Shame - The Swampland of Our Soul by Darlena Drake Fields
Remember the good ole' days when you played Bingo in elementary school? I'm talking back in the 1970's before the whole world went automatic. Back when life seemed so much more simple. Way back, when it didn't take much more than a stick and an imagination for kids to to have the funnest time.
Well, I have a story about when I was in the 4th grade. But this story is not about a fun time. It was around 1974-1975, and I was forced to reckon with the dread of all dreads--getting the "meanest" teacher in the school for MY teacher.
I remember spending half of my 3rd grade year and my whole summer break worrying about it and hoping with my fingers crossed, as hard as I could, that I would not get her.
The first day of school that year was etched in my mind because the suspense and stress of waiting to find out felt more than my little 9 year old mind could bear.
My mom parked and walked me in along with all the other parents who had euphoric smiles plastered on their faces, while dragging their long-faced kids inside the school,who were dressed in their spiffy, new first-day-of-school outfits and carrying new metal lunch boxes clanging at their sides.
We bustled through the hall to find the 4th grade teacher lists that had my name listed under my assigned teacher's name. After a few seconds of stretching my neck as far as it would go and squinting really hard, there it was, like a bad dream. My mom's finger. Pointing at my name. On the meanest teacher's list! My little heart sank.
The bad news took all the fun out of going to the cafeteria to find my school supplies in the big, brown Piggly Wiggly paper bag. My mom had to pull me like a little zombie, for what seemed like endless walkways, to find my classroom, assigned seat, and unpack my school supplies. I remember my heart being filled with such gloom and doom as a sat in my little wooden desk while my mom put my things away.
I just sat there motionless, mouth hanging open, staring at the teacher that fate had dealt me, in disbelief. It felt like those first few minutes were happening in slow-mo. Then, before my mom slipped out to leave me to be boiled alive, she whispered that I shouldn't have anything to worry about because I was a straight "A" student with perfect conduct. Right? Wrong. That probably just meant I tasted better! Then everything went blurry.
Except for this very vivid memory that I've been leading up to. But before I draw you into my memory, I have to say that I had a twist of fate that year, which made up (a little) for getting the Wicked Witch of the West for my teacher. The cutest boy in school was in my class! I would just gaze at him dreamy-eyed and forget all about Mrs. Witchie-Poo and her gurgley voice.
But one day after lunch, Dreamboat through me under the bus. We had just settled down from our cafeteria special to an exciting game of Bingo! The special kind that you played with pinto beans, because all the colorful tokens were lost. How fun! Right? Before she began gurgling out the numbers, Mrs. Witchie-Poo warned our class, "I don't want to see anyone thumping the beans!"
I don't remember much about how the game went or who won. But this, I'll never forget. Mrs. Witchie-Pool picked Dreamboat to collect all the beans after we were done playing. When he got to my desk, I was so bedside myself with his cuteness that I lost my mind! In a ridiculous attempt to flirt, I thumped a bean at him. Oh, my! If I had known the consequences that would follow...
In a heartbeat, Dreamboat became my worst nightmare. He yelled out that I thumped a bean at him. Then everything went dead silent for an eternal second that was broken by Mrs. Witchie-Poo's gurgley voice telling me to come stand at the front of the room and face everyone. This can't be happening to me!
After I made my way to the front of the classroom, she slowly reached down to open her big, bottom, desk draw where I swore she kept all the gruesome ingredients for her magic potions, and pulls out the most gigantic, wooden paddle I've ever seen in my life! With a gloating tone, she tells me to bend over and hold my ankles. You've got to be kidding me!
I wished more than anything in that nightmare moment, that Glenda the Good Witch of the East would have zapped some sparkly, red slippers on my feet to click my heals together with, whisk me up in a whirlwind to my house and save me from her wicked step-sister.
But, of course, that didn't happen. Instead, that ole' Wicked Witch of a teacher gripped that paddle, reared back and walloped me so hard that I stubbled forward into the overhead projector stand. I don't remember anything after that--how my classmates reacted or how I got back to my seat.
I do, however, remember how it felt. It was like a thin, warm layer of red goo was poured over me that tainted my sight for years to come. It caused me to see life through lenses of self-hatred and unworthiness. And, it felt as if a curse of rejection, loneliness and lack of belonging was cast on my life, like a ball and chain.
I did not realize it then, but what I was experiencing wash over me in that 9-year old, nightmare moment was SHAME. I've learned a lot about shame over the past couple years from Brene' Brown books and teachings. She is a researcher who has studied shame and a select few other hard topics that others haven't wanted to touch. I've adopted her definition of shame as my own because it resonates with my story and sounds the most true:
"Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging." ~Brene' Brown
Here are few other things I've learned about shame from Brene' and from overcoming my own hidden shame:
it's like a 20-ton shield protects us from being seen and living beyone judgment
when it's triggered, it makes us feel small, flawed and not enough
"never good enough" and "who do you think you are" are the 2 main shame drivers
it knows no boundaries, social class, race, gender or age limit
Although it feels like it hides in the deep, dark crevices of our lives, it actually lurks in the most familiar places, like:
Appearance and body image
Money, work and position
Sex, marriage and parenting
Mental and physical health, and aging
Addictions, both private and public
Here are the biggest shame traps that women and men fall in under the pressure of societal expectations:
Women - Look perfect. Do perfect. Be perfect.
Men - Never fail. Never show weakness or fear. Neve be wrong.
Perhaps the most undeniable truth about shame is that it is a part of being human, so we all experience it. This is how Brene' describes it, so that it creates a powerful visual of the condition of the human soul and why we can't avoid it dealing with shame:
"Shame is the swampland of the soul that we all have to wade through and find our way around in." ~Brene' Brown
It's actually the oldest hangup of the human race, going as far back as Adam and Eve. You know the story. It starts out with them living in the Garden of Eden naked and unashamed. But after they buy into the enemies lies and eat the the fruit from The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the first thing they feel is SHAME.
It's what caused the whole idea of hiding! They hid from each other and from God. And we perpetuate a Lifestyle of Hiding still today as a normal way of life.
And what I believe the most powerful aspect of shame is, is that it causes us to believe that we deserve our stories...whatever they may be.
My story was that I deserved a life of loneliness and rejection because I was unworthy of love.
According Brene's research, shame is particularly painful for children because is it inextricably linked to the fear of being unloved.
And for children during the developmental years, still dependent on their parents for food, shelter and safety -- for survival -- feeling unloveable is threat to their survival.
It's actually traumatic!
This is the reason most of us revert back to feeling small and childlike when we're in shame, because our brain stores our early shame experiences as trauma. When it is triggered, we return to that place.
I've also learned that our brains process social rejection or shame the same way our bodies experience pain. So, our brains hang onto trauma that same way our bodies hang onto pain.
Because of this, childhood experiences of shame, regardless of the level -- a swat with a paddle in front of your class or sexual molestation -- change who we are, how we think about ourselves and our sense of self-worth.
But, like my daughter wrote in her blog this past Friday:
"SHAME does NOT have to be your story. " ~Lydia Fields
Because of what Jesus did for us to deliver us from shame, we have the power to write ourselves a new story.
Just like the children of Israel, who braved the crossing of the Jordan River to conquer their Promised Land, there is a new life awaiting you in a land that's already been promised to you. All you have to do is own it!
Now matter what brought on shame or is causing it, we have the power to overcome it by trading lies for truth.
If you feel ready to walk out of the swampland of your soul and start really living the life you were born for, contact us at: BeCourageousCoaching.com.
We'd like to help you trade the Swampland for your Promised Land!