‘What will they think of me?’ ‘Do they think badly of me now?’ These were some of the reactions that assaulted my mind after I behaved badly. Well, I think I behaved badly and that was where the shame rose from, out of my thinking and straight into my subsequent actions.
It would have made sense to face my perceived problem right then but instead I crawled inside of my shame and zipped myself up. This led to me behaving even more oddly.
Let me go back to the beginning, well kind of back to the beginning of this situation.
I felt out of control the other day – and as a control freak this is tantamount to feeling like I did on another recent date when I was in the swimming pool and trying to swim for the first time in over three decades: I knew I was going under!
I replaced the water with shame: it was all over me. Where did this particular form of shame come from?
I wanted to be seen to be in control, to be right, to know what was going on. But I didn’t. I had no clue. The sense of water filling my ears came back to me as I struggled to stay afloat in the room. I knew I was sitting right there but I felt as if I were in the swimming pool again. I’m sure I was blushing – I felt hot and uncoordinated even with the way I was trying to fix my face. I knew that they knew that I knew that I was lost. The heat increased throughout my body and slowed down my thinking process. I felt like I was wading through porridge with only a flexible plastic straw to help me.
The main thoughts that seemed to be fighting for supremacy in my head were that I was there as the mother but I felt like the child – in fact, I acted like the child. The shame spread. I grew nervous and fiddled constantly. Eye contact was not possible for more than a few seconds because they’d know even more then. When I did talk I could hear myself saying banal, irrelevant things that were like adding to my internal smouldering fire of shame. Each word was cringe inducing. I drew into myself until I felt myself disappear. I left the shell there – a bit like a robot casing, and that went through the motions for the next few hours. You see I was paralysed with shame because ... I believed I was wrong, I believed people would laugh at me, I believed people would judge me.
It took me some time to accept that it’s OK for me not to know everything as a mother, as a person, as me. It’s OK. There is nothing to be ashamed of. It took me some time to remember to trust myself and to believe that it was (and I also was) neither bad nor wrong to be in a situation where I didn’t immediately have all the answers. I had to walk away from the circumstances before I could remember that but I got there in the end. You see, shame was blocking my thought receptors. Shame paralysed me.
This may sound obvious now (stupid?) but my initial reaction to the feelings of shame were to try to prove that I was a good mother in some other way. But everything I did seemed – to me – to be like throwing lit matches on free-flowing petrol.
Then I remembered who I was. Who I am. As the memory fought through the clouds of internal shame I regained my contentment and state of self-acceptance that had be obscured by the fiery layers of embarrassment. I felt like I was being judged by other people but I have since realised that the only person judging me then was me.
I humiliated myself. No one else had the slightest hand in it. In a split second I was in conflict with my own values. This may sound bizarre, but there it is. I did (or didn’t) do something that I thought I should (or shouldn’t) do and I ended up in a crazy self induced funk. It was horrible.
Thankfully I have moved passed this incident. I hope I have learnt a lesson from it. I know I have – I changed my attitude to myself. When I believed I did the right thing, the only thing I was capable of doing right then, I no longer felt any shame for that situation that I had been in.
So here I am, now I’ve shared this rather indistinct episode with you and so I guess I’ll feel even more ashamed now that you know about it ... or maybe not.
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”