Recovering from a shame attack

. Part 1: The Free fall The day was going fine. Just a normal day at work, nothing spectacular to report, nothing devastating encountered. Everything was A-OK, like a perfectly

  • PublishedMarch 31, 2014


Part 1: The Free fall

The day was going fine. Just a normal day at work, nothing spectacular to report, nothing devastating encountered. Everything was A-OK, like a perfectly acceptable flat shade of beige. Until the season turned, and beige suddenly became unacceptable, and things became far from A-OK.

Maybe it was the tone of the man’s voice, asking a question I didn’t have the answer to, or the perceived glare from the woman who rejected my offer of water, or the blank response from the couple to whom I shone my widest, brightest (maybe not sincerest) smile. Maybe it was overhearing my colleague charismatically engage with the soulless couple, or attempting to give heartfelt congratulations to his subsequent large, jealousy-inducing, sale.

Or, I could have just woken up on the wrong side of the bed. Or approaching a certain phase of my cycle, or the moon cycle, or whatever planets affect my horoscope and general life cycle. I do think Mercury was in retrograde (i.e. appearing to move backwards, which causes delusional mind tricks), and there is the obvious fact that the weather here in New York has been beyond flat out depressing.

Whatever the reason, I went from being ‘A-OK’ to being hit by a funk. I tried to shake it off, I tried a jolt of coffee and half a dozen extra big gulps of water. I even attempted to shock my system with a few minutes of polar vortex infused fresh air. It didn’t work. I could feel myself crumbling, I could feel my grip loosening, I could see all the color, even the graytones, fading into a stark black and white screen.

And then the questions began.

Innocently at first, why did she look at me like that, was she really not thirsty? And then frantically, desperately, aggressively, indignantly and downright resentfully. Was my water not good enough for her? Do they not appreciate friendly people? What’s wrong with these New Yorkers? Why? Is it me? Why? What did I do wrong? How? Why???

Part 2: The Attack

The questions soon faded away. Actually, they didn’t exactly fade away as they did transform. Into statements. Like a mid-tantrum toddler my mind was fixated on a select few very specific “facts.”

People don’t like talking to me… It’s because I’m not nice enough… I’m not a nice person… I’m a mean person… I’m a bad person… People, no, everyone, can see this… I’m not good enough to be here… I’m not good enough, period… I don’t deserve anything… I am ugly inside and out… Everyone can see my ugliness… I am not worthy of attention… I am not worthy of love… I am not worthy, period.

And there it was – a full-blown shame attack. The shame monster had reared its horrendous head and was happily munching away on my self-esteem. It felt as if someone took a cricket bat and swung it across my ribcage, all while gleefully screaming “YOU are NOT worthy!!!” Only, that someone, that monster, was I.

You may read those terrible thoughts I had about myself, and cringe with sadness or pity, as you would if a friend came to you bawling, irrationally beating themselves’ up. Even I read those words and feel pity! You may also be confident that you would never say such words to yourself about yourself, and I’ll take your word for it. But shame is so much more than voluntary, irrational, self-imposed, whiplashing.

More often than not shame doesn’t scream at us, or even audibly speak to us. It whispers, gently rumbles in our gut, causes that faint hint of nausea, dread, unspeakable angst, unnamable fear. So many of us are so accustomed to this feeling, those thoughts, that rumbling, that we’re barely conscious of its presence. So many of us live the majority of our lives in a purgatory-like existence, not at all realizing that living, as opposed to existing, on the flip side of the coin is, actually, an option.

Now, you may think you haven’t experienced what I’m talking about. ‘Sure!’ you say, ‘everyone feels doubt on occasion!’ And we all have our insecurities. We’ve certainly all had days that are simply plain old horrible, and how many teenagers really, ever, actually feel confident about themselves? Precisely – these are all normal, inconsequential feelings that have nothing to do with ‘shame’.

Well. Doubt is temporary; a short-lived warning signal that works on a dimmer switch. It goes on and off and can easily fade away. While insecurities are like flies; they exist, and we hate them when they appear and zap around us. But also just like flies, they can be (relatively) easily swiped away or squashed down. And bad days are just bad days, pure and simple, while those teenage years soon become hazy memories we’re rarely inclined to recall.

No, shame is akin to none of these things. Shame is a virus, a weed, a deceptive infestation that takes several rounds of antibiotics to cure. We, you, I, and 99.999 per cent of our fellow human beings, have all felt shame. We have all felt unworthy. We have all felt unlovable. We have all faced the fear that our existence on this earth means very, very, very little. If it means anything at all! We have all experienced the ‘I did bad’ feeling catapult into the ‘I am bad’ statement. None of us are immune to shame and most of us have to fight to overcome it.

But I didn’t fight that day. I couldn’t. I surrendered to the attack and allowed the tsunami of open fire to drown me. I cried. And then composed myself. And cried again. And eventually secluded myself. Until it was time to carry the remains of my shame-drenched self home.

Part 3: The Bronies

The what? The bronies. Allow me to explain: ‘bronies’ is the plural of ‘brony’. Brony is the newly found slang word that combines ‘Bro’ – a.k.a. a man-to-man friendship, and pony, as in My Little Pony, the beloved little girls toy and cartoon.

As I arrived home, still reeling from my shame attack, I didn’t quite know how to start the healing process, how to start sealing up my open wounds. But I did know that I had to somehow find a way to distract myself from the ugly shame monster, i.e. me. So I decided to explore my ‘must watch’ documentary list and take a chance on a random choice. It couldn’t have worked out better.

Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony is a 90-minute journey into the fascinating, completely unexpected (by anyone) community of adults; predominantly 20 – 40 year-old-heterosexual males who are enraptured by the television show ‘My Little Pony Friendship is Magic’. These men (and women) are part of a global community of individuals who not only watch the show, but embrace the show’s message and values – caring, generosity and kindness. They also spend a substantial amount of time and energy creating fan music, art, crafts, and community gatherings. It has nothing to do with sexual fetishes or confusing sexuality issues. It is about men (and women) defying gender expectations, claiming the values and creative elements that matter to them, all the while maintaining their masculinity (and, for the women, femininity).

For example, Ohad Kanne, upon watching the show and discovering the online community quickly realized that “there was a huge community, full of creativity and potential that burst out…All of a sudden people weren’t afraid to show their ideas, spread their creativity, and take their talent to new places. And bronies, like all of the women and queer people before them, start wondering, “What’s so bad about that?

That was what did it for me…Really, what is so bad about that?

What is so bad about being ignored? What is so bad about not being liked? On the other hand, if these men and women, can find a community, their community, if they can find people who share their values and hear their perspective, people who show their love and appreciation, despite the humungous odds against them, if they can claim their worthiness, can I really sit here and claim to be unworthy of love?

Um, No, I can’t. It is impossible to not be worthy of love, there is no way you can be alive and not deserve all the love and attention that a human being can possibly offer. My shame attack was a brutal blessing. But a blessing, indeed. And now my appreciation of what it means to be worthy of love, regardless of who/what/where/why/how/and/because/but, is, priceless.

Published on April 2014

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