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.