the one who shames me the most

The other day I went to an appointment with my therapist.  I had rushed to get there, but stopped along the way to grab a cup of coffee to drink during my appointment.  Because I had not allowed a cushion, and also because the drive thru of the coffee shop was particularly slow that day, I was cutting it super close.  I did not want to be late, and I even eschewed stopping at the ladies room on my way in lest I arrive to my appointment one or two minutes after the appointed time.  I will admit that I did not want my therapist (with whom I have worked for nine years and who knows me quite well by now) to judge me for being late (hello, shame) – especially when I would be walking in with a cup of coffee obviously purchased – not home-brewed – some time prior to our appointment (hello, bigger shame!).  All of that is actually excellent fodder for another post, but amazingly (or perhaps sadly?), not the focus here.

So I sat down in the waiting area, anticipating my therapist would appear any second.  Several minutes passed, but knowing that appointments do sometimes run over (mine certainly have), I really did not think much of it or mind.  After seven minutes passed, however, which is not the norm for my therapist, I decided to check the text message she had sent to me the week prior (just to confirm that I was not the one mistaken), asking me if we could move the appointment up by 30 minutes.

When I re-read the text, I realized that she not only asked if we could move the appointment up by 30 minutes, but she also asked if we could move it back by one day.  I was 24 hours early.

My immediate thought, after realizing I had misread the text, was, “you’re such an idiot.”  That was quickly followed by, “you’re so stupid.”

Pretty shaming of me, huh?

And I knew it.  I knew full well that I was shaming myself.  Is the irony of the situation lost on anyone?  I was sitting in my therapist’s office getting ready to go into an appointment to work on the shame that is such an influence in my life, and I sit there shaming myself.  THAT is how powerful shame is, and how difficult it is to escape its grip.  Do I truly believe I am an idiot because I misread a text?  Well, … no.  Do I truly believe I am stupid because I showed up an entire day early for my appointment?  Well, … no.  Or DO I?  Well, I don’t know, because in that moment I sure do feel like a stupid idiot.  But wait, if someone else was telling me that story and that had happened to them, would I think or say to them, “gosh, you’re such an idiot.  You’re so stupid,” ???  NOOOO!  OF COURSE I WOULDN’T!

But here’s the hard truth:  the one who shames me the most, is ME.  It happens a lot… more than I would like to admit… and despite the work I have done to fight against shame, clearly I still struggle mightily when it comes to the voice inside.  And it makes sense, really, when I think about it.  In her book, I Thought It Was Just Me, Brené Brown says that shame has the most power when we enforce an expectation ourselves or when it is enforced by people who are closest to us, like family or friends.  I definitely enforced an expectation of myself to NOT screw up.  That expectation was to arrive to my appointment on time.  So when I realized I had screwed up by arriving on a completely different day, that was an even bigger screw-up and I had really failed to meet my expectation.  It did not matter that no one was harmed.  It did not matter that my day was flexible.  It did not matter that the following day was also flexible and so it was no problem for me to go back for the correct appointment, nor would I have to cancel on my therapist at the last minute.  I failed and therefore I was a loser.  Pretty harsh.

I have a hunch that I am not the only one who does this.  I believe self-shaming happens as much, if not more, than shaming of others. We live in a society of unrealistic expectations.  We are constantly told to look perfect, be perfect, and if we are not, by all means do not admit to it!  What would people think?!?!

So after I finished shaming myself, I talked through it with myself, and admitted that I was being unreasonable.  If I would not tell another they were a stupid idiot for making a silly harmless mistake, I absolutely need to stop sending that message to myself.  Thankfully, I recognized what was happening – even in the act of doing it.  That is progress.  And thankfully I have also learned how to have these talks with myself, so I rebounded fairly quickly.  It does not mean I won’t berate myself in the future, but little by little, I am learning to stop being the one who shames me the most, and show myself a little more grace.

Do you find yourself being the one who shames you the most?  If so, first I want to assure you that you are not the only one who does this.  If you are ever in doubt, just go back and read the above story again.  And second, I encourage you to join me  – let’s  work on ending self-shaming and show ourselves a little more grace and kindness.

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.



why shame? (and what is it, anyway???)

Admittedly, this is a heavy subject for a blog.  Here, you will not find beautiful photos of perfectly plated food, the latest fashions, home decor, or beauty tips and trends.  You will not find what appears to be an ideal life.  There is plenty of that to be had on the internet, and I am a big fan and daily reader of many of those blogs!  But that is not real life – for me, it is an escape.  When I check my favorite blogs, I find myself getting pulled into what looks so perfect, and sometimes I feel kinda icky inside.  Sometimes a little envious of what appears to be an idyllic life with no bad days, no failed recipes, no marital spats… and I am guessing I am not alone – I cannot be the only person to experience this to some degree.

And it is not just blogs that promote perfection.  Facebook, Instagram, Twitter… social media is crammed full of what looks like perfection.  Personally, I see through it all… most of the time.  But as I admitted above, I do fall victim to the façade.  Nearly three years ago I quit Facebook.  I was quite active, and loved to post photos and updates of all of the GOOD.  Since quitting, however, I have felt so much lighter and really have not missed it at all.  I have also become more aware of the dangers of only seeing the good.  For me, it lead to envy, jealousy, sometimes even feeling not-so-great about myself.  In short, feelings of shame that MY life was not as perfect as my hundreds of “friends.”  It is really nice to not feel that way on a daily basis.

Please do not think I am here to try to get anyone to quit using social media (I did, after all, open a Twitter account for use with this blog), but I do believe there should be more thought given to the impact social media has on our society.  In my opinion, social media has become one of the biggest tools for shaming, and that opinion will provide a lot of material for me to explore here on this blog.  For now, though, let me explain why I have chosen to devote this space to talking about shame.


What is Shame?

Brené Brown, PhD., LMSW, is a shame researcher.  She writes that shame is “the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging.” Basically, shame brings out the “I am bad,”  “I am not worthy,”  “I suck,”  “I am such a screw-up,” instead of “what I did was bad,” “Yeah, I messed up, but I’M still ok and worthy and just because I screwed up does NOT mean I suck.”  We can experience shame while recalling specific memories, when we hear or think something (including those little messages that play in our own minds), while we are alone, or with others.  Shame does not discriminate.  It is universal.  Different people experience shame to varying degrees, but the truth is, no one is exempt from shame.

Yet no one wants to talk about it.

I first heard about shame in an appointment with my therapist.  Of course, I did not want to talk about it.  Seriously, even the word is yucky sounding.  Plus, at the time I did not think shame applied to me.  Nope, I do not have any shame and therefore, I do not need to learn about shame.  Amazingly, I was able to avoid the shame conversation for about six years.  But finally, my number was up, and it was up in a big way.  What ensued, was an intense battle against the shame that was threatening to ruin me.  Finally, about six months ago, after praying and pleading for help, I decided to attack shame head-on, and my first step was to read I Thought It Was Just Me, by the aforementioned Brené Brown.  Slowly, my eyes were opened, and I began to learn about myself and my feelings and reactions.  I also learned that I was not alone.  I read many stories about people like me who felt the way I felt, and thought the way I thought, and feared the same things I feared.  I gained courage to dig deeper, and I began to develop resistance to the shame that had controlled me for so long.  I have so much work yet to do, but I am encouraged and inspired every day because of what I have learned.  Now I want to share!!!

I believe Brené started the conversation, and I want to continue it.  The conversation will not be exclusively about me.  I will share my experiences and struggles, as well as my victories in the battle I am fighting.  But because I believe our society is suffering so greatly from an epidemic of shame, I will also write about what I see and hear – and why I believe what takes place in our world every day is so damaging.  I am no expert.  I do not have a psychology or social work degree.  I have had a lot of therapy.  I have read some good books.  I have done a lot of thinking and journaling and praying and soul-searching.  And now more than anything, I have been observing – myself and others.  I would love for you to follow along as I share my experiences and the lessons I have learned.  I believe, that by becoming more aware of the shame that pierces our lives, we can all make changes that will have a huge impact on how we feel about ourselves, how we treat others, and how others in turn treat us.

THAT is why I have chosen to write about shame.