Shame

creative commons image by marcandrelariviere on flickr

This can be about what it feels like.

I want to talk a bit about shame and how I deal with shame. I grew up with really quite a bit of shame, and it became a rather pervasive part of my life. I felt ashamed of being so different, ashamed of struggling with things other people found easy, ashamed of my shyness, of my awkwardness, of all sorts of things.

Of course, I imagine most everyone grows up with shame. So much of our culture seems to be based on convincing people to be ashamed of something, so we feel shame if we are the wrong size or the wrong shape or the wrong gender or are attracted to the wrong gender or any number of things. Even though none of those things are actually wrong, we are bombarded on all sides with the message that they are. It’s more or less impossible to get away from, and there is plenty of shame to go around for everyone.

For a long time my primary method to deal with shame was to try to “fix” whatever I was ashamed of. I mean, if I feel shame it much be wrong, yes? If I am ashamed of being shy, then I should just stop being shy! Ashamed of being an introvert? Turn into an extrovert! Ashamed of feeling insecure sometimes? Stop feeling insecure!

Of course, not everything that I feel ashamed about can be so easily fixed. I don’t really like being socially awkward, but I can’t just get up some morning and decide I’m not going to be awkward anymore. So instead, I decided to try to hide those things. To just not show my awkwardness, or when I’m feeling insecure, or even that sometimes I have sadfeels.

Unfortunately, I have found that this tactic does not work on two levels. One is that I just can’t always hide things. Sometimes, despite my very best efforts, my insecurity will show. Or my sadfeels. And my awkwardness, well that just shows no matter what. So by trying to always keep my shameful things hidden, I was basically setting myself up for failure.

The other problem is that trying to hide just reinforced my feelings of shame. It’s already not very fun to deal with things like insecurity and sadfeels; piling a bunch of shame on top of them just makes it worse. I bought into that shame, always and entirely. And the shame I felt whenever I failed to properly keep everything hidden and tucked away… well, that was awful.

A few years ago I decided that I was well and truly tired of feeling so much shame so very often. Since the old techniques to deal with the things I was ashamed of were failing rather spectacularly, it was clearly time to try something new.

My something new, that I have been practicing for maybe a couple of years now, is to attack the shamefeelings directly. So instead of trying to stop feeling insecure or trying hide my insecurity, I am trying to not be ashamed of the fact that sometimes I am insecure. Instead, I am trying to own it, the same way I am working to own my good qualities.

For instance, sometimes I get really insecure. That is no fun at all and feels icky. Nonetheless, I am not going to hide it, or apologize for it, or act like it’s wrong that I feel that way. Quite frankly, dealing with the insecurity directly is quite enough for me. I don’t want to deal with all that other stuff too. So instead I have been practicing simply admitting it honestly when it happens, asking for reassurance if I need it, accepting that reassurance at face value, and moving on.

What is still surprising me is just how well this has been working for me. It might still be too soon to tell for sure, but so far there has been significant progress in shedding my shame and leaving it in the past. It is slow going sometimes, and I still sometimes run into the Wall of Shame and need to deal with that, but little by little I am owning myself. ALL of myself. It isn’t easy, by any means. Shame seems to have a way of digging itself into me and grabbing on with hooks. However, it does seem to be possible to shed it, even if just a little bit at a time.

The side effect that I was really not expect but is super nice, though, is the impact this has had on the ooky things themselves. The more I own my insecurity (or whatever else), the more I treat it as just another part of me that sometimes needs to be dealt with rather than as a shameful secret I need to hide, the more secure in myself I feel. Tackling it without all that extra baggage has made it *so much easier* for me to deal with insecurity/etc quickly and easily.

The only real snag I sometimes run into is people who are surprised by my approach. Shame is so pervasive in our society and the push to hide what we are ashamed of is so strong, that people sometimes think that if I am admitting it, I must be in terrible shape. So then I explain all of this and how I am owning it and really, if I ask for a few words of reassurance that is actually all I need. As snags go, I think this one is relatively minor.

Overall, I increasingly think our culture of shame over our differences or perceived imperfections is a significant problem. The only people who seem to benefit from this are people who are trying to sell us things, and unfortunately there are a lot of those people. So, as much as I can, I reject this part of my culture.

Shame does not make me better.

Rejecting shame does.

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6 Comments

Filed under personal, that's not helping

6 responses to “Shame

  1. Brigid's Ember

    This is an inspiring, bold, honest & positive post. The culture of shame we live in is pretty toxic in a lot of ways, and the moralization of things beyond an individual’s reasonable control does seem to be something of a super-squicky collective hobby for us as a society. Good for you for seeing that, thinking about how it affects you & others, and telling it to go scratch even though (or rather, *especially*) because it’s hard to do. I really like the person you are & are working to own being — insecurities, occasional awkwardness (which shows less than you seem to think, imo), sadfeels & all. Go you!

  2. Very good post.

    My experience / anti-shame strategy is similar. When I was in my twenties I generally felt like I was psychologically ‘broken’. I was ashamed of my lack of flair for chatting with people, making friends and fitting in, misjudgements, strong tension around people, insecurity and awkwardness about body language; and I tried to look like I was ‘social enough’ like everybody else and play down my lack of friends et.c because I (rightly) thought it would horrify people.

    I was particularly ashamed because people had seemed to assume I would do well, was smart et.c. and I also look totally normal. There was just this nameless social barrier that stuffed every situation up, and which should really be nothing and which I should really just overcome ASAP, if I could just figure out how.

    While I still have the same essential difficulties, I don’t feel shameful that way today (mostly), and for me it is also the strategy of ownership/self-acceptance/stop trying to hide that helps. I totally agree with your observation: that when rejecting the shame and accepting the undesirable traits, many of them become milder – tension, awkwardness, insecurity et.c. so they or their strength may have been side effects of shame in the first place.

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