Shame

Shame

 

In you, Lord, my God,

I put my trust.

I trust in you;

Do not let me be put to shame,

Nor let my enemies triumph over me.

 

~ Psalm 25; 1-2 (NIV)

 

I experience shame on a regular basis. Shame is one of my defects of character. I am shame-based.

 

To me, shame means that I feel guilty and regretful for something I’ve done to the point that I consider myself less of a person because of it. It’s a very painful emotion.

 

I have felt shame about several of the incidents that I have written about in this book. Examples would be the episodes with Connie in “Keeping My Eyes on Christ,” Lisa in “Fear of Abandonment and Fear of Rejection,” and Louis in “Don’t React in the Classroom.” I had shame attacks over all of those events. These shame attacks left me very grief-stricken.

 

I felt shame about the way I handled a call with the bank a while back. I wrote about it in “Rage.” I felt like I wasn’t nearly as nice to the representative as I could have been. So I beat myself up about it.

I wondered at the time if I should call back and apologize. However, the bank people work out of huge warehouse type situations and there are so many people working there. Plus, I didn’t remember her name. So that was kind of out.
I did tell God I was sorry and said a prayer for this person who was really trying to help me.

I was lying in bed the night after this conversation with the bank lady occurred, still filled with shame. I opened my In This Moment Daily Meditation Book from CoDA to see what it had to say.

 

The reading for that day basically said that I can “forgive myself for hurting others.” I can also give the situation over to God so that I can free myself from the negative feelings I have that are weighing me down. I have a choice about whether or not to communicate this to the other person in involved. “I no longer feel shame for who I am,” it read.[1]

 

This was God talking to me. Of all the readings that could come up for that day, this was the one that was there. It was written there by God specifically for me. I breathed a sigh of relief. Everything is going to be okay and I am safe.

 

I am trying to rid myself of the defect of shame because it doesn’t accomplish anything. All it does is make me feel lousy about myself and that hurts. It serves no other purpose.

 

Some people say that bad feelings have a purpose. One of my bible teachers says that guilt is to the conscience what pain is to the body. It tells you there is something wrong. Okay, I buy that, but there are limits. I do or say something, then realize I shouldn’t have done it. I guess that is where guilt comes in as a signal to me that I did something wrong.

 

That is guilt, not shame. The shame-based person, such as myself, goes overboard from guilt into shame, humiliation, and self-loathing. At that point, the signal stops being productive.

 

When I do something wrong, I really get down on myself. I’m very unforgiving and judgmental of myself.

 

Juliet’s Feelings patterns at work here: 

 

This is all my fault. I did something wrong.

They are right. I am wrong.

I don’t deserve good things.

I am less than.

I am ashamed.

I’m bad and now everyone knows it. I’ll be alone forever.

Different from everyone.[2]

 

 

I think that sometimes I get so caught up in my center of the universe complex, me first, what I want, ego, Juliet-the-driven, impatient person, that I get very easily frustrated and thus abrupt with others, like I did with the bank lady. I fear that I’m like that with my students, on occasion. There is that darned impatience again. Thank heavens I don’t beat them up the way I do myself. I hope they don’t beat themselves that way either.

It’s one thing to admit I’m wrong about something and make amends. It is another thing to hang this bag of bricks around my neck filled with shame and self-loathing and walk around with it for days. I don’t think that is what God had in mind.

The good news is that I have woken up to my tendencies on the phone with service people. I am nicer now. I just spoke with the alarm lady today and was very, very nice to her. So that is a step in the right direction.

Another step in the right direction is that I have realized that I can’t do things that annoy me. This means that if it annoys me to call a service provider, speak with someone I don’t understand, stay on hold forever, and then get hung up on, I shouldn’t do it. Likewise if I’m going to be on hold with the bank and then will have to go back and forth doing the same things over and over and not get anything accomplished except rage and resentment.

 

For example, I recently spent a rage-producing amount of time on the phone with a telephone service carrier. I wrote about this earlier. I was trying to get them to send me email reminders and electronic copies of the phone bill for the non-profit organization I am involved with. I am their treasurer and need the bill so I can pay it. For a number of reasons that I won’t go over here, they said they couldn’t fulfill either request. So I wrote out a reminder note for myself for each month in the coming year and put it in my “bills to be paid” clip. Now I see the note, go online, and pay the bill on the bank site. Problem solved. Desperate times call for desperate measures of self-care. Life is too short!!

 

Additional practices that help to me work through my shame: 

  • Program literature: Reading the CoDA basic text and especially the In This Moment Daily Meditation Book from CoDA gets me out of a shame spiral because they always have the perfect passage written there that I need to see at that moment. I no longer feel alone. Someone else out there has struggled with the same issues as me and has a solution. Reading the 12 Promises, 12 Steps, and 12 Traditions of CoDA really helps me to forgive myself, rediscover my sense of worth, and gets me back on program with God in the driver’s seat. Thanks be to God.
  • Step work: I work the steps on whatever situation is triggering my shame attack. Then I read this step work to my sponsor.
  • Attend meetings: Going to a CoDA meeting is one of the best ways for me to work through the tough times when I’m suffering from a shame attack. Following the format of the meeting, reading the literature, and listening to the shares of others is comforting. I feel less alone, less defective.
  • Gratitude list: Reading my gratitude list helps bring me back to a place where I realize how wonderful my life is, how much I have, and how much I’ve accomplished. This helps me to realize that I am a good person and I deserve good things.
  • Documentation: I record my thoughts and revelations about the situation that is causing my shame attack. Then I listen to the tape and write the contents into my computer. Working the matter out in this way really helps me to become settled on the matter.
  • Give it to God: I place the person and situation that is triggering my shame into a beautiful, imaginary goblet and offer it up to God. Then I put a note in my God Box about it. This helps me let go and move on.
  • Service work: I always feel better after doing service work. I know I’ve done something good by giving back and helping other people.
  • Submission: I get down on my knees in the morning, give my life and my day to God, and ask that His will be done. I say The Lord’s Prayer, The Serenity Prayer, and My 11th Step Prayer. In this way, I reaffirm that God is in control.
  • Worship: I pray to God. I walk into His healing arms. I tell Him what is bothering me and ask for Him to heal me. I ask Him through prayer to help me feel better about myself. I listen to Him through meditation.

[1] Co-Dependents Anonymous. In This Moment Daily Meditation Book. Phoenix, AZ: Co-Dependents Anonymous, 2006, p. 211.

[2] Adapted from the Family of Origin packet materials provided by the Sequoia Recovery Center.

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