Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Crying Shame...

Last week we had a snow storm.  Not exactly snow-mageddon, but it left enough snow that, on Saturday when I had to get out of my driveway, it was going to require some shoveling.  Grace was out, and I was already experiencing a bit of angina caused by a ridiculous lapse in my med-taking (but that's another story). Still, work called and I had to get out.  As I headed out, armed with a shovel and adequately bundled, a car pulled up to my apartment.  Someone I know, who I've had a difficult relationship with, stepped out of the car, reached into the back seat, pulled out a shovel and asked me if I needed help shoveling.  

I was surprised.  And happy. To be honest, I wanted to hug the person.  I did need help, and it just felt good to be having such a positive interaction.  So, we shoveled.  I did the light stuff around the car, and my helper did some of the heavier shoveling. The sun was shining.  The air was fresh. I was a bit confused, but open to miracles and feeling happy.

Then my helper started talking. And all was made clear.

"I've figured out what is wrong with you."  

I kept shoveling.  I smiled, because, really, this wasn't entirely unexpected, and said, "Yes, I've heard." Because I had heard.  

"God told me."


"No, God really told me..."

I stopped shoveling.  Leaned on my shovel.  

"You need to do and think whatever helps you to be okay with who you are and the things that you've done.  If this is it, it's sad, but not a problem for me."

The person went on, said a few more things, aimed a few accusations and insults my way.  When I spoke to address the comments, I was told that this was not a discussion.  I wasn't to speak.

I smiled again.

"If you are going to come here and throw these accusations at me, and tell me that I am not allowed to address them, then this is an old pattern that I don't do anymore.  You need to stop talking now."

Then there was silence.  Shoveling.  Snow flying everywhere.

"Well, anyway, it's between you and God."

I didn't even need to stop shoveling to address this one.  I agreed wholeheartedly, and spoke about how wonderful God had been to me, how He cares for Grace and I, how He is everything I need.

More shoveling. 

Then we were done, and the person left.

Alone, in my driveway, sweeping snow off of my car, the intensity of the interaction began to hit.  I had been calm and felt peaceful during it.  When I was alone, though, my hands started to shake.  My stomach felt ill. Finally, I leaned on the car, in the sun, and cried.  

I was sad.  Something potentially nice had turned ugly, and that really is a sad thing.  But something else was there.  Something small, niggling, but very real. And very painful.

Shame.  I felt shame.  For accepting the help. For needing the help.  For hoping for something better.  

Shame is one of the most powerful weapons in a bully's arsenal.  It is brutal, quick, and often silent.  Undetected, it can haunt a victim, and is one of the primary reasons victims of bullying begin to withdraw, isolate themselves, self-harm, and even attempt suicide.  Unfortunately, shame often goes undetected.  

I think that shame is well defined in a comparison to guilt.  Guilt is a negative feeling that is about something that we have done. Shame is about who we are. Guilt says, "I have done, said, thought something wrong."  Shame says, "Who I am is wrong"  It's the difference between "I have done bad things" and "I am bad".  The person who feels shame feels less than, demeaned, and inherently bad. And hopeless.  Shame is the intent behind blaming the rape victim for being raped.  It is the meaning behind, "You made me hit you."  The abuser says, in many different ways and usually repeatedly, "I do these bad things to you because you deserve them."  And sooner or later, most victims fall into the mindset that, maybe if I was smarter, better, stronger, I would be able to stop the abuse.  If shame is planted by the abusers, it is watered by people who tell abusers how to avoid "getting him angry", "being a tease", or "making her cheat." Victims, who desperately want the abuse to stop, often hold onto shame like it's a lifesaver.  Maybe if I just....

Efforts to control abuse and bullying using shame are always unsuccessful.  Because bullying behavior belongs to the bully, and is not in the control of the victim.  Shame punishes the wrong person, for the wrong reasons.  Someone who is mugged because he stopped to help a person who appeared to be in need may feel shame for being so gullible, for stopping to help.  Wanted to help someone in need is not wrong. Believing someone's cry for help is not wrong. Mugging someone is wrong. Shame tempts victims to change who they are, often in ways that leave them feeling alone, uncomfortable and despairing.  What if I want to be a kind person, and to help others?  What if changing into a cynical, cold, hard person is not what I want for my life?  

I felt shame because I had believed that the offer of help was genuine.  I felt shame for the fact that I have a heart condition and needed help.  But these things are not wrong.  Being insulting and rude is wrong.  I don't want to give up being hopeful and open to others.  I recognized the shame quickly, because it is an issue that I have dealt with in great detail in my life.  I know that I handled the situation well. I handled it without being rude or aggressive.  I set healthy boundaries - in shutting down the conversation when it became apparent my helper did not want me to respond.  I rejected the insults, in a calm, controlled and peaceful manner.  I didn't argue or fight, because there was no point. I was in my own driveway, in my own space, and I took control of what went on in my space.  Really, the interaction was an attempt at bullying that failed.  Having an opinion that I don't like, thinking that I am not quite all there, is not a crime.  Forcing me to listen to a litany of insults would be wrong, but I didn't allow that.  

My sadness was genuine, and healthy.  I care about this person.  I am sad that they have gone this route.  The shame, though, was not healthy.  I did nothing to deserve the insults.  Even accepting the offer of help did not earn my helper the right to try to hurt me.  I accepted what was offered, and rejected the negativity that came along with it.  My helper could have left at any time.  Of course, leaving before the job was done would have blown my helper's cover as a benevolent soul, reaching out to poor, lost me.  That wasn't my problem.  

Shame lies. Boldly and blatantly, shame tells us that we caused our own pain by trusting, by reaching out or accepting a helping hand, by not foreseeing the pain, by being who we are. Lies, lies, lies.  Shame offers to protect us from further pain, but if we accept shame in our lives, we are setting ourselves up for more pain than we can imagine. 

If trusting others occasionally causes us pain, a refusal to trust anyone isolates us and leaves us lonely and in constant pain.  If opening our hearts to others results in sometimes being hurt, closing our hearts in cynical, cold anger never stops hurting.  I would rather be in charge of who I am and how I react to the world around me, even if I get hurt at times, than to give that power to shame and lose control of myself and to live with a constant, dull, crippling disgust with my neediness, my desire to dream, my longing for love and hope.

Yes, I was hurt.  But without the infection of shame, hurts heal.  Shame creates the kind of behavior that I met up with that day. Shame shows up with a shovel and a heart full of ugly words.  A calloused, angry, closed, shame-filled heart still has to find a way to be okay with itself. 

I can’t help but believe, after living with the fruit of shame and seeing it like I did on that day, going down that road again would absolutely be a crying shame…

No comments:

My Zimbio