Tonight I was thinking about how, when, and why I first felt shame. I wonder if it is an emotion we are born with, entangled in our DNA strand, or if it is something we are taught.
It’s odd the memories that crept in my thinking tonight. As children, I can remember saying the phrase ‘shame, shame, shame’ combined with one of two gestures. One was the index finger of one hand slid perpendicularly over the other index finger. The other was the index finger bent and placed on the middle finger, sliding from the knuckle to the tip. So bizarre. I haven’t thought of that in 50 years, but there it is, buried in the back of my mind.
I suppose if you were raised to believe in values divided as either right or wrong, it might be natural to feel shame if you did something wrong. But is that shame? Or is that disappointment in ourselves, then multiplied and spotlighted to feel larger than life?
It is unnerving to me to think that as children we used to use these gestures and almost cackle ‘shame on you’ or ‘shamey, shamey’ or ‘shame, shame, shame’. I am curious if this was just something isolated in my little community?
I can remember being told by my parents ‘you should be ashamed’ when I had violated a rule or broken their trust or done something that was otherwise ‘wrong’. Sitting here, I cannot imagine why we would ever tell our children they should be ashamed of themselves.
Don’t get me wrong, I had great parents growing up. They had their challenges later in life, but I always felt we had a good family life. Fairly strict and biblically-based, but still a good, warm, and loving family.
I think I need to meditate on this. Is shame the same thing as disappointment? Are shame and embarrassment the same thing? Looking back on your life, are there things you feel shame about the secrets you keep from others? Is that a fear of being judged? Are mistakes shame-worthy?
I don’t have the answers. I was just stunned by the memories and am trying to sort out my thoughts on this difficult subject.