We aren’t born ashamed.
We have to learn how to be ashamed.
And then we shame others so we don’t feel alone.
Our culture thrives on shame.
Parents are told to shame their children into behaving. Teachers shame students in class to conform. Peers shame each other and it’s considered normal, but it’s really bullying. And when they grow up, these adults bully and shame others to keep control.
We feel guilty when we do something wrong.
We feel ashamed when we believe that we are bad.
I don’t dance.
I used to dance.
I first took lessons when I was in first grade.
I loved ballet and tap. I loved the pink and black practice suits and the recital costumes. I loved the music and the counting and the French words and the practicing and the barre with the stretches. I could point my toes in a perfect arch and suck in the dimples on my buttocks to please my teacher.
I love watching musicals and ballets – live and on TV…the pretty costumes and twirling and how easy it looks.
My parents couldn’t or wouldn’t pay for dance lessons after a year. I was heartbroken. I begged every year to be re-enrolled, but they didn’t take me seriously or couldn’t afford it until I was 12. The studio really didn’t have beginner courses for anyone as old as I was, so I was placed in a class for adults who just wanted the exercise. It was embarrassing. I was good and I was placed in the recital with other dancers my age. I could’ve possibly moved on to pointe the next year or so, but I was too ashamed to continue when I was awkward, lanky, developing. I hadn’t danced for so long and I felt so behind my peers.
I quit dancing and I still regret it.
That feeling of shame rears its hot face even now that I’m older. My husband loves to dance and he used to teach lessons. I don’t even want to dance with him in the privacy of my living room. Ballroom dance and contemporary dance are very different from ballet, but I just can’t bring myself to do it.
I love to watch him dance with the kids and teach them the classic moves.
Shame isn’t an easy thing to ignore or overcome.
Shame permeates our society.
I’ve been bullied and shamed in parenting circles, at work, in church…it’s like an epidemic or an addiction. People think shame is normal.
We are taught with shame at home, in schools, and in churches.
Shame at Home
Almost all the parenting books, blogs, experts teach shame.
We’re supposed to punish, cajole, bribe, humiliate, ridicule, coerce, abuse our kids into “proper” behavior.
I feel this idea of being shamed into obedience is even worse in Christian circles. There is this idea of a sin/shame cycle that must be beaten (literally or verbally) out of children.
At home, I was hit, belittled, told I was stupid and worthless. My parents thought negative conditioning would create in me a desire to improve. But, actually, it creates dissonance and a feeling of helplessness. Eventually, I began to believe I was stupid and worthless.
My interests weren’t important. I was ridiculed for loving art, music, literature – mere hobbies that wouldn’t offer a well-paying career.
I stopped trying in school about 11th grade. I almost failed algebra II and chemistry. I skipped classes. I didn’t see any point to any of it.
Shame in School
Schools rely on a shame model to produce compliant students.
I lived most of my school days in fear.
Fear of punishment, fear of humiliation, fear of being called on, fear of hearing my name, fear of stepping out of line.
My first grade teacher put a BIG RED X beside my name because I knew how to write it in cursive and we weren’t supposed to know that yet and she didn’t want me to show off.
But the BIG RED X seemed to symbolize a negation of my whole identity.
Teachers often seem to single out students who are different, bullying them just like kids. I’ve witnessed minority kids ridiculed. I’ve witnessed girls shamed. Schools are racist and sexist.
I saw these things as a student and teacher.
Of course, there’s the whole body shaming of girls.
I changed in a bathroom stall for PE in middle school and high school. I was skinny, but never had the desirable flat or toned abs. Someone once told me that my tummy wouldn’t be so noticeable if I had boobs. That didn’t help.
I also didn’t want to be singled out for having the highest grade in science when I was in 9th grade. I quietly asked the teacher to stop praising me in front of the class since I was getting teased by classmates. I was dumbing myself down to be popular. I didn’t do well in science after that year, perhaps on purpose or more likely, subconsciously.
Girls are silenced and shamed by boys, teachers, administrators, parents…and other girls.
Far from production as an ideal, it was consumption that had to be encouraged. School had to train in consumption habits: listening to others, moving on a bell or horn signal without questioning, becoming impressionable—more accurately, gullible—in order to do well on tests. Kids who insisted on producing their own lives had to be humiliated publicly as a warning to others.Weapons of Mass Instruction by John Taylor Gatto
Shame in Church
The Christian church relies on shaming to keep members submissive.
Children are taught the sin model from parents, leaders, teachers, pastors.
There’s nowhere positive to go from there. What’s the point if you’re destined for a life of sin and eternal damnation? Different denominations teach different methods of salvation: say a little prayer, confess, flagellation, communion, accountability partners, fasting. Some preach that certain people are predestined, so it doesn’t matter what you do anyway.
It’s all outward appearance and makes us feel more ashamed for our failures, real or imagined.
At a Lent planning meeting at the church we used to attend, a deacon crossed my name off the children’s learning time and said she didn’t need me to do that. She acted like she was doing me a favor, releasing me from duty, but I know she just likes control and doing it all.
I felt like I was back in first grade, even if she didn’t use a red pen.
I’ve never gone back to a planning meeting nor am I really involved at all at church anymore.
We stopped going to church.
And they are both of them naked, the man and woman, and they are not ashamed of themselves. Genesis 2:25
Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. Genesis 3:7
Why did Adam and Eve become aware of their nakedness only after they sinned?Chabad
I’m glad we didn’t have social media until I was an adult. I don’t think I could’ve handled the cyber bullying and humiliation I see every day online.
We monitor the apps our daughters use closely. I really limit my social media time because it depresses me.
I’m glad we homeschool, so I don’t think we experience it as much, but my eldest was bullied a few years ago within our homeschool community and online and it was ugly.
Some people are just always itching for a fight and I don’t want to engage.
People hide behind their avatars, screens, keyboards…anonymous. It’s easier for them to spew their hatred at people who don’t share their views.
We like to be noticed, named, not forgotten or dismissed.
I try to be very careful how I speak to my children and spouse. Of course, I fail miserably very often, but I try to make amends.
I don’t want to humiliate, shame, or ridicule anyone. I know too well how that feels. Words can hurt.
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