The Foil to Shame

Woman covering her face in shame

Have you ever been embarrassed by the state of your home, a forgotten appointment, habitual lateness, lost items, an inability to focus, or something similar? If so, you are not alone. All of us have, at one time or another, fallen short of the person we want to be. Our struggles may be different, but they all tend to evoke a common feeling: shame.

Shame is a pernicious and devastating enemy. Shame attacks our very identity, convincing us that our problem is proof that we are flawed, unworthy and somehow “less.”  The misery of shame then often makes us want to withdraw from other, “better” people.

Unfortunately, the tendency to isolate and hide can end up being just as (or even more) damaging than the situation we are trying to conceal. The more we detach from the broader world, the dimmer our outlook can grow, rendering us less and less likely to find a better path.

The foil to shame, therefore, lies in doing the opposite of what instinct dictates. Instead of withdrawing and isolating, we need to seek connection.

Let me share a story.

A friend recently told me about an evening out with her husband. They had gone to dinner at a favorite restaurant, the kind of place with lots of regulars, sort of an “everybody knows your name” kind of establishment. Once they were settled, their waitress came to take their order. They knew this girl well, and struck up a conversation. As it turns out, the girl didn’t seem to be her normal, perky self, so they inquired if anything was wrong.

Here is the key moment of the story.

The waitress then shared that she was suffering with migraines.  They were really laying her low, and although she was doing her best, she acknowledged that she probably wasn’t offering the kind of service she normally would. She was open about her battle with migraines, and her inability to find a solution. As they were chatting, a nearby couple overhead the waitress and joined the conversation, telling the waitress how sorry they were that she was dealing with these headaches. As my friend describes, within a short period of time, the whole restaurant seemed to be coming alongside this waitress, offering her migraine remedies, sharing similar stories, and trying to cheer her up.

As it turns out, the waitresses’ willingness to open the door to her private issue allowed a little light to come into her otherwise dark moment. The waitress didn’t have to explain herself. She could have pretended she was fine, pushed curtly through her shift and dashed home as soon as it was over. Instead, she allowed herself to be vulnerable in a setting where she felt known and accepted. Had she not shared this struggle, she may have been judged and criticized for being rude or lazy. Instead, because of her sharing, the waitress was flooded with support and good will.

Some of you may be thinking, “Well, migraines are nothing to be ashamed of!” I couldn’t agree more! In fact, I would extend this sentiment to all challenges we might face. Regardless of how we got into a situation, we have a better chance of coping and prevailing if we can silence our fear of embarrassment and open up. Admittedly, we don’t have to broadcast our struggles to a restaurant full of people. J Still, we may be able to identify a trustworthy, caring, non-judgmental person to trust, such as a friend, family member, pastor, mentor, or professional.

People outside of our circumstances can bring many effective tools to bear to rough circumstances, including:

  • Perspective… because they have the ability to see things more clearly than we can.
  • Energy… because they haven’t been drained by the effort of coping with the problem as we have.
  • Wisdom… because they may have been through (and triumphed over) a similar situation.
  • Expertise… because they may have studied and trained to manage the exact set of challenges we are facing.
  • Hope… because they aren’t suffering under the “all is lost” mindset under which we may be falling.
  • Encouragement… because they care about us and want to see our lives improve.

Reaching out to make a connection is like lighting a match in a dark room.  Even just a tiny bit of light can instantly make a situation less scary.

*     *     *     *     *

At one time or another, we all need a little help from “friends.” Have you ever fallen prey to shame and suffered its corresponding isolation?

28 thoughts on “The Foil to Shame”

  1. Aw, absolutely love this and definitely agree sometimes you just have to put yourself out there to find that there is encouragement and help in the least expected places. A great perspective here and thanks Seana for that 🙂

    1. My wish for anyone struggling is exactly that… to put him or herself “out there” and be receptive to the good things that might come as a result of taking that risk. Happy week Janine!

  2. Seana, this is a beautiful post. I’m sure we can all think of a time when we held something that was bothering us close to our chests instead of opening up to a trusted someone. It’s hard for me to open up sometimes for fear of being judged. I bet lots of people feel that way.

    1. I think we probably all feel that way, Diane. It feels so risky to open up and reveals our insides. The good news is, if we can find a safe place in which to share, it may be the very thing that turns a rough situation around. There are so many good people out there who take joy in coming alongside and helping!

  3. There are many things we have not felt we have lived up to our own expectations. Connecting and creating perspectives helps us think through the vulnerability of these situations. I am so glad you shared this because we are often our worst critics. As Arianna Huffington says, we must silence our inner obnoxious roommate!

    1. I love that quote from Arianna Huffington! It is so true. We can get into a destructive inner conversation that keeps us from taking steps to make things better. I believe there are many wonderful people out there who long to come alongside and help, often those who have been through similar situations. The ability to help someone else not only aids the recipient, but can be a bright spot for the giver!

  4. It’s important to share not just the happy times, but also the sad or confusing times. Great post, Seana! We tend to go inwardly when we are sad or upset. The sooner you recognize you are in that place, the more quickly we can ask for help, resulting in getting better faster. We are not an island and do not need to do it all ourselves. Thanks for sharing, Seana.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…15 Items to Toss for a Stress Free GarageMy Profile

    1. Exactly, Sabrina. Sometimes we may not even be able to ask for help, but only to share our misery. Hopefully, that little bit of openness can be the first step toward bringing resources to bear. Life is a hard journey, and we improve our odds of success by remembering that we are wired for connection.

  5. To put my therapist hat on for a minute, what you’re describing in this post is a skill we use in Dialectical Behavior Therapy. It’s called Opposite Action and is just what you describe – do the opposite of what your emotional urge wants you to do. So like you say, when you want to shut down and isolate instead reach out and connect. Opposite action works best when you’re all in with your actions, thoughts and words.

    1. I’m so happy to be taught this term, Sarah! Good to know that it works best when we really commit. How scary that can be! And yet, how that often can be the very thing that helps us the most.

  6. When you are open about your struggles you’ll find understanding and the possibilities will open up for you. I find when I am struggling with something I have to tell someone and ask for their perspective. It gets me thinking differently and I usually find an outlet that helps me move forward.

    1. Exactly, Janet. Talking to someone who is “outside” of our problem does get us thinking differently. New ideas, new hope, new optimism, new options. This does require humility, but prideful independence can be a terrible hindrance in our well being. I agree that when we open up, we often find understanding and compassion.

  7. Excellent advice. We all have had these experiences and reactions. It’s good to think about this and gain perspective.
    It’s also better for our health to unburden ourselves by sharing the problem with someone you trust.

  8. That’s such a nice story about the waitress. I hope she finds relief. Openness and solutions.. really the best. I was having a new friend come over yesterday and I just had to say, “My dog barks a lot and I just had Novocaine so I can’t have coffee or even really talk, but I can listen and I want you to come over.”
    I think saying that really was a good thing!
    Tamara recently posted…Build a Better Bowl for your Dog with Earthborn Holistic UnrefinedMy Profile

    1. That totally set up expectations, and I’m sure led to a great visit. When we try and pretend “all is well,” when it really isn’t, people wonder what is wrong with us. Unfortunately, they rarely guess the true issue. Better to just be honest, after which most people switch from criticism to sympathy and caring. Sorry for whatever led to the Novocaine…

  9. You brought up such an important point- that when we are feeling most vulnerable and ashamed, it can be one of the best times to reach out, to connect, and to find our “balcony” people. Being open isn’t such an easy thing to do because shame can be debilitating. We also can get into the “I SHOULD be able to figure this out myself.” So the shame around struggling when we think it’s just us that’s having a challenge can also add to wanting to hide and retreat. I continue to push myself to be open, to share, and to reach out for help when I need it. As someone that is often the helper and supporter, this can be a challenge for me. But when I have allowed space to be vulnerable, that’s when growth and change happen.
    Linda Samuels recently posted…5 Ideas That Will Expand Your Comfort Zone and PossibilitiesMy Profile

    1. Reaching out and being vulnerable doesn’t come naturally to me either. Still I can look back objectively and see how much I benefitted when I allowed others to come into a rough situation I was experiencing. I think this touches on the power that affinity groups can have. When we learn that others are experiencing very similar trials, we feel more “normal,” which tempers the drive to hide.

    1. Totally! Anxiety is a common one that people to tend to hide, and that definitely only makes us more stressed out. It is such a wonderful feeling to hear from others who are having the same struggle, right? I have a family member with driving phobias, FYI. She loves Uber!

  10. Hi Seana!

    Connecting is what I love most about women. Women listen, cheer you on, support you, and help bring you through very difficult emotions, such as shame.

    Very well done!

    Ronni

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