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?