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.