Avoiding Shame

Embarrassment is knowing you screwed up and wishing it had worked out better.

Shame is hating yourself for being who you are.

One way a community–work, friends, even relatives–reacts to you if you show your-lifecourage, initiate change, stick to your writing or art, start over, is to shame you.

What? Right when you thought you were getting a crown? Yes, that’s the best time to apply shame. Just when you are ready to step up on the podium and reach for the crown. Slap! No crown. Instead, shame. Shame’s purpose is to get you to sit down, lie down, and shut up.

How can you avoid shame?  The easy way is to lie down and be quiet. Being quiet will not get you praise, but others will walk over you and not kick you. Probably. But being quiet is very hard when you have tasted the joy of working on your creative project for your own satisfaction.

The other way to avoid shame is to refuse to accept it. No one can shame you if you don’t accept the baggy sweatshirt with the big S on it and pull it over your head. Yes, this is a very hard idea. Yes, it is a tough reality. You can take the blame for making a mistake, for not hitting the deadline, for not winning the competition, but that’s blame. Shame is another matter.

Courage is continuing your creative work when you aren’t sure what the outcome will be, but the work is invigorating and meaningful, and you are doing it.

Some tips about shame:

1. If your tribe (audience, friends) try to shame you, they are the wrong group for you. Others cannot choose what is important to you. It works the other way around: you choose what is important to you and attract those for whom it is also important.

2. Be careful about thinking you need a mentor. A mentor is not going to discover you, change your life, or make other people respect you. That’s your job. A mentor may act like a tutor–help you figure out what you need, discover where you can get what you need.

3. There is no secret to success. You show up, work hard. You will fail, you will make mistakes, you will have luck, you will be brilliant, you will make progress and then backslide,  all on your way to success. But there is no secret, no one private word that you have to know.

4. It’s hard to be brave. It’s hard to be brave when you are heavily rewarded for shutting your eyes and doing what you are told. Brave is the opposite of shame. Be brave. That’s who you are.

–Quinn McDonald is refusing the baggy sweatshirt of shame.


25 thoughts on “Avoiding Shame

  1. I’m not sure I agree that shame is self hate . . . I’ve always though of shame as being inflicted and I think the only way to avoid being shamed is to live with integrity and to do that it’s necessary to be true to yourself . . . your talents, your responsibilities and your dreams. Living with integrity does not include living up to the superficial expectations of your social group, friends, family or society in general.

    If I can look myself in the face of an evening and say “I did my best today. I was honest and kind and compassionate,” then I can’t be shamed.

    I have always had a bit of a thing about judgement . . . people thinking I ought to justify myself. Damn it Quinn now I have to straighten out my thoughts and there is nothing that gets me angrier and rantier (new word, heard here first) than people thinking they have the right to judge (and shame) how others live their lives! I’m not talking about when those who decide that they can just take what they want, not pay their taxes and be cruel to others, I’m talking about judging (and shaming) others because they are, quite simply, different! Race, creed, intellect, hair colour, artist, doctor or street cleaner . . . whatever, no-one is intrinsically worth any more than anyone else.

    By the way, some of the people who do think they can take liberties with the possessions of others maybe, just maybe do it because they have been shamed and are now in a never-ending cycle of it . . . . how willing are we to accept the ex-criminal?

    So what I’d advise anyone is, if shame is being poured on like vats of cold lumpy porridge until you’re so mortified that you wither away or even wilt slightly . . . get some new friends/family/colleagues/associates because those other ones have BIG problems. Straighten up, stand tall and strong because it’s true, you have to “be yourself; everyone else has been taken.” (Oscar Wilde)

    There endeth the rant and now my first coffee of the morning is cold!

    • I think we are saying the same thing. If you live with integrity, it creates a shield against shame. But if you sell your integrity to “belong” or join the cool kids’ table, and they shame you, you accept that shame because you believe in them more than yourself. You have quit living with integrity. Sometimes, it’s easy to give up your own integrity because you aren’t sure of it, don’t trust yourself, doubt your own emotions. That leads to thinking of yourself as unworthy, not “good” and it creates shame.

      • I agree, we are taling about the same thing. It was just that when you wrote that shame is hating yourself for being who you are I thought slightly differently. Possibly the cultural component in how we language emotions.

        My thinking, without the rant: shame is heaped on us by others for not being acceptable or we can feel shame out of guilt (real and perceived) and that leads to self loathing.

        And I didn’t comment on your tips . . . they’re perfect. It’s sad to lose a tribe but sometimes we have to use our backbone, stand tall and be discerning. Kia kaha!

  2. Not many people will bring up the subject of shame in conversation or write about it. Shame is something every human being has endured during their life. Naming it is the first step to letting it go and moving on. One has to be self aware to do that. I have learned, as I have aged, to become aware of the feelings my body experiences, accept those feelings, and move on. Thank you for your honesty in tackling a difficult subject.

  3. Quinn,I find your honesty and vulnerability very refreshing.I think when one has had very early experiences with being shamed,it is difficult to see when that “shirt” is being put upon us,without our knowledge.Causes so much pain.Recognizing that it IS a “shirt” we can refuse it is an absolutely huge game changer!!

    • Ahhh, big question. Almost as good as, “Why do I keep thinking this is my tribe because they keep rejecting me?” The answer is the same one as yours: Shame is feeding you something you think you deserve. When you quit thinking that’s all you deserve, you may feel embarrassment or anguish, but shame will not cross the doorstep.

  4. Perfect timing. GREAT post – hit my heart today. THANK YOU! I needed to hear ALL of that! Being brave is hard – I am so proud of you for being brave with this post. Thanks to you, I will go out into the world being brave and feeling like I am not so alone. xo

    • I often do not feel brave at all. I often feel like a jello-spined slacker. But then I gather up my courage into a quart jar and start over. And I love it when I have company along the way.

  5. I put the SHAME sweatshirt on this morning and did a sad jig in it..
    I took it off and well burned it…
    I find it amazing how the Universe says…you need to hear this..read this…it is just what is happening to you…
    Could not pin it down..was wondering why I wanted some consoling…from people who could care little whether this moment is my last breathe…funny how we do that….
    I am in a pivotal moment in my life…I know I am to create big things..they dance in my head…all the time…and it has become all I can think of…
    But my physical self says…go back to 12 hour days punching a time clock..making someone happy…or rich…while you die…because that is the only way I will have money and food…shelter…you get the gist…
    So here I sit…with sugar plums dancing in my head….
    Thinking..oh McDonalds is hiring…. oh what a shame….

    • That nasty Shame shirt fits really well. It’s hard to peel off, too. But ohhhh, those pivotal moments! So precious and so wonderful to learn from. Let the sugar plums dance. You’ll soon figure out how to enjoy every moment of a lie you choose, not one that is thrust upon you.

  6. How do you continue to come up with such profound lessons. Refusing to accept shame is so extremely difficult and does required a great deal of courage. Tip #1 is so valuable. Thanks for sharing your wisdom again Quinn, although I suspect your wisdom has a painful lesson tied to it. I think you should wear your crown with pride!

    • The subtitle of my blog is “tips, slips, stumbles and leaps on the creative journey.” And that’s exactly what I write about. A lot of it is slips and stumbles, but I share what I screw up because I actually learn something from every dumb mistake I make.

  7. Very powerful post – saving to re-read, sharing because it’s so damned important – it makes me think of one of my favorite Eleanor R quotes: No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

    On tip #3 – the secret to success is that there *is* no secret to success. Not really a secret, no, but so hard to see and accept 🙂

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