Shame Never Makes It Better

My cousin Alyhinkie posted a beautiful piece the other day on her excellent Midnight Music and Musings. Her message is very simple: moms of small children, your lives are really hard. Quit beating yourselves up about not being perfect.

Goals Status:

  • Marathon: On Track. We started the next phase of training this week.
  • Two Square Yards of Earth: Making Progress. Working on Chapter 5 right now.
  • 100 Posts: On Track. This is my 23rd post for the year.

I have to admit I didn’t give my wife all the support she needed during the years our kids were little. To be honest, I probably don’t give her all the support she needs now. But I do the best I can, just like she does. And that’s enough.

It has to be enough, because it’s all we’ve got. And every day, we get just a little bit better. We don’t beat ourselves up about it any more, because beating ourselves up–and here’s the lesson it took us years and plenty of therapy to figure out–never helped. Never accomplished anything at all except to make us feel like crap about our lives.

Today we get to see the problem from a different angle, as we watch Teen Boy struggle with his own shame. In his struggles to figure out who he is and what his place in the world might be, he makes a lot of mistakes. For all the amazing, insightful, sensitive, brilliant things he does, there’s no getting around the mistakes. He’s human, after all, and a teen, and that’s a mistake-prone combination.

And with every mistake, he beats himself up. He covers himself in shame, dwells on all the things he does wrong and ignores all the things he does well. It reminds me of my Army days: a hundred successes plus one mistake equals one mistake.

I haven’t yet seen this attitude make any situation better. Not for him, not for me, not for my wife. Not in the Army. Not anywhere.

We are hung up on the value of shame to improve people’s behavior. It never does. Oh, it may drive some short-term accomplishment, but only if the one shamed has the underlying confidence to shake off the shame and tell herself I’ll show them. I’m better than this. Without that, it just drives her away, into herself, behind the walls she builds to protect her from ever having to try and fail again.

Shame kills courage. And we use it like a club.

Maybe it would be better if we could find the courage to live as an example: to do the best we can, to treat other people as we want to be treated, not to beat ourselves up for every little mistake.

It’s harder to live that way. It’s an approach most of us have never tried, and a work in progress for the rest of us.

I think it’s worth it to try.

I've been a soldier, a dreamer, a working stiff, a leader. A husband, father, example (good and otherwise), and now a survivor. I write about courage, because courage is what enables us to accomplish the impossible. If you draw breath, I love you. If you love in whatever way seems best to you and want others to love in whatever way seems best to them, I am your ally. If you believe someone is less than you because they do not love the way you do, I oppose you. If you see someone as a threat to be abused or destroyed merely because they do not look like you, or love like you, or worship like you, I am your enemy. I am a joyful and courageous man. And I stand with you who love.
  • Susabella

    I LOVED this post. Thank you for the link to your cousin’s blog. I totally get where she is coming from. Shame is SO toxic, and I am learning more and more about releasing it, and instead being courageous. Brilliant post.

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