Apparently I’m a shame magnet. Not sure if I struggle with shame because I’m super sensitive to humiliation, or if I’m super sensitive to humiliation because I struggle with shame.
I am quite sure that absolutely nobody is comfortable with public humiliation. Are they? Anyone comfortable with humiliation must have a problem – in my expert opinion… So if I can just assume normal people don’t like being humiliated, why do normal people want to humiliate me?! I can only assume they are oblivious to the effect their words and actions have on the recipient of their ire.
I grew up with a mother that for reasons known only to herself, always felt it necessary to publicly criticise. Then I married a man who has many fine qualities, but didn’t hesitate to let me know every mistake I made in no uncertain terms, regardless of who might be listening (he doesn’t do it anymore – otherwise we would no longer be married). In the workplace I’ve had shreds torn off me in front of all and sundry more times than I care to count. And now apparently, people I barely know – and who know nothing about me – feel it appropriate to publicly air all their grievances with me.
Why?! I would never do that to anybody else. I find humiliation to be a very poor teaching tool. Sure – it makes the lesson memorable, but it doesn’t necessarily teach the intended lesson. Each time I’m humiliated, I take it harder than the last. You’d think I’d become more inured to it, but I don’t. It’s kind of like having a big bruise on your shin. It hurts when you bump it. And then each time it gets bumped, it actually feels worse – the bruise gets bigger and spreads more and tiny little bumps can become more painful than the original cause of the bruise. So it is with humiliation – for me. I don’t become more resilient with more shaming – I become more sensitive and less capable of dealing with it.
So why am I mentioning this now? I’ve had a rough couple of days as a direct result of feeling humiliated. My initial response is intense shame. And I mean really intense shame. I immediately look inwards and try to find all the things that are wrong with me – the running internal dialogue is all about what a dreadful person I am, how I shouldn’t speak up, I need to stay small and get back in my box. I blame myself for everything – the things I get wrong, and the things other people get wrong.
But what I’m learning (it’s taking decades but I’m getting there!) is I’m not responsible for everything. Sure I make mistakes (and nobody ever lets my mistakes go unnoticed) but not everything is my responsibility.
More importantly, what I’m learning (and I’m getting quite good at this) is silence = shame. Staying silent and saying nothing about things that happen, makes me feel worse. It allows me to ruminate and blow things out of proportion. It doesn’t allow me to work through my ownership in the conflict, and to establish what is someone else’s problem. So I am very pleased to say that while my initial response yesterday was to shut my mouth and never let anybody know about the entire incident, I did eventually talk to a few close friends and to my psychologist. Those discussions are incredibly cathartic and have enabled me to work through the shame and humiliation and I am feeling a thousand percent better tonight than yesterday.
After the shocker of a morning yesterday, I struggled. A lot. And ended up with a shocker of a migraine which – despite a large quantity of pharmaceutical intervention – continued until this evening.
It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, that I also reacted with punishing behaviours, by wanting to self-harm and to stop eating altogether. I’ve been wobbly for 24 hours but I feel back on track. My little alarm will go off every three hours reminding me to eat, and I’m prepared to do just that. Six months ago I could not have bounced back this quickly. Sure – I could have managed my reactions and my stress significantly better yesterday, but this is a long process of growth and change. I can’t undo yesterday, but I can reflect and keep working towards even better responses to the shit that life throws out to all of us.
And you know what else? I will take on board the “get back in your box” message and stop trying to be all things to all people. I’m just setting myself up to fail and I don’t want to do that any more. I want to keep my world fairly small – I love my job, I love my family and friends, I love gym and writing. I’m planning for our big trip next year. I don’t need more than that. It is enough.
No more shame. Please universe… No more shame. It’s not fair. I’ve had enough.