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You Should Be Ashamed

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Day 209

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.

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27 thoughts on “You Should Be Ashamed”

      1. I remember being ashamed of my mother’s marital status at about age 6. Before that I thought everyone had 2 or more daddys. The look of horror of a friends mother when she found out my home situation taught me to be ashamed and to keep the “secret.”

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Lauren, it is so sad when children carry the shame that should never have been cast on their shoulders. I am so sorry you had to go through that.

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  1. You are not alone in being shamed, though I lived through mine silently. Mine was not caused by my own actions, but by those of others who continually were in my life from childhood until I was old enough to leave home. It has taken me a long time to overcome all of that. Thank you for bringing this to the forefront. There are so many things that many of us grew up with that we have packed away in our souls, and at times the pain is unbearable because we continue to remember the pain through the years. It is good to stop and to thank the powers that be for these things we lived through. Without them we would never learn compassion for others who were shamed or bullied or had other worse things happen to them in this life. And our journey in life would not be as meaningful. Walking through a desert is not near as interesting as walking through the hills and valleys.

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    1. Anne, there is lightness on the other side of shame and I truly hope you have found it. Those things we keep hidden only fester and eat away at us. Finding the lightness in life and forgiving ourselves and others is extremely freeing and I hope all those things for you.

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  2. I was made to feel ashamed by Hispanics for not speaking Spanish as I was growing up. Mind you, we did not speak Spanish at my home because my mother was not Hispanic and at that time did not speak Spanish. Furthermore, in school we were punished if we spoke Spanish at recess. I was born and raised in the US and considered myself an American but I was told by others (not in my family) that I was a Mexican and I argued back that I was not! There are worse things I won’t disclose here. I feel like I can’t win.

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    1. Marge, hopefully we find our way out of the sadness that surrounds shame. This is the time of our lives when we should be finding an ease to our lives and joy in the everyday. I hope you find a way to put aside those things for which had nothing to do with you.

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        1. It is all about realizing that you can rise above your past stories. These are our golden years and we deserve to be free of past wounds. There is joy on the other side.

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    2. I really understand what you have gone through, Memarge. I grew up in El Paso, TX, and we crossed the border frequently to shop, eat, and just to generally enjoy ourselves in those days. I did not speak Spanish much, and I have also been down in the interior of Mexico, taking Spanish in my last year of my university so that I could graduate in time. Unfortunately I got Paratyphoid, and then later Valley Fever from being in Archaeology, and I was so ill for almost a year that I had to give up that practice. But I was bullied in school and high school for not speaking much Spanish. I didn’t see any of us as any different, and so did not truly understand any of this.

      I believe we are all here because we are meant to be by the One, which includes a lot of different Gods, a lot of different political beliefs, religious and spiritual beliefs, different cultures and different colors of skin, but in the end result, we are all sacred as we were all put here with all the many types of creatures on this earth, and all the plants, right down to the smallest grain of sand. So none of us have anything to feel bad about. I looked at your photo of your pretty cat on your comment, and I also read about you and see that you are now very skilled in Spanish and other languages as well. So never but never see yourself as not being able to win. What others think of us is none of our business. It says more about them than it does us.

      Where I live in Southern California, there is a lot of bullying, and I have been subjected to it all my life for different reasons, not only by people I did not know, but by those who were related. I am 78 or will be in November, but I finally realized that the bullying is not really about me, but about the people doing the bullying. You are a winner, and I want you to realize that. Regardless of anything that has happened to you in this life, and I speak as someone who is trying to recover from permanent PTSD from assault and severe bullying in my senior years. But I don’t consider myself a victim, and that is something we can choose to accept or not. I bet you are a fantastic person to meet and become friends with. Please never accept that you can’t win. You have already won! Give yourself a big hug for doing that and forgive that small child inside who is frightened and feeling isolated. Let her know that you will protect her for the rest of her life, and that she is sacred and wonderful, like your beautiful cat. You are an amazing and special lady, and it is an honor to know you. Thank you for being so brave to share. You are NEVER alone. Peace and blessings always, Anne

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      1. Anne, I am from there originally. Why would you be expected to speak Spanish? I at least look ethnic to some degree. I want to celebrate my natural beauty but somehow feel unable to. My biological daughters are gorgeous and so are my grafted by love daughters are, too.

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      1. There is a lot of wonderful tradition and thought in your culture. The fact that a lot of people do not try to understand something that is different from what they know or understand does not make it wrong or bad. We are all human beings, and if we did not belong on this earth as we are, we would not be here. I am glad you came through your challenges and now are happy with your heritage. It is as valid as anything on this earth, and it is a beautiful and meaningful heritage – it is so much more than a religion; it is a whole lifestyle and cultural following, and that is so important in this world. I love reading your writing too, as I enjoy reading Maggie’s. Thank you very kindly.

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      2. Why would those ignoramuses tease you for that? I truly am interested. In either population, Mexican and Anglo, I was like the duckling raised by the swan. I wasn’t quite one or the other and all I wanted to do is fit in.

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  3. Just want to say that these topics are SO relevant and interesting. I can identify totally, having grown up in the 50’s and 60’s. So much food for thought and motivation for self awareness. I have pushed all my childhood ” issues” so far down.

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    1. Nancy, it is just your old story. It is learning to acknowledge that it happened and let it pass that helps us recover. Pushing our issues down eventually chokes us. You deserve better.

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  4. Guilt is about what we do and is our internal moral guidance. Shame is about who we are and that is put on us by others. One brings humility, the other brings humiliation. It is sad to me that we internalize the shaming and that becomes the critical voice we carry inside for so long.

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    1. I appreciate your point of view, Kim. I think I have internalized both and it takes years to recover. That phrase “shame is about who we are” is a punch in the gut. That must be why it is so painful.

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  5. Good luck. This is a difficult subject to work through. I remember disappointment being associated with poor judgement but shame being associated with poor judgment when one obviously knew better. Choosing the wrong course as opposed to making a bad decision. I also remember being told not to be ashamed of others, and having the circumstances explained to me.

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    1. This one, too, Dan. I’m not sure I knew the difference as a child. Our taunts did not really express an understanding of disappointment of shame. They were by rote which of course is just as dangerous.

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  6. This is such a great conversation between wonderful women. I am so glad to have been able to participate in it. I remember when women’s lib came to be, I wanted to be part of it, and some women who proclaimed that they were shamed me for not being like them because I was married at the time. There is nothing that really says that we have to be anything other than who and what we are at any given time. Just because I am with a man I love doesn’t mean that I cannot understand women’s issues. I am so happy that we have been having this deep and meaningful conversation. It is totally ok to be who we are, just as we are, and to change only when we want to change and when it means something to us to do so. Thank you one and all.

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  7. I think shame and guilt are natural, not taught — in that feeling shame or guilt is natural when one does it to oneself. When other people do it TO US, that’s not natural. Either way, much of it, held on to for more than a moment, unhealthy. Long term damage from being shamed or having been guilt-tripped, so unhealthy. A burden to lay down. The more negative emotions (tricky terms) can be tools to better ourselves, from the inside out. Like when we realize we hurt someone, we feel guilt and shame, and that can be a reminder to be more careful with others.

    On another note, our family uses the phrase “shame-shame” as a way to convey what we’re talking about is hilarious, but inappropriate. Like “That’s what she said” kinda stuff. We’ve done it for years, I can’t remember where we picked it up.

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