Discovering the Roots of Shame

Discovering the Roots of Shame

Over the last few days I have been learning about Shame.  I am capitalizing the word shame because it seems to have an identity of its own. I am granting it its own persona somewhat separate from myself so I can interact with it more easily… get to know it, so to speak. Just wait and see. It will all make sense as we go along.

As a result of a particular incident in the recent past, I am discovering the way my pain body will bring Shame to the surface so very very quickly when I feel I have “offended” someone or done something “wrong”. I have begun to wonder.

I wonder how much Shame controls me. I wonder where Shame came from. I wonder about my Shame.

This is a part of me from which I do everything to hide. I hate Shame. I am repulsed by its debasing demands.  I am reviled by its disgusting weakness.  Shame, I have learned,  is willing to do anything to keep the peace, make things better, diffuse another’s anger, minimize the situation or save herself. She is unscrupulous in her willingness to conform.

Recently, Shame came forward as a result of a group email I sent to the parents of my daughter’s Waldorf class.  Some shenanigans had ensued at a birthday pool party and my daughter had a serious scare in the water.  I felt inspired to share this experience with other parents as a reminder of the importance of self awareness & safety.  Instead of minimizing the incident and forgetting about it, as I may have done in the past, I chose to share my experience and concerns with the group via email (not ideal, school break had just begun, no time for a quick chit chat). I also shared my daughter had enjoyed the party, in case there were any doubts.

Mostly I heard nothing back, but I did receive two sympathetic emails (one in which a mother described a similar incident at the same party), one phone call and two emails rooted in anger and frustration. That surprised me.  Anger and frustration? These parents felt I was blaming them for the incident. They were the parents of the birthday boy and the parents of the boy my daughter remembered jumping on her in the pool. (I contacted them in a separate email.)
I wracked my brains about that. Did I blame the birthday parents somewhere somehow in all of this? Because even if I said nothing to that regard, blame would still come through in the energy of the email. No. No, I don’t think so. I did not blame them. I’m not sure how they could have done anything differently. Did I blame the young boy for jumping on my daughter? No. No blame there either. I was angry, yes, but these things happen.  It was a birthday party at a pool for God’s sake! I felt pretty neutral in the area of blame. I did realize that I held some responsibility to the life guards, as it seemed after some inquiry, they were not very pro-active that day.  As for the parents of the children at the party… nope… no blame. Really, I am just so happy my daughter is still here, safe and sound, able to tell the story.
So why, why did I sense some kind of niggling feeling creeping up behind me? A particular familiar unwelcome feeling that has plagued me in the past in similar situations. It is a feeling that makes me want to curl up in a ball in the corner of the room hiding from the world. It is a deep sense of worthlessness associated with a paralyzing belief that I have done something wrong, bad, irreparable, irreversible, unforgivable, etc… This feeling is Shame. This feeling is SHAME. It is my Shame and I don’t like it. I don’t like it one little bit. Where does it come from? And why, when my mom called me on the phone later that day did I want to burst into tears and confess the whole story?
What was that about? Why the flood of emotion? What was happening in side of me?
Oh! Wait!!
Yes, that’s it!
What was I afraid of? Let’s see…

I was afraid no one would like me anymore.
I was afraid I would be discredited and viewed as an irrational mother.
I was afraid I needlessly caused harm to another with my sharing.
I was afraid of the repercussions of my actions because they are “irreversible”.
(Unless, of course, you are working in a program like “First Class” where you can “unsend” emails all you want.  THAT’s a VERY handy function.)
I was terrified of losing all my friends as a result of this “irreversible” mistake.
I was afraid of being called out, persecuted, shamed in front of others.
I was afraid.
Were the feelings an overreaction?


Were they rooted in Truth?

Not really.

Something about these feelings were very familiar.  Very familiar indeed.  This Shame could be described as a sweet waft of forgotten pain, inching its way forward, hoping to be resurrected, hoping to manipulate my actions, hoping to punish me and render me small, miniscule and defenseless, so it can take over.

So, it can take over.

And what would it have me do, I wondered.  What would it have me do?

Apologize PROFUSELY, absolutely PROFUSELY, over and over and over again, so that the incident might be erased… so that I might be erased… so that there would be no me.
And this begs the question, why?
What was the point of this “erasing”?
What part of me wishes to protect me so fiercely that it would rather erase my existence than suffer the repercussions of my actions?


That is a good question.

I wondered.

I wondered about that for a while.

It seems to me the answer to that question might take us far far back in time when I was much younger and my life was filled with violence, anger, rage and unpredictability.

Hmmm…  I wonder…

I wonder how Shame was my warrior then.
I wonder how Shame protected me then.
This is definitely an incapacitating Shame.

I suppose Shame protected me by preventing me from taking particular actions that might result in either physical, emotional or spiritual brutality.  I suppose that would be the purpose of that shame.  Only by virtue of how uncomfortable, how agonizing and how paralyzing that Shame could be, would it ultimately protect me in that environment.

I suppose when I look at it like that, the truth is…

Shame kept me SAFE.
Shame LOVED me.
Shame was my BEST FRIEND.
Shame took care of me and kept me safe when I could not.
But now,
 Now I CAN!

I can take care of me and I no longer need Shame.

The question is…
How do I debunk Shame?

How do I diffuse its power over me?
How do I convince it  I no longer need it to protect me?

Those are very good questions to which the answer comes INSTANTLY!

That’s it.

Have Shame over for dinner.
Bring it out into the open.
Befriend it.
Engage it.
Embrace it.
Love it.

And so,
Sharing this story with y’all in the hopes of starting a healthy dialogue and loving relationship with Shame.

My Shame
I am here!
I am ready!
Give it all you’ve got cause I’m armed with LOVE and I’m ready to share!!
I am ready to share my love with you.
Do you hear me, Shame?

I am ready to love all parts of me.
All parts of me.  All parts of me.


Stay tuned.

1 Comment

  1. Yvonne
    March 22, 2014

    Thank you for this. Aged 64 and retired from a fulfilling profession, I am discovering so much about myself and how shame has driven me most of my life. In the last two years it has caused so much pain and it is still difficult to love it and or myself fully. Your article is helpful.


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