Here’s how i often see people deal with other people’s shame:
The Ashamed: I have shame about attribute A.The Listener: You are great about attribute A. You have no reason to feel shame.The Ashamed: I feel judged and am now embarrassed about how i feel. I still feel shame about attribute A.
Instead of telling the shameful that they shouldn’t feel the way they feel, maybe we can all share our stories of the shame we feel and why we hide it. Here is mine.
I was the fat kid in my school. I sat in the back, born with a passion for puzzles and a hatred of exercise. Maybe it was the asthma, the eczema, or that i was just physically lazy. Maybe it was a psychosomatic manifestation of my internal hatred for physical activity that made my sweat feel like acid and my breath feel like fire. Whatever the reasons and despite them, i grew up and joined the circus. I am an amateur member of Fractal Tribe. I’m almost 40 years old and i am in the best shape of my life.
But the reality is that, in my circus troupe, I'm still the fat kid.
Granted being the “fat kid” in Fractal Tribe is a bit like being the stupidest Rocket Scientist in the Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics, but the point is that i FEEL like the fat kid. I developed anxiety around eating in high school and have some deep-seated body issues that have never abated. This is fresh in my mind because of Fractal Tribe’s most recent theatrical production, Sub Rosa. Sub Rosa explored sexuality in ways that pushed me to my limits and held me there for about a year. The director requested that i perform the last half of the show shirtless. I wrestled with this request for months, but in the end i found that i couldn’t do it. It forced me to deal with all of my body issues in a way that i have avoided for the bulk of my life. When trying to convince myself to acquiesce, I tried to hold on to the idea that my inability to perform shirtless was a type of fat shaming in which i claimed, “if you are as fat as me, you should be ashamed of your body” which felt contrary to my value system. I held on to this reasoning, hoping that it would give me confidence through purpose. In the end, that thought just made me feel worse. My shame kept my body concealed, which fed the guilt i felt for the message i thought it sent. Here’s a picture from that show.
One of these is not like the other. I look at that photo now and all i see is my shame surrounded by their pride.
So i’m left with this question, what should i have done? I wish i could choose to be proud of my body, but that wasn’t an option then, and might never be. I tried pretending that i was not ashamed, but that created a deeply embarrassing lie. I tried making it about me; I tried making it about other people; I tried pretending it didn’t bother me. All those efforts just made me feel worse. I know that what i’m supposed to do is accept my body and love myself. I know that i should be happy just the way i am. But i’m not. I am ashamed of my body. But maybe that’s the part i’m missing. Maybe it’s ok that i have some shame about something. Maybe i’m psychologically injured and i’ll never be totally happy with my body. Maybe that’s ok too.
The whole thing has a different feel if i think of my shame as an injury. When i was a kid, i was in a terrible psychological accident, that accident being that I was fat. It caused an injury, that injury being shame, which went untreated for decades and left me chronically handicapped, that being that it left me ashamed of my body. Just like all old injuries, the older they are the deeper they get and the harder it is to root them out. My first step is to admit that i was injured. It doesn’t mean that i am broken; it doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with ME. If there is something wrong, it is how i relate to my body. Like any injury, it does not define who i am. If i look at my shame like an injury, i can be ok with it. I might have an old injury, but i can be ok with myself, shame and all.
Do you understand what it is like to have shame that you want to hide? If so, i want you to know that you are not alone. I don’t claim to have THE answer; i’m not even sure if i really have AN answer. But i do know that when someone shared her shame around her body issues with me, this got easier. One of the reasons this article feels so “first person” is that i’m not trying to speak FOR you, but TO you, with the hope that one day we can all have a conversation WITH each other.
Calibration and Test Engineer for the Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics
I don’t capitalize “i” because it’s silly. http://blog.dictionary.com/whycapitali/
However, i can’t bring myself to kill the apostrophe, even though it too is silly. http://www.killtheapostrophe.com/