Lately I’ve been thinking about the word “shame” quite a bit.
A couple of days ago I was telling a friend, who’s marriage is in serious trouble, that I didn’t think her parents, who are angry with their son-in-law, ought to speak with him. They really, really, want to talk to him. He’s saying he wants out of the marriage. This is a marriage of 20+ years and they(my friend’s parents-and the husband’s in-laws) feel they have a right to say something to him. Or, rather, they feel they have a right to be preaching “at” him.
I am concerned, that they might, in their anger, start judging and shaming him.
I told her, “By shaming him it is going to get him, and you, nowhere. In fact, it may very well push him farther away from you and the problems in the marriage…..”
“You ought to be ashamed of yourself!”
I heard this phrase several times throughout my life. It usually came from my mother and was surrounding something that I did that was considered bad. I don’t know, like prank-calling someone or saying something mean to my sister and making her cry……
Whatever the case, it was a common phrase heard growing up. It was meant to make you feel guilty and know that what you had just done, was really bad.
When I was going through my divorce, I experienced shame at a whole other level than that which I experienced as a kid. It was the kind of shame that kept me low; very, very low. A debilitating shame.
The type of shame, where, looking back, I don’t know how I got through my days. I knew I was depressed. But if I wasn’t so ashamed I don’t think I would have been so depressed.
Friends and family walked out on me because I was the one who wanted the divorce. I was the morally flawed character who made the decision to leave the marriage. And I had three kids at the time.
I ought to be ashamed of myself!! Right?
What a horrible time.
Growing up the way that I did, in a conservative and controlling home, divorce was not considered an option. I was married at a young age to the person I had dated since I was 18 years old. I realize now that I had not discerned if this person was the right life partner for me. I thought that, after so many years of dating, that this was just the next step. Plus, everyone absolutely loved this guy! How could I go wrong?
Until the day I could barely function.
I had always been a runner. I used to say to myself “running is my therapy”. Well, let me tell you, that was a bunch of bullshit. I hadn’t known real depression until it parked itself on top of me.
The ONLY reason I got out of bed in the morning was because I had little kids that needed taking care of. It couldn’t be about me. Plus, I had a practice and clients that needed me to be present for them.
How I got through those days, I have no idea.
Well, I do have an idea. I had a great therapist. I sought out spiritual guidance. I had a couple of supportive friends who checked in on me and made sure I didn’t isolate. I had an amazing sister who hung in there with me through my roughest times.
I was embarrassed. I was guilty. I was grieving. Yes, they all came along for the ride, too.
But that shame. It can be soul killing. Guilt is a more surface feeling. Like when you tell a little white lie or when you forgot to write that thank you note. It’s your conscience tapping you on the shoulder, saying “you know, you need to not lie about why you’re not going out with your friends Thursday night.” In a way it’s a good thing. I think it sort of keeps us in line.
Shame, on the other hand, goes like this: “You are a bad person. You are destroying everyone around you. Because of you and your wrong decision, your kids are going to be messed up and SUFFER. YOU are One. Major. Fail.”
Doesn’t that feel different? Doesn’t it feel awful? Yuck.
I’m amazed at how much shame I see in my clients. You can’t see it, feel it. At least not right away. So many people are walking around with their heads hanging down, feeling ashamed.
These are the very private thoughts many of us carry around with us. And it can effect every aspect of your life. Your personal relationships, your work life, what you choose to get involved in.
So I’ve put together some points that worked for me in navigating my way through my shame:
1. Learn about your shame. Do NOT feel badly about it. Most of our shame comes from issues and problems within our families-or-origin. Meaning, our first family with our parents. There’s no way your shame is your fault.
2. Face your shame. Learn about it. Talk about it with friends, family, a therapist. Journal about it. You will be amazed at the numbers of people who feel/have felt the same way.
3. It’s ok to feel guilt. In feeling guilty and owning it, we open ourselves up to seeing what we need to work on within and around ourselves. So, for example, you can look honestly at your part in how the marriage failed. But that’s wholly different than from taking all responsibility for it’s failure because you’re “inadequate” or “unworthy”.
4.Create a community of support. Remember those who love you. Who care about you. Surround yourself with these people. With the people who accept you for who you are, flaws and all.
I spent a couple of years working through my shame and I have to say that today, I’m a much happier and contented soul. I have my days, but shame is no longer a part of the equation. I am free spiritually in a way I didn’t think possible. I’ve accepted myself with all my faults and mistakes. And you know what? All of my past-my history, my decisions, my shame. It has made me the person, the wife, the mother, the sister, the therapist, that I am today.
Shame is debilitating and immobilizing. I hope this post helps you to see you’re not alone. So very not alone.