isn’t that based in the fear of how our truth will be received?  Yes, it’s about protecting the other person, but I think the truth can be told and feelings can be protected in most situations.  I’m certainly no expert, but I just think when we shy away from the truth, for whatever reason, it all comes down to us.  It’s almost always about how we feel about ourselves and how we want others to view us.

Now, I did not see the actual survey, just the results, so this is only speculation, but the numbers add up to 100%, so it appears the survey participants were asked to select one answer out of the four options.  Given this, I am not at all surprised that 58% selected the first option.  After all, if you’re going to fess up to lying, why not choose the answer that is most acceptable?  I think a better survey would be to ask people to select all of the reasons for which they have lied in the past.  If that were the survey, I believe the results would show 100% across the board… if everyone taking it answered honestly, of course.  Ha.

So read the survey questions again and think about it for a moment.  What would the results be if you took the survey?  If you could only select one answer, what would you choose?  And more importantly, why?

shame and anger… and why i decided to start this blog

Several weeks ago I had an encounter that literally lead to the start of this blog.  I had, just moments prior, left a wonderfully hot and sweaty Saturday morning yoga class.  I was relaxed, happy, at peace, and ready to go home and start the day with my husband.  I got into my car, started the engine, and pulled out of the parking lot to head home.  The entrance to the yoga studio where I practice is on the back side of the building, and to get back home, I drive through a parking lot that takes me out via an alley of sorts onto a main street.  When I pulled my car up through the alley, I noticed another vehicle blocking the drive.  As I approached, the car remained parked, and I became confused… I looked for a turn signal, flashing hazard lights, a person in the car – anything to tell me the vehicle was not actually PARKED where other cars need to DRIVE.  Not seeing anyone actually sitting in the car, I honked my horn and waited for several seconds.  Figuring no one was going to come back to the parked car anytime soon, I shifted into reverse in order to exit the parking lot on a different side.

As I was backing up, a woman who I believed to be the driver of the parked car, appeared.  She began to get into the car, so I shifted back into drive in order to pull through after she left.  I was shocked by what happened next.  If it had been me, I would have mouthed, “I’m sorry!” or even walked up to the person waiting behind me to apologize.  I certainly would have done something to acknowledge that I was illegally parked and blocking traffic.  The woman belonging to the parked car did nothing of the sort, acting as if it was an imposition for her to move her car.   I raised my arms as if to say, “what are you doing?” and in response to that, she raised her middle finger at me and mouthed words that were far from pleasant.

I was stunned.  As I sat there in shock, I watched her take what seemed like hours to start her car and move it out of my way.  I was so upset by her actions and attitude, that I honked my horn again… several times.  Totally not necessary, I know that.  After all, she might have been moving slowly – and perhaps it was to spite me, but she was in the act of moving her car.  What good did it do for me to honk my horn at her?  To be sure, not one of my finer moments.

At this point, the situation was growing ugly, as she slowwwwwly started to drive, only to turn the corner into a parking space directly in front of the store in which she had been when her car was sitting in the middle of the alley.  After parking, she got back out of her car and started yelling at me.  As I drove off, I rolled down my window and yelled, “You didn’t have to flip me off, that wasn’t a parking spot!”

So WHAT happened???  Obviously, I let my feelings take over and I reacted accordingly.  Unfortunately, that “feel first, think later” response is pretty normal for me.  I was appalled that SHE was lashing out at ME when SHE was the one in the wrong!  But as I drove home, fuming and shaking my head in disbelief (and conveniently downplaying to myself my role in the situation), I recognized that girl with the nasty reaction:  I have been her.  Many many times.  In fact, I WAS her just a few moments earlier.  No, I did not give her the one-finger salute.  I did not curse at her.  I honked my horn a few times, and then tried to “show her the error of her ways” in the form of a parting lecture, but why?  Well, because how dare she get angry with me?!?!?

In her book I Thought It Was Just Me, Brené Brown discusses anger in relation to shame.  “When we are in shame, we are more likely to engage in self-destructive behavior, attack, or humiliate others,” Brené says.  In this case, I believe the girl who illegally parked her car was already feeling some form of shame when she came out to move it.   She knew she was not legally parked – she probably did what many of us have done, and decided to take the easy way out by parking in the most convenient place for HER.  And I am guessing she thought she could run in and run out without being in anyone’s way.  That behavior is arguably self-centered, but that does not make her a bad person.

So when I honked my horn the first time (while she was still inside the store), she probably felt that first twinge of shame – I’ve been caught – I screwed up – I couldn’t just run in and run out without notice – crap.  I can tell you from experience that those feelings and thoughts alone are enough to prevent objectivity and cause a reaction laced in shame. I was shocked by her behavior, but when I thought about it, I have to say I was not all that surprised.  I have had my fair share of angry reactions due to the fact that I was mired in shame at the time.

And to be perfectly honest and fair, MY actions were shaming toward her.  I wanted to show her she was in the wrong.  A desire I regret.

In the past, I would ruminate on that moment, and give myself some pretty ugly self-talk.  I would shame myself.  But I am making progress, and this time I was able to admit my shaming behavior – first to my husband, then to my therapist, and then finally, fully, to myself – recognize that it is certainly NOT the way I want to be, and commit to doing things differently the next time I find myself in a situation where I have a choice to shame or not shame.

But back to the other woman.  As I drove home and thought about what had just happened, and while I was telling the story to my husband, I saw the answer to the why of her angry reaction, and it was at that moment that I said, “I need to do something about this.”  Very shortly thereafter, the idea of this blog was formulated.

I do not believe I can absolve the world of its shame, and I am not here to try to heal anyone.  As I stated before, I am on a mission to raise awareness and to pass along what I have learned.  I want to help others as I continue to work on myself.  I want honest conversations about real life issues and encounters.  I want vulnerability.  I am 100% on board with what Brené writes in the first chapter of I Thought It Was Just Me, “[s]hame is universal – no one is exempt.  If we can’t talk about shame and examine the impact is has in our own lives, we certainly can’t be helpful to others.”  I am here to share my stories, in hopes that others might realize they are not worthless because they overreacted.

Sadly, I believe encounters such as the one I described are all too common.  After all, ours is a culture of road rage, flipping the bird, yelling obscenities, and reacting before thinking.  So what do we do?  I think we start by working on our awareness – both of self and other.  You may be like me:  feel first and think later (sometimes much later), or you might think through what has happened and never dream of reacting out of frustration or anger.  Whatever the case may be, because shame is so pervasive, I honestly believe a reasonable thought to keep in mind is that when someone reacts to you the way that woman did to me, it’s quite possible they are feeling shame.  I could have let it go when the woman with the parked car did not appear sufficiently contrite.  Who knows, maybe she was already beating herself up after losing it with me.  I am not saying we excuse rude behavior just because shame may play a role, but without an opportunity to find out, taking a deep breath and backing off could actually make the most impact.

As you can see, I am so far from perfect, and I have come nowhere close to figuring all of this out.  I am just trying to learn and grow a little bit each day.  The shame fight is long and hard, but I won’t give up – on myself or others.


social media shaming is the new black

Over the past couple of weeks, there have been several news reports highlighting social media shaming.  From body shaming of Pink and other celebrities, and by Michael Bublé of a random woman in Miami, to drought shaming by a man in California, shaming is popping up like crazy.  It seems shaming others on social media is the new national pastime.  Is social media shaming the new black?

What motivates public shaming of others on social media?  I cannot say for sure, as I think it’s probably different for everyone, and most people do not just freely offer up their reasons for shaming others (whether publicly or otherwise).  The man in California, however, freely admitted he has made it his goal to publicly shame others in hopes that it will change their behavior.  Now, I am no expert, but I can tell you this based on my own experience of being shamed:  shaming does not lead to positive change.  If anything, being shamed causes that individual to withdraw, act out, rebel, fight, and try to shame back.  Basically, shames begets shame.

So what about those who do not intend to shame?  I think a lot of people do not even think about what they are doing, mindlessly commenting on others’ posts or images, and even passing them along to be funny.

But as I mentioned before, others are blatantly cruel – the haters out there on the internet are plentiful, and it is apparent that the goal, for whatever reason, is to draw negative attention to another human being.

Whether intentionally or unintentionally shaming, both, quite simply, bring others down.  Let’s think for a minute about Brené Brown’s definition of shame from her book, I Thought It Was Just Me:  shame is the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging.  So basically, when we are shaming others, we are telling them that they are unworthy of love and belonging.  Wow.

My husband tells me that I am a pessimist, and for the most part , he is correct – although I like to say that I am just preparing myself for the worst so when the worst happens I will not be disappointed!  Nice, huh?  But even being the pessimist that I am, I have a really hard time believing that people who engage in shaming behavior are consciously sending the message that “you are not worthy of love and belonging!”  Even the self-professed shamer in California probably is not trying to tell people that they are essentially worthless.  He obviously disagrees with the water usage habits of the individuals he is shaming, and has chosen to attack the individual instead of the behavior.

So what is to be done about social media shaming?  Some might say that by putting oneself out there, that individual just needs to assume the risk of being shamed.  It does seem one needs pretty thick skin to be active on social media these days.  But is that true?  Should we just accept this as the new norm?  The way it is?  I don’t think so.  I don’t have the answers for how to stop it, but I will say that we could all benefit from thinking carefully before re-posting, re-tweeting, and engaging in behavior that could appear to be shaming.  That may sound too simple, but honestly, until I was aware of the negative power of shame, I didn’t really think about my own behaviors and words.  Because I have pledged to be vulnerable in this space, and because I know putting the truth out there is powerful, in future posts I will explore some of my own shaming behavior, so stay tuned!  But until then, let me just say that the desire to shame others in response to being shamed is a pretty natural instinct.  We want to fight back.  We want to defend ourselves.  Who wants to be called out?  But again, shaming in return only makes the problem worse.  This I know from a great deal of experience.

So again, what do we do?  We cannot control how others react and feel, and I am not advocating trying to do so or even taking responsibility for the feelings and reactions of others.  What we can do, however, is think about how we would feel if we were on the receiving end of public shaming.  Think about the power we all have to either (a) join in on the shaming via nearly-anonymous social media platforms and promote societal harm, or (b) take a stand against the epidemic of shame by either NOT acting – not posting, tweeting, re-tweeting, etc.,- or voicing our displeasure – in a NON-SHAMING WAY – with the harmful behavior that is taking place via social media every. single. day.

So who’s with me?  Let’s go against what appears to be the grain of social media shaming as a sport, and #fightshame.