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Recognizing Shame

Shame |SHām|


a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour

• a loss of respect or esteem; dishonour

• used to reprove someone for something of which they should be ashamed

• [ in sing. ] a regrettable or unfortunate situation or action

• a person, action, or situation that brings a loss of respect or honor

verb [ with obj. ]

(of a person, action, or situation) make (someone) feel ashamed

• bring shame to

• cause (someone) to feel ashamed or inadequate by outdoing or surpassing them

I am beginning to realize that my life is constructed by shame.  I didn’t come to this realization on my own; Yesterday I met with a psychiatrist through our student wellness program and she brought up the term.  In the past I have always thought that my biggest problem, psychologically, was low self-esteem.  However, during my conversation with this psychiatrist yesterday, I realized that my self-esteem isn’t really that bad.  Instead, it is the shame in my life that erodes at my self-esteem.

Looking at the definition of shame, it becomes increasingly obvious that shame has dominated my life:

A painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour

We talked about my earliest memories in my childhood all being about fear of getting in trouble from my parents.  I gave examples of the things I would get in trouble for: overflowing the toilet, stepping on a wet floor and getting my socks wet, finding hidden money and showing it to my mom…  We talked about how I kept my relationship with Him a secret because I knew I wouldn’t get approval from friends and family.  He was much older than me and I think I was ashamed of that in it’s own right.  We talked about the abuse and how I have never told anyone “in real life” about it until now and I only shared it publicly a few months ago, despite it having happened over 6 years ago.

We talked about my need for approval and how I default to feelings of shame when I don’t feel like I am getting the approval that I need (or want).  I know I seek approval in places that I don’t necessarily need it.  I know that I rely much to heavily on other people’s validation of me rather than my own validation.  I know I can be motivated more by wanting to impress rather than by wanting to achieve.  I want to fill a void that was created by shame and when that void can’t be filled I shame myself for it.

We talked about my levels of anxiety and she confirmed my belief that I meet the criteria for a generalized anxiety disorder.  I already knew that but I know I was afraid to really accept that (can you guess why?).  We talked about the options available to help with the anxiety and along with counseling around coping strategies and addressing self-esteem and shame issues, we talked about medication.  I have maintained that I don’t want to use medication because I don’t like the side effects and I would rather find a better long term solution.  However, our conversation around shame made me realize that maybe I am rejecting the option of medication because I feel ashamed that I need that help.

(of a person, action, or situation) make (someone) feel ashamed

She said it’s okay to be vulnerable every once it a while and that shame is preventing me from letting that happen.  After she said this, I opened up my mind a little more and we talked about medication.  I took some samples home and I’m trying to tell myself that it’s okay to need the help.  I know I shouldn’t feel ashamed by this and it probably shows stronger character to seek out and accept help when I need it more than pretending that I don’t.

I’m worried that my anxiety is interfering with my life more than it should.  I think I’m in denial about it and I suspect that medication will make it easier.  I thought about it a lot yesterday.  I thought about letting myself be vulnerable for a little while… and I gave myself a test.  I thought of the one person to whom I would be most afraid of showing my vulnerability, the one person whom I seek approval from the most: K.

Serendipitously, both of us were on-call at the hospital last night.  I mentioned to her in passing that I was in call earlier in the day and then randomly, around 8pm, she texted me and wanted to meet for coffee.  I was so elated that she thought of meeting me for coffee and I knew it was time to give myself the test.  When she asked how I was doing, I told her about my high levels of anxiety.  She asked me if it was “more than just the hectic aspects of [my] life” and I said yes.  I said that I am “trying to decide how I want to deal with it.”  We made eye contact, she smiled at me, and we exchanged an understanding nod.  Then we switched subjects.

I know I passed my test.  The vulnerability is out there and I let it out.  It is all okay.  I can’t let myself feel ashamed.  I know what I need to do and I can’t let my own pathology prevent me from making the right decision.

11 thoughts on “Recognizing Shame

  1. Well done. Perhaps realising what is behind your anxiety and understanding where it comes from, will help you move beyond it. Medication can also help us get to a point where we can learn to deal with our problems without the drugs.
    Good luck.


    1. Thanks, Julie. I know what you’re saying is true and I know that the medication will probably help me deal with the underlying issues faster and easier. I think i just need to do it and then its done, you know? I think I’ve decided I’ll take it, I’m just wating for the right time. I know I’ll have some dizziness and drowsiness and some other side effects froms tarting it, so I just don’t know when the best time would be… maybe this weekend…


  2. Admitting you have a problem is the hardest and most important step in finding some semblance of balance in your life and I’m so glad that you’ve managed to take it. It’s so hard to be vulnerable but it’s part of being human, I struggle with it too but having people that you be that way with is so important. I may not have many that I’m willing to be open with but knowing there a couple of them out there…it really makes a difference.
    I hope the medication helps you and you don’t get too many side effects from them, fingers crossed you’re lucky and get lucky with them first time round 🙂 xox


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