how to get rid of shame

How to Get Rid of Shame, or at Least Begin the Journey

From almost the beginning I’ve experienced multiple scenarios, interactions, relationships, events that, in my inability to understand what was really happening, left me with an urgent sense of “there must be something wrong with me.”

It was really bad in junior high.  There were several bullies who made it their job to harass, threaten, and most of the time embarrass me in front of everyone.  I didn’t know how to deal with it.  I usually acted like it was funny, then spent my time outside of school with an aching fear – worrying about who would pick on me the next day. But I always found a way to blow it off, to distract myself, to act like it wasn’t a big deal.

I remember having a crush on Rhonda C. in the 7th grade.  She was really popular and always nice to me, so I asked her to go steady.  She said she would consider it so I thought there was a chance.  Her best friend Margie came up to me a day later, grabbed my shoulders and pronounced, “Rhonda says yes!  She wants to go steady with you!”  Wow!  I had no idea what to do.  My plan was to avoid her until I could figure out what to say to my very first girlfriend ever (not counting Kelly M. in the 1st grade, but she didn’t know she was my girlfriend).

The next day Rhonda approached me just outside the lunchroom and very compassionately revealed the truth –  “Margie thought it would be funny, but it was really mean and I’m sorry she did that.  So, as far as I’m concerned we’re going steady.”  I finally mustered the words I had been looking for.  I gently punched her on the arm and said “All-right!”  She broke up with me a few days later, and I “moved on” like I did with everything else.

When a 7th grader asks the question “why would people treat me this way?” the only thing he can come up with is “it must be me.”

I felt it at school, around my family, and with some of my friends.  While I had no idea this was all taking place inside, my soul did.  Without knowing it I began to label people – those who where above me – the cool, pretty, smart folk, and those below – the lower caste, the truly rejectable – the higher you were on the ladder the more value you had as a person.

I spent so much of my time in social situations trying to figure out where I stood on the cool continuum and what I needed to do to make people like me.  It was horribly lonely.

Shortly after high school I decided I had had enough.  I set out to change everything and nevermore be that kid that everyone picked on.  I started working out, changed my style, changed my “crowd” and began to attempt to climb the ladder of coolness.

It was tough going.  I’ve never taken social cues well and have always struggled with being awkward.  But I did manage to at least emerge from the ooze of total dorkness, at least as outward appearances go.

So my odyssey began, and I’m just now realizing the toll it’s taken.  Instead of allowing people to heap shame on me, I would heap it on them, especially on people who reminded me of me, which ironically made my shame worse.  To this day if anyone says or does anything that makes me feel bad about myself I get really angry – most of the time I’ll retaliate, usually in ways that won’t bring more shame upon me.

Next year I’ll be fifty.

I’m finally coming to grips with the fact that those hurts from the past are alive and well.  I may have found some creative ways to bury it all, but I still live day-to-day with that ache in my gut – that fear that forces me to hide, worrying what will happen if people see the real me.

I’m wondering how to get rid of my shame, and realizing that this will be a long journey.

But I’ve also come to realize that there are so. many. other. people. who live this way.   As children it’s difficult to know how to navigate the painful moments so it makes sense to do nothing, and feel nothing, as these events solidify themselves within, and permanently become part of our “now.”

I know married folk who fight like cats and dogs, never realizing that what they’re really fighting about happened so long ago, before they met each other.  I know successful business people who work their fingers to the bone – living from accomplishment to accomplishment – anything to avoid the shame that’s eating them inside.  So many people are angry, not because something made them mad, but because they’ve been hurt (anger is always a symptom of hurt).  It’s truly an epidemic.

I’m not sure how to get rid of it and I know it’s not a simple deal.  But here’s a short list of the things that, when I’m able to talk myself into doing them, have had a nasty affect on my shame:

  1. Don’t put shame on anyone else.  Don’t judge people, talk about them behind their back, publicly highlight their stupidity, laugh at them, etc.  Putting shame on other people only makes mine stronger.
  2. When I hear that voice “there’s something wrong with you,” I try to speak truth as a response.  “We all deal with shame.” “We all have things about us that are broken.”  “There are plenty of things that aren’t wrong with me.”
  3. When I worry about what others are thinking/saying: “Other people’s opinions really don’t matter – my life has never been threatened or significantly impacted by the way someone else thinks about me.” “People don’t gossip because of what’s true, but because they’re hurting inside and it’s a wonderful way to feel better.”
  4. Spend as much time as I can with healthy people who are either dealing actively with their shame, or have been freed from it.
  5. Discuss my most painful moments with people who care about me.  Talking about this stuff is the beginning of freedom.
  6. Drink wine

Sorry for the forthcoming juvenile observation, but it’s one of the most powerful things I can say about shame.  If you’re wondering how to get rid of shame, the first step is to call it what it is, and admit that you have.

Next, and much more difficult is to refuse to play its game. Ultimately, It’s a lot like that cat turd your kid finds in the playground sandbox.  Don’t pick it up, don’t play with it, certainly don’t throw it at anyone.

If you get any on you – wash, rinse, repeat, till it’s gone – if you don’t know how to do that, get some help.  The farther you can get away from it the better you (and the people around you) will be.

31 thoughts on “How to Get Rid of Shame, or at Least Begin the Journey”

  1. Yep. *raises hand* I actually had a boy in high school tell me “cliques don’t mix” while we were in conversation. At our high school reunion he asked me if I’d gone to his school. I was a band geek. Or as I liked to call myself: a musician. I ran off to be with my kind.

  2. I came to your blog because you had clicked to follow mine, Circles Of The Soul. I really love the depth of what you are putting out on this blog. It is well thought out, careful, kind and insightful. You are “awake” my friend, and participating in a truly beautiful and gifted learning journey.

  3. I am in awe of your blog, Mark. Thanks so much for sharing!
    What I especially love about this post is the last paragraph, where you relate shame to dog poop. I think sometimes we forget that it doesn’t have to stick.
    Have an awesome week,

  4. Hi Mark, I like all your six points. My wife and I remind ourselves (in this theme of not putting shame on others) to “not should on ourselves.” If all else fails, point 6 should lubricate the previous five points.

  5. Perfect 🙂 Thank you for liking my blog too, it’s what brought me to yours 🙂 love your writing and your ethos. Feel your words will help my autistic son make sense of things too 🙂

  6. This blogger, from whom we’ve never heard before, suddenly decided to “follow” Views from the Edge. We went to his blog and found ourselves saying “Yes! Yes! Yes! and fell off our chairs at the end.

  7. This is one of the most delightfully honest pieces I’ve come across. So real. So funny. I was with you all the way through and died laughing at the end. BTW, I prefer Vodka to win. I just re-blogged this on Views from the Edge. Thanks for the follow.

  8. My husband found you yesterday because you read his blog. Once he found you back on your blog and began reading you, he got my attention and proceeded to read to me, aloud, your entire post. We laughed heavily for what luxuriously seemed like forever! For this I thank you!
    One comment and one recommendation:
    1) keep doing what you are doing! You have a “calling” that is very special: how to be mentally ill/dysfunctional/miserable just long enough to encounter it, feel it, know it, name it and then be just well enough to not let it burn you so you can describe it, spin it and bring the rest of us down to your level of authenticity–where we can breathe easier, love you if not ourselves and then carry on for a longer, more quality length of time until shit happens again. For this you are an unheralded unhealed genius. A very rare bird, indeed!
    2) I just last night watched a documentary (interviews with 1000+ comedian talking heads) called something like “Do You Have To Be Miserable To Be A Comedian?” Find it. Watch it. You already know the answer!

    Peace (but not too much!)

  9. This post deeply resonated with me – this was my high school life! I recognized it, mentally nodded at some of your sentences… All these little cuts, they hurt, and I was so painfully aware of them that it socially crippled me.

    Thank you for sharing, and I’m glad you are working through it. I am, too, and I’m still recovering.

  10. I like your #4 about surrounding yourself with positive, supportive people who appreciate you for what you have to offer. Get rid of the rest!! Great post!

  11. It must be human, not juvenile, to have these past memories that rankle us! I will never forget or fully forgive the time when I gave a love letter to a boy in HS who proceeded to mock it with my girlfriend and then they started going steady! The worst part was that they sat in front of me the whole year in biology class and ridiculed me.

      1. I spelled lightning wrong but lightening kinda works too! 8)

        I was tormented by shame for – without exaggeration – decades. It was robbing me of joy and hope. God used this article to shatter my prison. I’ll cherish my newfound wisdom and will hopefully use it to comfort others as well. Thanks again and God Bless!!

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