Sunday, March 25, 2012


If you're over the age of 30, I'm pretty sure you've heard of the Evelyn 'Champagne" King hit -- "Shame".  If not, feel free to take a listen.  It's a classic, it's guaranteed to get us old heads dancing.

Yep, we loved that song.  Evelyn made shame fun.

Genuine shame is not fun though.   It shouldn't be.  Shame is that human emotion that makes us feel bad inside about the ratchedness we gave indulged in at one time or another.  Shame makes us remember our "home training" and feel agonizing pain and humiliation when we've acted the complete opposite of what we've been taught.   Officially, shame is "a painful emotion resulting from an awareness of having done something dishonorable, unworthy or degrading" (source:  In short, shame keeps us in check.

Shame is deeper than embarrassment.  Embarrassment is fleeting.  It's a moment in time.  You don't necessarily want to repeat embarrassing situations, but they don't usually cause a deep pain to your emotional core and leave you thinking of yourself as unworthy.  At best you hope the embarrassing situation will be forgotten.  What usually happens is it becomes fodder for reunions and drunken story telling.

Owning your own shame is important, healthy, and most times leads us to do better.  But many of us are holding onto shame that wasn't ours to begin with.  I experienced a big "aha" moment when I recognized I was clinging to shame with all my might but it wasn't mine to own.  My childhood was chaotic at best (Tell Your Truth Then Let it Go).   My late teens were somewhat better (thanks library), my 20's were just plain old stupid and so on and so on.  I've done my share of mess.  I've made plenty of "if only" decisions (if only I knew then what I know now).  I totally own those choices.  At the root of much (not all but much) of my drama has been trying to compensate and overcome shame that I didn't cause.

My brothers and I grew up in the same household.  Experienced the same situations -- they even more than me as I was older and got the hell out at 18.  But they've never had the sense of worthlessness that I came out with. They've always been able to speak of the violence, the drinking, the poverty as a statement of fact.  It never seemed to affect their own self-worth.   I'm not sure if it's because I was the only female, the oldest, the most sensitive?   Maybe I took on all the family shame so they wouldn't have to?  I was a very protective big sister.  When we talk about it, I look at them in wonder because they seem so okay with themselves.

That shame (that wasn't mine) kept me in an imaginary, self-limiting lane that stopped me from reaching for and grabbing the world by it's tail and conquering it.  I sabotaged potentially fantastic relationships because I didn't think I was good enough for the brainy science nerd, the attorney or the marketing professional that took a liking to me at various points in my life.  Instead I allowed myself to be comfortable with emotionally unavailable, dare I say borderline losers (okay one was an out and out loser but lawd was he a beautiful man).     I didn't take career opportunities that were made available to me because a higher up recognized my intelligence and value to the company.  Instead I felt like a phony who would be "found out" if I allowed myself to go too far out of my lane.

It took me a long time, but I'm finally beginning to differentiate between the shame that is rightfully mine and to let go the familial shame that's haunted me most of my life.

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