Shame, Fear, and Ultimately Flying Above It All
You know the awful feeling. Youâ€™re about to do something youâ€™ve been longing to tryâ€”maybe itâ€™s going to a local Zumba class, maybe youâ€™re walking into the room of one of those â€œPaint and Pinotâ€ meet-ups, maybe youâ€™re finally ready to try out for the church choirâ€”and your heart is racing. Your hands are clammy. You sit in your car and consider driving back home. What if I make a fool of myself? What if people laugh at me? What if Iâ€™m no good at painting, and everyone else is? The negative speak is loud and it is relentless.
I remember going to my first college class as a non-traditional student. (Non-traditional is academic speak for â€œthis person is old.â€) As I drove to school childish voices threw a tantrum in my head. You donâ€™t have to do this. Nobody will blame you for changing your mind. You know you will look like an idiot among all those younger students. Everything about learning has changedâ€”except YOU! When I arrived on campus, it was all I could do to muster the courage to walk through the door and into the next chapter of my life.
Why are we so worried about being less than perfect in everything we do?
Well, in a nutshell, it has a lot to do with our entanglement with shame and fear. Shame has been around a loooooong time. In 43 B.C. Publius Syrus wrote, â€œTo feel shame is a sort of slavery.â€ 43 B.C.!
(A Book I Recommend When Questions About Midlife Arrive)
Here Are Four Views On Shame And Fear To Help Us Understand The Root Of Our Blocks.
(To be followed by the â€œ1/2â€â€¦a lovely poem.)
1. Vicki Underland-Rosow writes in her book, Shame, Spiritual Suicide (Waterford Publications, Shorewood, MN):
â€œShame is used to control people. It begins in the cradle and continues for many people until death.â€ (p. 35) She goes on to say:
â€œInterrogation in Western cultures begins long before the teenage years when the parent, through endless questions, puts a barrier (in most cases most unwittingly, I believe) between her or himself and the child. Questions often serve as a means of extracting data, which the other may not divulge if not asked. Children are quick to learn that questions may signal the beginning of a shame experience if the parent is unhappy with the answers provided. As protection, some children learn to lie, avoid, or manipulate so as not to be caught by their parentâ€™s disapproval. For some, this process continues throughout life with the individual or group doing whatever is deemed necessary not to expose whatever might be disapproved.â€ (p. 39)
2. Anne Lamott on shame:
â€œI have these secret pangs of shame about being singleÂ like I wasn’t good enough to get a husband. Rita reminded me of something I’d told her once, about the five rules of the world as arrived at by this Catholic priest named Tom Weston. The first rule, he says, is that you must not have anything wrong with you or anything different. The second one is that if you do have something wrong with you, you must get over it as soon as possible. The third rule is that if you can’t get over it, you must pretend that you have. The fourth rule is that if you can’t even pretend that you have, you shouldn’t show up. You should stay homeÂ because it’s hard for everyone else to have you around. And the fifth rule is that if you are going to insist on showing up, you should, at least, have the decency to feel ashamed.
So Rita and I decided that the most subversive, revolutionary thing I could do was to show up for my life and not be ashamed.â€
3. An excerpt from The Bustle, 8 Ways Men Don’t Realize They Are Subtly Shaming Women by Lara Rutherford-Morrison:
In our culture, one of the most common and severe ways one can insult a man is to tell him that heâ€™s acting like a girl â€” that heâ€™s weak, emotional, prissy, or feminine. That kind of attitude is incredibly damaging to men and boys, holding them to a standard of culturally constructed masculinity that punishes any type of deviation. Too often, men are told that their worth depends on how well they can conform to masculine idealsÂ and that stereotypically â€œfeminineâ€ behaviors, therefore, devalue them.
As harmful as these standards are to men and boys, they are also detrimental to women, because they are premised on the idea that to be a woman or to be like a woman is to automatically be lesser and wrong. When women see men shaming other men for being feminine, they too are being told that femaleness is a marker of shame. Of course, itâ€™s not only men who do this â€” our culture as a whole shames men who are perceived as â€œunmanly.” This is a form of misogyny that harms everyone, male and female.
4. An excerpt from a transcript On Being with Krista Tippet and Brene Brown:
TIPPETT: I also see an upside of aging. When I see people aging badly in a sad way, it seems to me that the common denominator is they have not faced their demons and they just get smaller. It’s like they just get eaten alive from the inside. And that’s about being vulnerable and, you know, claiming what’s gone wrong and the imperfection. But there’s a way in which getting older, especially kind of getting into your 40s, you know, it kind of pushes you to finally do this if you haven’t done it. You know, that’s in your story. I just wonder if you think that, you know, this is something we can lean into almost as a gift.
BROWN: No. I think what you’re describing is what I have found as a very critical developmental milestone for us. You know, some people call it the midlife crisis. You know, I call it the midlife unraveling. I think there is a place and time in our lives where we realize that growing up, when we felt pain, when we felt small, when we felt unseen, we constructed walls and moats and we protected ourselves and we shut down parts of ourselves. Then I think this happens in midlife where we realize, oh, God, to be the person we want to be, to be the partner, to be the parent, we have to take down everything we put up that was supposed to be keeping us safe.
41/2.Â A poem that Ed Gandia, posted in his newsletter. It was written by Guillaume Apollinaire, the French poet and playwright:
â€œCome to the edge,” he said.
“We can’t, we’re afraid!” they responded.
“Come to the edge,” he said.
“We can’t, We will fall!” they responded.
“Come to the edge,” he said.
Laura Carlson says
I can really relate to having feelings of self-doubt arise.I learned them at an early age, when I realized I didn’t quite fit the mold my parents had for me..Now, as an older adult,I have feelings of self doubt most every Sunday, when it occurs to me that I am singing with a band of talented musicians, who are much younger than I am. It is funny, because when I share my music with the preschoolers, I immediately feel like one of them…They respond to me and smile at me…I am reassured that it is ok to be me, no matter how old I am…I enjoy being part of worship by singing in the band.and no one in the band makes me feel unwelcomed..or less than….It is just a joy in my life to be part of this praise music…I have read of some churches who put an age limit of 50 on participation…Yikes. I should have been done years ago in that case…Growing older is an amazing journey, and each turn around the bend leads to a new personal discovery…Thank you for your thought provoking blog piece, Gail…You are wonderful!
That is so interesting, Laura. I can’t explain it, but in the fifteen years that I have been attending Hosanna, I have always loved your voice. You blend exquisitely with the others, but your solos are heart-born and haunting. Age has zero, ZERO, to do with a person’s gifts. Why would any person or establishment put limits on art, creativity, music, or giving? Thank you for sharing, Laura. If there is anything I can do to dispell your doubts let me know, because you are someone I highly admire.