Shame on Me

Photo by Laurentiu Robu on

SANDRA CISNEROS RECENTLY SAID in an interview, “I just wanted to write down the things I think. And not be ashamed.” She was discussing her new book of poems, Woman Without Shame , which I desperately need to read for a number of reasons. (Fan girl and poetry nerd are two of them).

I was/am/always will be a romantic.

Which is the same as saying: I fall in love all by myself.

Sandra Cisneros, Woman Without Shame

I’ve been thinking a lot about shame lately. I did the enneagram test, for one thing. I’m not sure how much more effective it is than any of those quizzes we used to do in Cosmopolitan magazine. Like, “Is Your BFF Really On Your Side?” or “Can You Keep a Guy Intrigued?” (Oh, it was just me? Okay.) So my enneagram results said I was a 2, and begin by explaining that 2s, “… stand out for their personal warmth, strong relational skills, selflessness, and eagerness to support people in their time of need.” Well, shucks. But then it also said, “types 2, 3, and 4 are in the shame triad which means the core emotion you struggle with is shame. People in this triad feel unworthy…” Oh, um, can we go back to my personal warmth and selflessness, please? Anyway, I took this all with a grain of salt and moved along. Then came Pastor Tiana with a little message from the pulpit Sunday morning.

Now, I will preface this by saying I was still recovering from a pretty hearty cold and was probably extra vulnerable on Sunday. I hadn’t had a chance to put on my Cancerian shell quite yet. So here comes Pastor Tiana, talking about Nehemiah and revival, and joy and I’m feeling in the spirit. Then she starts referencing issues of repentance, but not your typical admonishments of, “Go and repent,” or anything like that. No, Pastor Tiana was saying that in this world repentance often leads us to shame, that instead of following God’s will…

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Nehemiah 8:10

…we just self-flagellate, like in the ancient olden days. In fact, shame “can be our constant companion” wherein “we feel the antidote [to sinning, or just plain messing up] is no joy.” In other words, shame. All this even though the Bible reminds us, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1), which is after all a pretty big plank in the platform of our faith. All this got me to thinking, as so often happens in church, “Am I denying myself joy? Not just regular happiness, but J-O-Y joy?!” And because that was the second time in a short while that the word shame had entered my sphere, I thought I’d better pay attention. And I started wondering if maybe shame was more expansive than I had first thought of it as.

Like there are definitely a few things I wish I had not done in my life, and I do feel ashamed of them. But that got me to wondering if maybe we carry shame about things that are not even wrongdoings, or things we even had no control over. And my answer was, “Yes, I believe we do.” Well, once I let that expanded definition into my head, the gates opened up! I started writing a list, and not being as brave as Cisneros, I ain’t sharing much. But suffice it to say that my list was 24 items long – and I keep thinking of more things I could add! This list includes things that other people have openly admired me for; things that other people would not even define as wrong; and things that folks have assured me were not issues for them personally at all. But apparently I have chosen not to believe anybody, just my shame.

So now what? No answers up in here. But I guess I would encourage you to write down a list for yourself. According to the Oxford online dictionary shame is, “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.” I guess key here is what we deem wrong and foolish. If you look at the list list you made, you might discover you’re ashamed of some stuff that is neither wrong (even maybe quite the opposite) or foolish (because it was not a choice on your part). This might be useful, it might not. But it seems like especially women of a certain age are working hard to shed their shit right now. Like, we are not going to wrestle with the vagaries of aging AND keep carrying society’s baggage, too.

So, make your own quiz, “What Do You Feel Ashamed Of?” Then look at that list from the perspective of just about anybody else other than you, and see how fabulous you are. Then maybe go have some tea, or a glass of wine, or take a walk, or do a mud mask. I don’t know, just do something for YOU that you wouldn’t do for someone you were ashamed of. And Happy International Women’s Day!

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