Feeling ashamed, embarrassed, guilty, disgusted with yourself is one of the worst feelings ever.
If you’re like me at all, I used to want to hide in a closet and never come out if I felt embarrassed about something I said or did.
I ate. Or smoked. Or went to movies to take my mind off myself doing that embarrassing thing, or acting that dumb way, or making that stupid mistake. I’d call myself an idiot.
I wanted to leave town and never show my face again.
If someone triggered me into an experience of feeling shame, I might also have thoughts like “that person is so mean, rude, controlling, nasty, immature, etc,” and judge the heck out of them.
They MADE me feel so bad!
Up until a few years ago, if I felt confronted by someone about a thing I said or did that they didn’t like, I might go overboard to fix it, make it so they didn’t think poorly of me, and then hope it was never mentioned again. It was like I couldn’t relax until I knew they liked me.
If I felt like someone had a poor image of me, I stopped answering their phone calls or efforts to get together. Too dangerous.
It’s powerful to look at what you’re thinking, and believing, when you feel ashamed.
I once had a friend say I wasn’t helping out enough around the meal clean up.
My impulse was to rush to the kitchen and start frantically cleaning everything in sight. I actually DID jump up and move. It never occurred to me for a second to say my back hurt and I was stretching, so I’m opting out.
OMG! I could never say that! (It almost feels weird to write it even now, years later! Who cares about your hurt back, just suck it up and pitch in…..right?!)
What was really going on in the moment someone confronted me, or had a request, or criticized me….were thoughts almost entirely about my ego being bruised, my identity of Good Person being shattered.
- She should think I’m awesome. At all times.
- No one should ever be hurt by something I do or say.
- I must be perceived as caring, thoughtful and kind.
- People should all love me (and they don’t).
- It’s not safe to have people dislike you–they can hurt you, cut you off, ditch you, and stab you in the back
One thing I noticed about these underlying fears were….
….they weren’t really about SHAME!
Shame was the reaction. Shame was what happened when I believed someone didn’t like me. Like a weird motivator of violence against myself so I’d fix me.
I was actually terrified out of my skull if someone moved away from me, thought critically of me, didn’t like something I said or did.
I was terrified because I thought I should be perfect and perfect meant never disturbing anyone else, ever. Maybe if they knew everything about me, they WOULD be disturbed. So I have to keep a lid on it.
Now….you can take this even farther by wondering if there’s anyone early in your life who you worried about their view of you?
My parents instantly come to mind, and today, my father.
He was very proper, upstanding, charitable, kind, not at all aggressive, thoughtful, and caring. He only showed anger once a year. He was very faithful in the church, and devoted. He was someone who in my eyes, and in the eyes of many, did the “right” thing. He never put his foot in his mouth, or bothered anyone, it seemed. He was a beloved professor to many students.
But somehow, it was clear that he also had very high standards. He disapproved of quite a few behaviors, and spoke of people he didn’t respect.
Just listening to his words, I vowed to make sure I would never be someone who he could talk about like this. I wanted him to love me all the time, and never be critical.
There’s RIGHT and there’s WRONG. I believed it.
Do you have someone who if they didn’t approve of you, you’d feel absolutely terrible? Has that actually happened?
Even if it hasn’t happened, you can hold that upstanding person in your mind, and notice the fear that enters if you think they MIGHT disapprove of you, or they are disapproving of someone else.
If you’ve done something that if THEY knew you did it, they’d reject you….you can imagine them finding out, and do The Work from this horrifying prospect: someone you care about very much KNOWS what you did, and they disapprove.
Let’s do The Work!
Is it true you need their approval? Is it true that because of the way it went in that situation, you are a bad person? Is it true you must always be perceived as generous, kind, patient, or good in some other way? Is it true you must never, ever, ever hurt anyone’s feelings, and if you do–FIX IT–or hide it forever?
It’s a lot of pressure.
I can’t really know it’s true. It’s hard to be good in everyone’s eyes. It’s hard to TRY to be perfect, to WORK at doing the right thing.
It’s exhausting, actually.
How I react, when I believe I need to be perceived as safe, good, and loving and “work” at it….is I don’t speak the truth, I’m very careful with most humans (especially anyone who reminds me of my dad) and I worry if someone doesn’t express praise, or approval, or doesn’t give me a nod or smile.
Holy Smokes. So stressful.
Who would you be without the belief you have to be good, right, upstanding, clear, loving, and not ever do anything that would disturb someone?
Are you sure it’s OK not to work at being the best possible person in the entire world that I could be (and this equals never bothering anyone)?
Because it just doesn’t seem natural to have to work, and get all twisted in a pretzel to make sure you look acceptable, and accepting.
Who would you be without this stressful story that you need to be seen as upstanding, positive, healthy, nice, kind…whatever your words are that you worry about NOT being?
Who would you be without the belief you need to be approved of, by THAT person (you know the one)?
How could it be a good thing that someone hasn’t found you ideal, or perfect? How could it be of benefit that someone said “no” or “you did it wrong!”
Whew. I almost have no idea.
I’ve been operating as if this is a given for so many years, I can’t imagine feeling entirely free to be myself, naturally me, without shame or judgment.
….I feel it. Just a wee bit. Who I’d be, What I’d be, without the thought.
It’s so light. It’s exciting. Magnificent even.
Without the belief I shouldn’t impose on anyone, or be disapproved of, or be perceived as unloving….
….I am very happy suddenly. Like it’s just completely 100% OK to be whatever this is. Responding, being, connecting, disconnecting. Being a human. Not expecting myself to be more, or other than, human.
Turning the underlying thoughts around:
- She should think I’m human, capable of foibles. At all times.
- People should be hurt by something I do or say, when they are.
- I must NOT be perceived as caring, thoughtful and kind.
- People shouldn’t all love me (and they do–hee hee).
- It’s not safe to have people like you (how interesting!)–they can hurt you, cut you off, ditch you, and stab you in the back. And, they can heal you, open you up, set you free, wake you up.
These turnarounds feel so much lighter, so much more true than the original stressful thoughts.
They are worth sitting with slowly, deliberately, and finding your own answers one by one.
“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.”
~ Mary Oliver from the poem Wild Geese
For more sharing on shame and working with this stressful experience, listen to Peace Talk Podcast Episode 133 right HERE.
f you feel shame about something, my number one suggestion?
Pick only one moment where you believe you did it wrong, or you ARE wrong.
Write a Judge Your Neighbor worksheet on that moment. Write down all your beliefs (it’s OK to hide it somewhere, so no one can find it and read it). Write down what you think the WORST thing is that could happen if the whole world was aware of this about you.
Then begin to inquire.
“Your separation from God has ripened.
Now fall like a golden fruit
Into my hand.
All your wounds from craving love
Exist because of heroic deeds.
Now trade in those medals;
That courage will help this world.”
~ Hafiz, from the Poem Trying To Wear Pants
P.S. My hands are clapping with the inquirers signing up for Year of Inquiry. If there’s any way to explore and dissolve shame, its with steady self-inquiry using The Work in the presence of other people.
I find no other way so helpful. Read about YOI HERE and scroll all the way down for fees, how the program works, and the schedule. People in Institute for The Work receive credit worth one full School for The Work plus 80 credits of one-to-one partnering. Join us. Your courage will help this world. At least, that’s my story.