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Shame Will Kill You – By Nicola O’Hanlon

Photo by Naomi August on Unsplash

 

I’ve had a revelation, just this morning actually, that most of my life has been spent trying to avoid shame. I’m not alone in that pursuit either. It seems that most of the world is running from it too in one form or another.

I have also been angry most of my life. The seed that created all of that anger is absolutely, unequivocally, shame, and every time someone attempts to shame me still, an anger rises up that I can’t resolve easily. The two emotions are intrinsically linked.

Someone told me the other day that what I do is not actually real work. I was rooted to my chair, unexpectedly. Usually I’m not afraid of an argument. Usually I’d have defended myself and my work, but the person calmly walked away from me after saying what they said. It was clear that the comment was meant to put me down, make me feel inferior and shame me for my chosen career path. I don’t understand their thinking, but despite that, it still rendered me paralyzed.

I immediately became aware of that familiar raw feeling in my chest. Devastation. But why such an intense reaction? The anger rose in me later that day the and was released in an hour long crying session. During that hour, I remembered the other occasions of shaming throughout my life and how it left me too afraid to move forward, or try new things.

Four years old, learning to read and write; my teacher would thump me in the back and call me a dunce for not understanding where to put my full stops. I’d write my little story, and then place dots randomly throughout the words. Feeling very pleased with myself, I’d take it to the teacher and instead of teaching me, she thumped me. As a result, I struggled my entire life with learning and it took me thirty-five years to let anyone else see my writing.

“You have a fat arse.”  “You’d be so much prettier if you lost weight”…….I heard it over and over again. I then spent my whole life hating my body and being ashamed of every inch of it. It’s funny, because when I look back at old photos I don’t see fat. I just see beauty. I wasted my entire youth hanging onto a perception of myself that wasn’t mine.

Shame is in me deep. Right in my bone marrow. There have been endless instances that I don’t care to recall. It made me want to give up on myself, and I felt the same way the other day. What’s the fucking point, I thought. I even feel it’s presence right now, feeling shame because I’m voicing past experiences, which I should have forgotten about and gotten over by now. Right?

I know many of you will relate to these instances or some like them. You will recognise the shame associated that created the bars of your cage and held you hostage. You will also understand the daily struggle to release yourself and convince your tired mind that being you is absolutely worth it. Sometimes you can’t convince yourself though.

It has sent some of us quite mad. We have lost our minds from the exhaustive pursuit to be good enough, worthy, acceptable. We become depressed, bio-polar, psychotic. We have sought out alternative reality through drugs, alcohol, food, sex, to find some relief and to convince ourselves that we are all that they say we should be. It has even killed some of us.

But who are these, they?

Well, they are you and I. We do it to each other. We judge and condemn because of skin colour, religion, politics, age, tattoos and fat arses. We judge and condemn inside of our tiny boxes, from inside our tiny minds until we make each other crazy and so afraid of other people, places and things that we become enslaved…….by shame. We make up rules about appropriate behaviour, right and wrong and forget about basic kindness and respect. We live half lives because our notions about societal appropriateness and acceptability cannot under any circumstances be trespassed upon. Until we stop living altogether.

So for fuck sake, write the story and put the full stops wherever you want, get the tattoo, embrace your big fat arse, wear your burka, or don’t wear it, wear a miniskirt at 60…..even if you’re a guy, speak your mind, stand up for yourself, dye your hair Octarine, travel the world, do whatever the hell you want and don’t let others fear induced shame infect you.

You may be hated and looked down upon and declared mad for living your life free, but one thing I know for sure is, you will not hate yourself! You will wake up every day very fucking pleased with yourself, knowing that you are conquering the most insidious and lethal weapon on this planet. Shame. Shame cannot breathe if you like yourself.

So keep cheering for yourself. Know contentment. Be happy. Be free. Be SHAMELESS.

 

Nicola O'Hanlon

About Nicola O'Hanlon

Meet our Editor-In-Chief, Nicola O’Hanlon. She created this website, along with the help of the InTheRooms team in September 2015. Her work has been published in several recovery magazines, including Recovery Today, In Recovery Magazine, AfterPartyChat.com, Psychology Today and Reach Out Recovery to name but a few. She has also had her work published in two Feminist anthologies and a book of personal recovery stories. Born and raised in Wexford, Ireland she still lives there with her two children, Christopher and Jessica. Her background is in healing through Massage Therapy, Reflexology and Sechiem Energy Healer. She has combined her professional and life experience and now coaches women on how to empower themselves. She runs the Womens Wisdom Healing Circle meeting, on InTheRooms.com every Sunday (Noon est 5pm UK & Ireland), which is a non program specific gathering of women seeking support, encouragement and healing. Already an expert on how not to live life she is a constant seeker of new and better ways of being. Nature is her Higher Power and she believes in magic, crystals and blames the phases of the moon for her multiple personalities.

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10 Comments

  1. I can totally relate!

  2. Great job Nicola, thank you. Yes shame and guilt 2 big ones I’ve encountered in my recovery work, shame so insidious. I’ve thought about it and wondered why people shame people. Probably multiple reasons why but mostly because of their own insecurities and feelings of uncomfortableness within themselves that they try to pass on. We shame ourselves too, silently. I should have gotten over this already by now or look how old I am I should have accomplished so much more. We judge ourselves and shame ourselves. Your right on the money ! Be yourself and be that well.!

  3. Bravo! I too have lived with shame my entire life and feel that it is intrinsic. I wrote an entire book for god’s sake, it took me 10 years and then because my mother could’t read it, the shame crept in and I was too embarrassed to speak about it. Fortunately, sobriety has been ongoing and although shame still grips me at the oddest moments, usually when I’m trying to speak my voice, I can today dissect it with sober eyes and mind and I continue to do the work so that I can fully be me and help others heal.

  4. Wow! What a STRONG and eyebrow lifting (at self, that is) piece Nicola. You’ve just voiced what has been wrong with me for the past few months!!
    Shame. That incredibly insidious feeling that holds me back. Shame at my disability. Shame at my looks. Shame at my shame and belittlement.
    Shame,now, at realising I’ve been denying myself and trying to ‘shake it off’, putting it down to pointless Self-pity…..It’s NOT freaking Self-pity, it’s SHAME. Fear of showing it too much too.
    I’ve been identifying it incorrectly. in a way that would’ve brought me close to pinpointing it, but not getting it correct and therefore feeling it in the open and accepting it fully.
    Nicky, you’ve just saved me months of agonising! Thank you yet again. KEEP speaking your Truth and opening the way for others, please…

    Greg

  5. Oh, what a wonderful article! Shame is so toxic isn’t it…and sadly it is so deeply entrenched in our societal norms that we rarely even notice when we are doing it to ourselves or others. Brene Brown says some amazing things about shame, and its role in addiction, mental illness and more. It has certainly been a massive part of my story in addiction and beyond…I still carry some of it with me, although I tend to be able to recognise it for what it is these days.

    I adore your writing, and am very glad that you managed to overcome the damage that teacher did to your younger self and are able to share your words with the world now

  6. Bravo Nicki – Shame and the stigma of addiction/alcoholism are things I think we all deal with, even when we don’t speak about it. But for me, shame is huge – still, and I just celebrated my 70th. birthday! It just never goes away. But thanks for talking about it. Just for today, maybe I can be shame-free.

  7. wow nic… just wow.. as always.. you are brilliant beyond words because your brilliance is from within ……

  8. Hi Nicky. What a great writing. You could have put your stops any where and I would still have loved it. It’s really hard for me to give up the shame I feel for the hurt I have caused my family. I can’t just say Fuck it to that. I am learning how to process it and deal with and to make amends without the shame. It’s still hard though. As far as embracing the other quirky parts of myself I’m getting pretty good at that. Thanks for the great reminder.

    • Hi Julie. I had to reply to your comment because I get it. How about calling what you feel about your past mistakes as remorse. I feel that still for some of the things I did in my past. Shame makes us feel inhuman, like we should be infallible, that mistakes are forbidden. But we all know that mistakes are inevitable as humans. It’s part of who we are and how we learn. Sometimes all we know how to do is be destructive as a way to kill our internal pain, but we can learn different ways. And good for you for embracing your quirks!

  9. Shame is really big one in recovery. I still don’t know whether I will ever forgive myself for the madness I put my family through. However, I have accepted my shame and use it within my program. It stands as a reminder and a warning. Apart from this, I am absolutely shameless.

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