The Shame Blaster

I am beyond excited about this post. When Jo emailed me about Brené Brown‘s Shame Resistance Theory, and how what ALL of y’all were doing on APW was actually providing a hugely valuable service to each other, I was hooked. I wanted to hear more. She told me, “Every time you speak up in the comments and shut down someone who is saying “you’ll see”, every time you emphasize that our choices are our choices and you don’t judge any of them (children/no children, work/stay-at-home, etc.) you make that space of empathy and connection even more powerful for each of us. Your blog is a shame-blaster.” So of course, I made her write a post. And it literally made interactions that happen every day on APW make sense to me. She made me even more grateful to each one of you (if that is possible) and made me understand my interactions with other women better. So with that, and a huge amount of gratitude, I bring you Jo:

When Meg emailed telling me that the homework I so kindly shared with her a while ago was interesting and could I write it into a post, my mind went blank and there was one teensy word written across my brain for at least a minute.


Then I was slammed with “butIcan’t!I’mjustafirstyearpart timegradstudentwhobarelyknowswhatI’mtalkingabout,someonewillreaditandcallmeoutonthatandI’ll feelsostupidinfrontofeveryo—oh, wait! [light bulb moment] I’m shaming myself!” So I’ll just (to quote Eminem) shut that sh*t down and tell you all about this awesome theory I read (it’s the impetus behind my new life motto “I make other people look good,” and my new superheroine name “Super Epic Girl”).

It’s called Shame Resilience Theory, and is fairly new, published by Brené Brown in 2004. What she came up with is that shame is a very painful feeling or belief that we are flawed and therefore undeserving of love, acceptance, or a place to belong. Some researchers think that shame is our biggest emotional motivator.

Women experience shame in complex and layered ways. We get a ton of societal messages (have kids, kids turn you into soccer moms, do it all, do nothing, marry young or you’ll never marry at all, if you marry you’re betraying women or sustaining anti-homosexual campaigns, you’re ugly, too fat, too thin, etc.) all at once, all at the same time. We get opposing messages for the same things. Expectations tell you—us– who, how, and what you should be in every aspect of your life. To top it off, from different sources these messages are different. Basically, as Fischerspooner says, you can never win.

Shame is an individual thing—what “triggers” each of us is different, and varies at different times. The usual suspects (parenting, appearance, sexuality, religion, speaking out, and more) are common enough to be almost universal.

What happens after we feel shame? We’re isolated. We feel trapped, powerless, cut off, and alone. We feel this way because each of the cultural expectations we encounter (economic, religious, familial, academic, romantic, professional) cut off another option for us. Shame may not feel like shame—it can present as anger, fear, confusion, judgment, or the need to hide. (This is why Meg said a few weeks ago that other people’s decisions can result in us wanting to – consciously or unconsciously – shame them).

We don’t ever become immune to shame, but we can learn and practice how to overcome it and lessen shame’s affect on us. The things that do that are empathy, connection, power, and freedom. Most people in the study by Brown said that experiencing empathy from another person was the opposite of experiencing shame. I practice this myself by engaging in positive self talk. Instead of saying mentally “I’m such a screw-up”, I say, “I screwed up.” And I take responsibility for that and move on.

Connection is very powerful, however, because when we connect, we receive support, and we work with others in our group of connection to ignore the socio-cultural messages and redefine what is important and valuable. One connection may not be the source of all shame-combating. People in your office might help with professional shame, but may make you feel worse about your parenting choices.

Speaking out about shame can be really hard, but is necessary. I’ve found that doing it online helps, because I’m a teensy bit more anonymous. I told Meg in my initial email that she provides a great space to connect with others, to speak about and explore topics there may not be a lot of (positive) dialogue on in offline life. Every time we find a way to speak our experience without saying that it’s the only way, without telling other people “you’ll seeeeee”, or invalidating choices other than ours, even if they are scary to us, we reduce shame.

And we all do that, we all provide that sense of connection when we comment on grad posts (or Reclaiming Wife), meet up for book clubs, and learn new ways to talk. So thanks, Meg, and the rest of Team Practical—you, I mean you, no shaming yourself or feeling inadequate, even if you’ve never commented—for being a great space of connection and empathy and empowering us all to leave behind and overcome that cultural shame. Down with the shame-web!

(Ha, now all of you want to be MSW students because things like this are awesome, right?! And if you’re smarter at this than I am and can say it better, please be gentle! And Dr. Brown, I really hope that I quoted you correctly because I think that you are incredible. I bought your books and I’m following you on Twitter!)

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  • Wow. I never ever thought of it from that before. That’s a really interesting perspective and it works on so many levels. But… How do we really know when it *is* negative behaviour, and connecting isn’t going to be a good thing, because it’ll help a group of people enable each other.

    For example – I feel massively ashamed because I’m supposed to be building my own business but it’s 11.37am and I’m still in my pyjamas. I alternate between needing someone to give me a swift kick up the you-know-where, and wanting someone to connect with – to say “what you’re doing is ok, because I’m doing it too.”

    I guess that’s my main shame – not knowing WTF it is that I want to do, should do, etc. Any advice on how to figure that out would be gratefully received!

    • Rebecca Meyer

      Wow is right. This really hits home for me too, especially your comment. I have been feeling so self conscious lately about EVERYTHING. I am a senior in college and graduating in two months and as a result I feel like i’m getting so many things worked out for graduation/with the fiance and it has been a little bit more public than I would normally like with my roommates which leaves me feeling shameful that I talk to him for 2 hours a day and that I haven’t gotten into any grad school programs and that I talk too much about myself. And like you said, I need a balance between someone motivating me and sympathizing with me and telling me everything will work out and my life won’t fall apart upon my entrance into the real world. That felt good to get out.
      And as for you GOOD FOR YOU for even being brave enough to try something like starting your own business. You are a much stronger woman that I am. I admire you and I don’t even know you. You’ll figure things out and even if you don’t life will still be awesome because i’m sure you’re awesome and the person you’re marrying is awesome and you two will have an awesome life.

      • ddayporter

        hey now! none of this “you are so much stronger than I am” business! :) shame blasters activate! pew pew! she is strong. you are strong also. you are in different places in life, but there is no evidence that you will not be able to start your own business at some point in the future. if that’s what you end up wanting to do. the last semester of college is stressful and terrifying for everyone, I’m pretty sure. there’s a big fat unknown in front of you and there’s no shame in being a little skeered of it.

        • Oh, DDay, with the sound effects! You’re making my day hardcore.

          • KA

            Omg, seriously. Can “shame blasters activate! pew pew!” be like a Team Practical catchphrase?

        • I vote that we need super-hero outfits. Or capes. Or maybe just a cool ring that we can point to the sky and say “shame blasters activate.”

          • My kids would totally get on board with a shame blasters and costumes. Awesome idea!

          • Wsquared

            Psst! You already *have* that superhero outfit: whatever you wear that makes you feel best.

            …and that can vary, depending on the situation.

            When going out, it’s an outfit that I love. Yep, red lipstick included.

            When staying home and working, it’s my pajamas.

            Go to your closet, take out something you like wearing, and tell yourself, “THIS is my superhero outfit!”

        • JEM

          I just started babysitting a 3 and a half year old boy and, after only having a sister, I *definitely* need sound effect training/practice. Dday, coach me? ;)

        • ddayporter

          bahahah love it! I vote capes And rings.

      • Thank you so much! And DDay is right – we are all strong! Go us :)

      • That last year of college was the hardest for me too – standing on the cusp, being totally over and done with school and yet terrified to take the leap into the “real world”. But I think in reality it is the same as any other life choice: put one foot in front of the other, dream big, aim high, and give yourself a break!

    • Maybe it would help to see the difference between yourself and your behavior. As the post said, there’s a difference between saying, “I’m such a screw-up” and “I screwed up.” What’s already done is done, so each day you can start fresh, and try again to tackle your business. If you’re not ready to yet, don’t get angry at yourself, but try to gently explore what’s standing in your way. Don’t know if that helps :/

      • You’re so right – I can’t believe I completely ignored that aspect. We are not our behaviours.

      • I feel like starting each day fresh is the key to life. If we wallow in the past mistakes, we’ll never be able to look to the future and get things done. Like you said, what’s done is done. So what if yesterday was unproductive. Today can be!

        • Liz

          this is something called The Growth Perspective about which many educational journals have been written.

          the idea is that when your student (or you, or your spouse, or your friend…) fails at something, you constantly have a “not yet” response. “okay, you didn’t get it yet. but there’s always next time!”

          allowing ourselves room for future growth really squelches the capacity for shame. instead of getting frustrated because “i’m already 25 and i still haven’t blah blah bah…,” there’s limitless opportunity to accomplish things in the future.

          • Oh, yes. I think my biggest revelation during the whole wedding planning process was related to that. I realized I was beating myself up for being in my 30s and still dealing with issues that I thought I should be *over* by now, or not having skills (interpersonal and otherwise) I felt I should have mastered. When I managed to reframe this as “thank *heaven* I am still learning and growing, because it would really suck to be *finished* at 37” things felt much lighter without that internalized shame burden.

          • Liz–love this! That’s an excellent way of looking at the world.

          • I completely agree. I was at an English peer conference for my college and in a session one of my colleagues was discussing self-efficacy vs. self-esteem. Self-esteem says “I’m a really good writer” whereas self-efficacy says “I know how to (or know I can) revise a paper for organization”. This can also be done in other fields like “I’m a really good cook” vs. “I know how to prepare a Thanksgiving turkey”. One focuses on feelings about oneself while the other focuses on tasks that can be built up.
            I guess strong self-efficacy could lead to self-esteem but I’d rather know I can do something because that small task can be built upon, but if I say “I’m really good at x” then when someone else comes along that I think is better my esteem drops. But focusing on what I’ve learned always leaves room for growth.

    • meg

      I don’t think you need someone to shame you about still being in your PJ’s. Then you’d feel extra super bummed and want to climb back in bed and hide. In fact, I’d argue that you feeling shame right now is part of what’s keeping you stuck to the couch. What you need is someone to motivate you (Which is me, maybe? Lady, business is a hustle. It’s hard but it’s a joy. Stop feeling bad about yourself, get up shower, know you’ve got it, and go DO that hustle.)

      It’s not shame or enabling. Both of those push us down, in one way or another. It’s motivation and empowerment that we need.

      • I got up; I did some housework. Much, much better than what I was doing. Thank you for the motivation!

    • Becca – I started my own business last year, and yeah, sometimes I have days where it’s 11am and I’m still in my pajamas reading APW instead of… you know… working. (Today is one of those days.) And I think having those days sometimes is perfectly normal and fine and probably help keeps you sane in the madness of starting your own business. Accept those days for what they are, and then pull yourself back on track the next day… a little more fresh and ready to tackle whatever you need to tackle. And definitely don’t feel bad about it!

      I know how crazy it is to start a business, so if you ever want to chat with someone about it, feel free to email me! (info [at] katiejanephoto [dot] com)

      • Thank you so much – I really appreciate your offer!

        • I started my own business too & there were (are!) definitely days I lingered in my pjs on the couch too long. I agree with KatieJane that those days are normal & needed. Because there will be days upon days when you’re eating & breathing your business 24/7 with little sleep & no breaks. If you don’t have slow days too, you will burn out fast. Take your time, enjoy the process & good luck!!!

          • Isn’t that one of the perks of having your own business, getting to sit around in your PJ’s at 11am in the middle of the week if you darn well feel like it :)

            think about it this way, a lot of people who go to traditional work are doing the same thing, they’re just dressed and have to pretend like they’re working.

  • Marchelle



      SQUILLION is my new favorite word

  • Mary Jo

    Thanks for giving us a way to think about and name something that haunts us and drives us apart! You have to name and understand the problem before you can start fixing it, so this is really useful!

  • Faith

    This post sheds a lot of light on the way people react when I tell them about my life choices, and I hear the dreaded, “You’ll see!!” in response. I need to be more understanding of where they are coming from and what happened in their life to bring them to a place of shame and shaming others.

    Also, I tend to be a shameful self-talker and blame taker when the blame isn’t mine to take. I will be watching that tendency in myself.

    Thank you!!!!

  • Amen. THIS is why I come back every day. This post has left me grinning like a fool!

  • Pingback: What’s For Dinner Tonight? « Jo, Rooting()

  • Rachel

    Ahh – thank you thank you! This post is perfect for me to read today as I am in the process of deciding whether or not to go to medical school after finishing my second bachelor’s degree in a couple years. I keep vacillating between “I can do anything I put my mind to!” and “Am I crazy? It’s too much…I’ll fall apart”
    This theory is extraordinarily true and I see it everywhere, every day. I am inspired to not only be more positive to others – lifting them up and encouraging them instead of judging and incessantly comparing – but also more positive to myself. If ANYONE I should give myself complete support and comfort.

    Hopefully the women of this community will start a movement – a movement of kindness, forgiveness, judgement-free, shame-free community love.

    I’m overjoyed to be a part of it. :-D

    • Pat

      If you want to go to med school, GO!!

      I went back to premed after 6 years of marriage, with 2 kids, 3&5, then on to med school. The entire 8 years were a guilt&shame-fest, and I ended up divorced, but I did it. My alcoholic philandering husband left me, but my parents helped some and my women friends helped LOADS, and it worked. It’s 25 years later. I’m a grandmother with a nice practice, my daughters are successfully launched in careers and motherhood, and I’m glad I did it..

      What made me try it? Not wanting to spend the rest of my life regretting the road not taken. Rachel, you can do it. Assess the costs and benefits, and go with it!!

      • Sara

        Pat, I think you deserve a super glitter cape and TWO rings! that is SHAME-BLASTING-TASTIC!

      • You are *amazing*. What an epic, shame-blasting journey!

  • Michelle

    For me, just the ability to say out loud the things I’m ashamed of often vanquishes them – it’s a way to own flaws without succombing to the crazy that sometimes attends them. Nothing like hearing or reading yourself say something that is clearly unproductive and fundamentally untrue to drive that shame right out & force some positive reframing.

    My husband-elect is the BEST for this – he’ll listen to anything, it’s kind of amazing – but APW is indeed a fabulous forum in which to be honest. Thanks, Meg, for making it happen, and thanks, Jo, for explaining why! We are, as Bill and Ted would say, being excellent to each other. High fives all around.

    • KD

      ps. totally snagging your use of the term “husband elect”. Love.

      • Michelle

        I snagged it from another APW lady! Snag away :)

  • KD

    What an empowering couple days on APW. The ED post and now this one!

    This space really, actually does help me keep my sanity at times. If anything, it’s all helped us become more self-aware, caused us to think positively, shut out noise from the WIC, and been our awesome big sister who knows better.

    It’s certainly made me more confident in sticking to my wedding decisions, knowing that for every Aunt Milly who turns her nose up at a choice I made I have an entire community behind me saying – right on with making your decision!

    So happy to have found this place, thank you all for helping me through a lot of the things I have felt shamed or uneasy about.

    • KD

      Actually…I’ve been floundering lately, having a hard time making final decisions as we get closer to our wedding. This post is exactly what I needed now. I just need to be confident, shake the shame, and know I have thousands of awesome people behind me no matter what I choose.

    • I agree. If I hadn’t found this site, I might not have felt empowered to make some of the choices I’ve made, start my own blog, and find a community of super supportive women dealing with similar issues. This place is a haven.

      • I can’t exactly this enough. It really is a haven.

  • Leahismyname

    Thank you. This is lovely, and I’m going to have to spend some time digesting this.

    The most insidious form of shame is the self-induced kind, as some commenters mentioned above. But externally-imposed shame is scary too, and one feeds the other.

    For example, I’m getting married in (ohmygod is it really only) 2 weeks, and I’ve struggled with feelings of shame in the process of announcing the news and planning the (very small) wedding. See, it’s my second marriage, and it’s so strange, but I sometimes feel like I shouldn’t bother to have a wedding, small as it is. It’s like, if I f***ed up the first time around, maybe I should just downplay it, and go down to the city hall. I’ve already inconvenienced my family once, after all.

    But I feel so thrilled about my fiance, and about marrying him, and about having his family participate in our wedding. So, we’re doing it, and every time the icky feelings surface, I just remind myself that this experience is new, fresh, different, and special ALL ON ITS OWN. And we deserve to have a little celebration about that.

    Oh god, my eyes are leaking already, and I’m at work.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing these thoughts. I will definitely be coming back to read more comments on this thread…it’s such an important concept.

    • Leah, darling, you are not inconveniencing your family again, you are inviting them to celebrate with you in your bright new life. And when you invite them into your wedding and wedding planning, they should be excited and have nothing but love and fire in their hearts for you.
      Do not for one minute let any past relationships cast a cloud on the current one, and don’t let anyone else do it for you. And if they mention “second marriage” or “again” or any other unkind term, they are not true friends and they have their own issues that two people fell in love with you enough sak you to marry them- and maybe they haven’t even had one. Not your issue.
      Shovel that shame in a hole and bury it.

      • Leahismyname

        Aww, thanks! That means a lot to me this morning.

        Just to note, my family hasn’t mentioned anything like this. They’re being their usual weirdo selves, which is as it should be. ;) And his family is over the moon about the wedding.

        But like I said, it’s just my own brain doing the self-sabotage. Grrr.

        “Shovel that shame in a hole and bury it.”
        I love this!!!

    • To quote you, yes you are starting something “new, fresh, different, and special.” There is no reason that your marriage or wedding needs to be downplayed. Anyone who is trying to shame you should be called out. You deserve to celebrate your union with total abandon.

    • This was my second marriage too, and I had thoughts like that as well. When it came down to the wedding day though, all those thoughts went totally away. In fact, I didn’t think about my first wedding (or marriage) once the entire day. And if anything, my family seemed extra happy.

      • Leahismyname

        This is comforting, thanks for sharing. I’m happy to hear that I”m not the only one to feel that way.

    • Leah, hugs to you. I know EXACTLY how you feel. I struggle with these feelings all the time, too. Just the other night, I told my fiance that I wished we could just take the wedding stuff we have collected so far and go over to the courthouse to be done, no fuss, no muss, so that we can move beyond the wedding already.

      It’s not that I don’t want the wedding; it’s that I don’t feel like (1) I should be spending the money on a wedding; (2) I deserve a wedding; or (3) that anyone is particularly enthused about our wedding.

      I have (mostly) come to terms with the wedding because it means so much to my daughter (who refers to it as “our” wedding, not “your” wedding). There’s something of the Martyr Mom in me, so it is much easier for me to accept the wedding in terms of something I’m doing for her at a sacrifice to myself than as something I am doing for me. Weird and twisted, but there it is.

      • Leahismyname

        Grrr. Teh internets just ate my comment!

        To summarize, I thought it was super cute that your daughter calls it “our wedding.” That’s really what it is, right? Bringing families together through one happy couple.

        And I totally hear you on the “let’s just run down to the courthouse” syndrome. I say that at least once a week. I think I said it last night while searching for glue at Hobby Lobby. I might have had a tiny little tantrum while saying it, too.

        Anyway, I think I’ll be glad I’m having a wedding in the end. I hope you are too. It sounds like the wedding itself might be important for your daughter at least. I try to remember that we can’t discount the importance of ritual and ceremony for humans. I mean, I suppose there’s a reason we still solemnize life events with rituals. It makes them more “real” or important or something. This is what I keep telling myself when I have mini-breakdowns in Hobby Lobby.

  • I feel so buried under mountains of expectations. I’m suffocating from them.

    And I’ve been hearing “you’ll see” about everything all of my life! I’m still reacting to being told “you’ll see” about eating sweets when I was a kid!

    I’m glad I’m not the only one. And that’s part of the point, isn’t it? The community sense of feeling like other people are also experiencing that pressure. It spreads it around a little, makes it a little less of a burden on me.

  • I have a really hard time identifying shame, both when I feel it and when I’m shaming others. The single biggest thing I’ve found is to ask myself:
    If I’m feeling like I, or you, should have already mastered everything, then I can identify the feeling or action as shame. Usually it’s enough mental space between me and my character defects to realize that there are better more healthy ways I could be approaching whatever the issue may be.
    Thanks for sharing this. It’s a good reminder for me today.

    • Kashia

      That is an interesting way to put it. And very applicable I think.

      Recently I’ve come across the idea that the word SHOULD or any word that means the same is something to watch in internal dialogue. Every time I tell myself “I should x” if I don’t do it then I have failed, because should implies moral obligation. And what better way is there to shame myself (or others) than with the idea that by not doing something I (they) have failed in a moral sense. “I should go for a run” “I should have a clean house always” “I should lose 5 pounds” “I should be further in writing my thesis”. Whatever it is. Watching for should (and its synonyms) has been an interesting experience that I think may be complimentary to Shame Busting but on a very internal level. Beginning to change that internal dialogue is hard, but I think important work.

      • KENDALL

        I agree. My struggle is just figuring out what to replace SHOULD with. How do I turn good but extrinsic ideas (I should go for a run) into intrinsic ones, that come from my heart (I want to go for a run)? Is there a good transition word?

        • Morgan

          How about, “I would feel good if I went for a run”? (I’m speaking theoretically, because I refuse to run unless I’m being chased by a bear with a gun, but I understand that some people actually enjoy it, or at least enjoy how they feel afterwards.)

          • Alyssa

            “Chased by a bear with a gun…” HA! You’re adorable.

            Off-topic, but I used to feel the same way, then I did it and I LIKED it.
            And then I refused to tell anyone for a while lest I get mocked for my “RUNNING IZ TEH DUMB” stance I held for so many years…

          • Morgan

            Hey, I do live in a part of Canada with mountains near by, and I don’t know anyone who lives here who hasn’t seen a bear at some point. It seemed sensible to decide on my bear-evasion tactics before it come up again… :)

            (Eh, I trashed both of my knees as a semi-competitive swimmer growing up, and after years of hard work, can finally hike and do aerobics without pain. Running seems like way too big of a physical risk for me. Plus, you know, running, UGH. :)

          • Alyssa

            See, you have very good reasons for not running. Mine were sloth-based. :-)

      • cm

        It reminds me of the Sex and the City episode about “should.” Carrie wrote, “Why are we shoulding all over ourselves?”

    • Amazing and brilliant! I need to ask myself this question every time I get frustrated and impatient that something isn’t already as I would wish it to be. I didn’t realize until just now that shame was the source of that impatience. With my students, too — I often wish that they were more advanced in their understandings. But, obviously: they are students, and to be frustrated with where they are is not to be a compassionate teacher. SO much food for thought.

  • This is a great post!

    I think something to add is that we need to take the confidence that our shame-busting community gives us here and call shame out when we see it. It doesn’t have to be in an in-your-face kind of way, but like when people ask you when you plan on starting a family, you tell them you’ve already started one by being with your boyfriend/fiance/husband. I guess in a way it’s like shaming shame.

    • Exactly to this: that’s one thing that this has helped me do. I am working on sticking up for everyone: others and myself. In a non-shaming way. “I’m not sure if you know how that came across” or “Actually, I see it like this” can be really helpful if the person isn’t intentionally shaming. I know quite a few people that can say things in a very blunt and abrasive way, but are actually super sensitive themselves.

  • Liz

    this is huge not just as a personal, inter-relationships-with-women thing. but as a couple/marriage thing.

    my relationship with my husband is hugely impacted by both of our separate baggage of shame. it’s so nice to have someone to point out, “i’m mad at you, but i’m not leaving you.” or “you messed up, but you’re not a failure.”

    nice post, jo!

    • I totally agree w/ this, Liz. One reason this spoke so hugely to me is that both significant-other and I have a specific old fling that we feel really ashamed about our own actions with. This theory really spoke to me in that it described what we were doing with each other: talking about it in a non-judgmental space, being accountable for our own actions, and then moving past it. When we were just talking about it in our own heads, we were torturing ourselves. Having someone else say “I’ve screwed up too, and you think I’m an awesome person. So I can still think that you’re great, and we can work past this.” was eye-opening and incredible. We can be our own worst critics/shamers.

      • Leahismyname

        Exactly this a million times.

        I have a similar not-so-proud-moment in my relationship history. My fiance probably doesn’t even think of it anymore, but because of my endless shame (compounded by the fact that many of my friends stopped speaking to me at that time), I feel like it affects every damn day of my life, even years later.

        Keeping it in your own head only sets you up for this endless spiral of self-criticism and self-induced shame.

        • How do you deal with the Haunting “you every damn day” Shame?

          I only ask because I have a secret like that. That I am so ashamed to tell people. That I lost some of my best friends over. That I should be able to move on by now but I haven’t been able to let go of the guilt. Do I just verbalize it? Tell the world?

          I want to forget about it, not be reminded about it, wondering if people are talking about it…

          • For me, I needed one person to know, one person who would not hate on me after knowing my secrets. Who would tell me “obviously that wasn’t okay, but I know you learned from it and the end. You are you now.” If you don’t want to/feel the need to tell someone in your life, try maybe telling a counselor? This isn’t the answer for everyone, I know.

          • It’s probably not the most profound answer you’ll get but my advice would be to forgive yourself for it. If verbalising it and sharing helps you do thats great but if you’re not a big sharer it doesn’t matter. Whatever lets you get to a place where you can say – no that’s over and I’m not going to let it affect me. The closer I get to my wedding the more I have started to feel ashamed at the way I behaved in my first marriage – I can make excuses and lots of them would be valid but it doesn’t change the way I feel. Mostly now I’ve learned to say – it’s in the past and I’m not that person anymore – I’m a better one for it. Hope this is useful to someone :)

          • Liz

            i’m with jolynn.

            tell someone who will love you regardless and be willing to talk about it WHENEVER the guilt creeps in. the guilt cycle gets rough, because you feel guilty for what you did. and then you feel guilty for talking about feeling guilty all the damn time. but the truth of the matter is that we don’t fully process our thoughts until they’re streamed together into sentences- written, spoken, etc. and dialogue is much better than simple journaling, because you’re granted another perspective and that person can then model for you how to forgive yourself by first forgiving you.

            twist, if you’re still resistant to telling someone you know, you can email me. i’m an internet stranger who talks to folks about guilt often. then you’ll have that outlet without worrying about what your friends think of you. (i hope i’m not being super forward) quirkyliz at gmail.

          • Leahismyname

            Man, I wish I knew. I have a couple of friends who didn’t start ignoring me (read: real friends), and of course my fiance knows. That helps, but still it’s not something I *enjoy* discussing, so I have a catch-22. I hate talking about it, but it helps to talk about it!

            Occasionally, I still have nightmares about this period of my life.

            Of course, forgiving oneself is the obvious answer, but that’s harder to do than I ever expected.

            Twist, I second the advice that sometimes it’s helpful to talk to a counselor (never worked out for me, though) or even to an anonymous internet friend. But even without knowing your story, here’s what I think about us: we f***ed up, we learned something important, we’re different now. End of story.

            Something my fiance told me regarding this dark period really helps me when I’m in a bad place. While all the sh*t was going down, he told me that when I emerged from the other side, I’d be a more empathetic person because of it. Because now I have seen situations from perspectives that many people haven’t. Because I’ve been judged harshly, I won’t be so quick to judge others.

            And it’s true.

            And like others offered, if you’d like to email me privately, you certainly can. hartmania2009 at gmail.

          • Leahismyname, Thank you.

            Also, Meg, I accidentally reported that comment in an attempt to reply, please don’t delete it!

          • Kari

            I’m right with you. I say, tell someone. I’ve told people and while I’m still living with the shame- the people who love me- understand and forgive me. Especially my fiance. He forgives me. I just need to forgive myself. I hope you can forgive yourself too.

    • Alyssa


      I try to do this all the time, because it not only lets him know I’m still there even though I want to stab him in his eye right now, but because it reaffirms to me that we’ll get through this and it’s a temportary situation and not something that needs to affect us forever.

  • I hang out in the world of wedding vendors and, trust me, there is no group of any people on the face of the earth more opinionated and judgmental than those who work in the wedding business. Weddings cut to the heart of the matter in every case, but it’s not just for the bride. Those who make their living in this industry are quick to stake their claim. The opinions on everything from DIY to online ordinations to the appropriateness of emailed invitations to silk verses real flowers can be expressed with vehemence and entitlement. And don’t even get them going on the subject of budgets! It’s enough to make the faint of heart (that would not be me) afraid to open their mouths in the face of such opposition.

    As one who tends to see many sides of an argument (unless one side is blatantly unethical or immoral) I often feel a sense of shame–however fleeting–before I add my two cents worth. I think the key is to acknowledge shame for what it is and then move on anyway. Shame may rear its ugly head, but it’s how one reacts to it that matters.

  • Meaghan

    Well, this is why I read APW even though I’m not engaged – the amazingly supportive, shame-blasting community aspects. The constant “you aren’t good enough” conflicting messaging thing has been on my mind a lot lately (spurre by a cereal commercial that caused Eric to turn to me and say, “I think I understand why you think you’re fat when you’re not.”) and this post really addresses that. Thanks Lauren, off I go to try and blast some shame!

    • Liz

      i want to hug your eric.

    • CAMinSD

      Oh gosh, was it the Special K commercial with the brunette in the grocery store? I am simultaneously entranced by her killer red dress and enraged at every other thing about that spot.

    • Meaghan

      Liz – yes, I hug him frequently because of things like that.

      And yeah, it totally was Special K, but the one where the girl is hanging out alone trying not to eat a snack, and she finally “gives in” to the temptation of HUNGER – QUEL DOMMAGE!

      • Liz

        well, cereal is obviously the answer.

  • Class of 1980

    I hate that I attempted to read this post in the morning when I feel so rushed. IT DESERVES TIME.

    I’ll be back. ;)

    • Alyssa

      You better be, because I specifically look for your comments! :-)

      • Class of 1980

        My followup comment was eaten by the inter webs.


  • Jessie

    I LOVE IT. This site was definitely a “shame blaster” for me with my wedding and with the choices in my marriage, the choices I make politically and really, every choice I make as a woman. Thanks for being an awesome community.

  • WORD to all of your fabulousness. I have struggled with negative self-talk all my life and even more so with my upcoming marriage. Complicating the issue is my BIG GIANT GAYNESS and a dislike of calling attention to myself. It’s been really hard to work with my should-monster (you know, the voice that tells you what you should be doing and how bad you are that you aren’t) that yes, we should have a wedding even if we don’t get to file joint taxes, I should spend as much as I want on a wedding dress even if it’s more than I wanted and I’m not the size I’d like to be, all of that.

    And I think the main issue that I’ve been struggling with in terms of shame is that since we don’t have a federal government sanction for our marriage, we shouldn’t make a big deal of it. That somehow it doesn’t count without those 1100+ rights that hetero couples get. That the hundreds we’ll have to spend in lawyer fees and the thousands we’ll have to spend to conceive are just our due, so having a big party to celebrate us isn’t somehow worth it in the long run. Clearly, I’ve gotten over it and our wedding is going to be so freaking fabulous you won’t even believe, but it’s been hard. And that should-monster makes an appearance when you leave expect it.

    • Mel

      Great comment! Best wishes for a fab wedding that you totally deserve!

    • should-monster. Love that term!

      Your wedding WILL be fabulous, and you spend whatever you want and make as big of a deal about it as you want. And I’ll keep voting and soapboxing and someday soon all of us who think that nay-saying your relationship is total bullsh*t will make a difference.

      Crying reading this.

      • Sarah

        Here’s to soapboxing! Ain’t nothin’ wrong with it… in fact, I’m pretty sure it’s the only thing that’s gonna set us free.

    • Of course your wedding will be fab! Thanks for giving me something to think about. Shame definitely plays a role in my queer wedding planning too. I’m so defensive about the shaming of my nonlegal wedding (ex. Is it going to be a REAL wedding?) that I have been really playing down our legal wedding. (Ex. Our other wedding is SOOO real that I don’t even care if we have a legal wedding, and we are definitely not going to make a big deal about it by doing out to a fancy meal after.) This dove tales nicely with my other big shame wedding issue, which is that we are “spending too much.” So if both weddings are important and we spend significant amounts on both, then I’m definitely spending too much getting married.

    • Karin

      “Even if we don’t get to file joint taxes, I should spend as much as I want on a wedding dress even if it’s more than I wanted and I’m not the size I’d like to be, all of that.”

      Totally there with you on this struggle right this very minute, Christina. And the dress is just totally emblematic of the greater issue of pitching a nonlegal wedding to family and friends. In fact, if anyone else still stands to learn from my own mistake, we totally shot ourselves in the foot in not making a big deal of ours right away, acting as if we were inconveniencing people by asking them to pay airfare and hotel to travel to our nonlegal wedding. And now some are going to hold off on coming until it’s “legal” for us to throw another party in our state. People will buy into the story you’re telling them, and I guess we just didn’t think thoroughly about the message we wanted to be sending until it was a little too late. Hope you get the dress you want and rock it! Congrats on your wedding.

      • Late to the party, I know, but had to say that this was just what I needed to hear right now.

        My wife and I were roommates for seven years, at which point–being very close friends and drowning under health insurance premiums–we registered as Domestic Partners. (In CA, that gives you all the state rights of a marriage without the word–Prop 8 aside, let’s hear it for California! :)

        Over the last few years we’ve finally acknowledged how much more than “roommates” we are to each other: That we’re in this together and forever, and want nothing more than to be together for the rest of our lives.

        The current plan is to get married this fall–on the 5th anniversary of our RDP.

        We played down the seriousness of the RDP at the time because it wasn’t a “real marriage” (in intent), because we weren’t making a lifetime commitment to each other, and because saying we were just two roommates doing it for the health insurance avoided any issues of homophobia (internal and external).

        We’ve had a long and unconventional road to get to the point of actually planning a wedding, and I have been having what I am now seeing as (self-)shame issues.

        We have lived together for almost thirteen years now. We have been calling each other “wife” tongue-in-cheek for five years, and in complete (and slightly giddy!) seriousness for nearly a year now.

        So, (my shame monster pops up to say) where do we get off having a full wedding? It’s not going to change our legal status (until Prop 8 finally goes down, and we’re not waiting for that). We’ve been living together so long most people we know treat us at least as a pair, if not already as a couple. The family most likely to show up are the ones who have already embraced our new commitment, and those who haven’t done so probably (and painfully) won’t attend.

        If there’s no legal significance, no change in living situation, no big surprise announcement of our changed interpersonal situation, then what right do we have to inconvenience family and friends by asking them to show up on a randomly selected date for something with no technical, practical significance at all? How do we justify throwing ourselves a “wedding” just because we want to?

        I have no problem in considering us married already, but that just supports the “Then you can’t call it a wedding, can you?” doubts.

        But your comment is helping me to see that I’m shooting myself in the foot by downplaying the significance of this. Because it’s crept up on us so slowly over so many years is all the *more* reason to make our commitment to each other public and formal.

        It’s unlikely that Prop 8 will be settled in time for us to make it legal, but we’ve already decided that this is our *real* wedding we’re planning right now, dammit. And if the laws need more time to catch up, then we’ll just run over to the courthouse and sign the paperwork when they finally do.

        But because I haven’t felt entitled to a “wedding” (and, ironically, not because it’s not currently legal), I’m undercutting the significance of what we’re doing. If I don’t treat it as a “real” wedding–worthy of the name because of our commitment to each other, despite it being an “arbitrary date” after more than a decade of living together and having already made what legal status change is possible five years ago–no one else will either.

        Talk about your self-fulfilling prophecies!

        So, I’m sorry you have a mistake to regret, but do know that talking about it has given me the reality-check I needed to avoid falling into the same trap.

        Thank you.

    • I was very lucky because marriage equality became law in the District of Columbia just about two months before our wedding. We had all sorts of back-up plans had that not happened – and were also going to go the 2 ceremony route (with the “big” one in DC, and then a legal wedding in NH where my wife is from) – and I was feeling all the things that you are feeling about that. So I totally hear you.

      Wedding planning was such an eye-opening experience for me about my latent internalized homophobia. As someone who lives in a liberal place and has been out for more than a decade with no real drama, I was totally surprised to find myself worrying about what folks (relatives, photographer, venue, coworkers, etc) were going to think about my big gay wedding (which was really pretty small). And then I felt all sorts of shame about the fact that I cared what people thought. (And for the record – folks were generally awesome. Even my homophobic relatives who didn’t come still sent us a present.)

      So any way, I just wanted to offer a little solidarity to Christina, Wasabi, and Karin as you struggle with this, as well as a little cheer from the other side. Six months in, marriage is pretty great! I’m looking forward to hearing more about your fabulous weddings!

  • YES. What hooked me on APW was the post I read about women proposing to men. This was a couple months before I got engaged and I was having all these shameful feelings about wanting to be engaged, but feeling embarrassed because what kind of feminist was I if I wanted so badly for him to propose to me, rather than doing the proposing myself? But I did, I wanted to be proposed TO, and no matter how logically I thought about it, that feeling (and its subsequent shame) didn’t change. I couldn’t talk to anyone about it because it was embarrassing. And then I read that amazing APW post that put into words all the thoughts that had been floating around in my head for months and suddenly I realized that I was not the only one who had felt what I was feeling. The relief was IMMENSE.

    Six months later, I am engaged (yay!) and read APW every day. Not every post connects with me in the same way, but it’s almost as good to read the comments and see someone who is finding that same solace. It makes all the details-oriented wedding blogs (which I also read — shamefully!) seem like jokes.

    Fantastic post!

    • C and I went through the same thing. And as feminist as I am, it means a lot for him to propose to me, and it means a lot to him to propose to me since I am the one marriage is more important to. No wrong feelings.

  • The idea of re-writing the internal dialogue is so amazing. Right now I feel like I’m floundering in failure (gosh, what a great mental picture, ugh), with so many little things that are nagging at me. Right now my internal monologue is “God, I suck at being an adult” and “I’m so lazy” and other self-diminishing language. I need to change it from “Jeez, I’m a freaking slob” to “Things are messy right now.” It’s temporary, it’s non-blaming, and it feels like it can be fixed. With a simple change like that, my attitude goes from me being a domestic failure (sigh) to the possibility of improvement and change. I feel more motivated and hopeful. And if we help support one another in these changes, and encourage positive language and shame-blasting– we can make it better for all of us.

  • Katelyn

    I think we’re all so programmed into shaming ourselves and others- that no matter how hard we try, it’s always going to come out at least a little. And I’m really sorry about that. I know I have shamed my best friend into some things, and I’m actively trying to improve that about our friendship.

    But. I think your comment was valid because money is a big. freaking. deal. And I know what you mean about “already married in your heart of hearts”. I feel the same exact way. I have a differing opinion on how I want to commemorate that in my wedding ceremony, but. BUT. You don’t/didn’t feel that way, and that’s ok. I’m not going to try to convince you otherwise.

    So I think that sometimes, when women try to express a different opinion, it’s hard to frame it as “I think this, but it’s ok that you think that”. Because we are all actively trying to fight the shaming mechanism.

    So, on behalf of everyone, I want to apologize if you felt that way. We as a community aren’t perfect and sometimes aren’t as welcoming as we try to be. But we’re trying, really really hard. I have certainly hit “Click here to cancel reply” a few hundred times to reign in my own judgment.

  • Liz

    i think the “it’ll all work out in the end” version of “YOU’LL SEE” is very different than the, “you don’t know anything and you’re doomed” version of “YOU’LL SEE.”

    • That’s exactly what I was thinking. One is about shame; the other which happens here a lot more often is about positive support.

    • I think the fact that Channamasala felt shamed enough to stop commenting here regularly is important and should not be so quickly dismissed.

      The thing I got out of this post, and Channamasala’s comment, is that there is room for improvement in all of us. The internet can be a rough place for women. We often react to nuance and read between lines. Our interpretations of a person’s meanings are often holistic. We consider not just what was said, but how it was said — tone of voice, demeanor, body language, the whole package. When we communicate with one another over the internet, we lose the benefit of many of our interpretative guides and are left with words on a screen. These words may mean something entirely different to the writer than to the recipient, and it is an important lesson in internet etiquette to be considerate and mindful of how our words could be perceived by the intended reader and to be as precise as possible.

      I have inadvertently been guilty of unintended “you’ll sees,” and I have been the recipient of some comments that hurt so much that I spent days crying about them and many more days ruminating, absorbing and blaming myself for what transpired — because that’s what I do; I internalize guilt. I’m certain that I am not the only woman here who does this.

      • Liz

        i didn’t intend to dismiss her comment. i undoubtedly commented in response to her in the previous situation. (when do i shut my mouth/typing hand? never.) but i honestly don’t recall the specifics. my assumption is that whatever i said was intended to be a, “you’ll see! it’ll be great!” but who the hell knows at this point.

        that said, it sucks when we shame each other and we all inadvertently do it. channamasala, you’re so right that noone is perfect.

        simultaneously, though, i think we need to carefully check the sources of our shame. i’ve sometimes been hurt by some very well-meaning things. sometimes, i just project my own ideas onto what they’re saying rather than really HEARING what’s happening. it gets slippery, because we all want to be open to criticism and disagreement, but if someone offers that criticism or disagreement, sometimes we can take it to heart in ways that are not intended.

        and all of that was what i attempted to sum up in my first comment.

      • As Sarah was saying, Channamasala felt really put down, and while I don’t think Meg/APW’ers meant that, she does feel that way. And at some point we just have to say “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry. I was trying to be supportive and I totally did not intend it to be taken that way.”

        But also, Meg is really putting herself out there, and doesn’t only get the gentle comments that most of us see, she also gets a lot behind-the-scenes and some comments that get taken down. And often, she’s trying to stick up for readers and there is craziness. A lot of us read and identify with this blog, or parts of the blog, and Meg shares that with us, but it is still from her perspective. We don’t always have to agree with that, but we also have to be careful to be aware that there is a human being behind it, who may be sick, or have just been yelled at, or be having a bad day for something else entirely.

        Guess what? We don’t always all agree. And that comes up a lot in the grad posts: “everyone said this, and I thought I would feel it, but I actually felt Y instead of X.” So, Channamasala, if food is what you’re nervous about instead of the officiant, that’s okay. It is different for all of us. I’m sorry you were hurt. And Meg, I’m sorry you get attacked a lot directly or indirectly. You do a great job, I love this space!

        I said something similar to this earlier on in the comments, that sometimes people might say things hurriedly or bluntly or with a strong opinion, and it can hurt us because of a trigger in US. It helps to then be gentle in return about how we say “hey, that made me hurt, could you say it a bit differently?” Because I think this community will accept that. (Not everyone will, some people are just opinionated and not willing to flex, but that hasn’t been what I’ve gotten from APW).

        • meg

          Thanks. For the record, I’ve gotten A LOT of shaming (mostly via email where you don’t see it) this week from people about how badly I run the site. How people make comments that hurt their feelings that I don’t take down, so I’m not moderating enough. How I do take down or warn off comments that DIDN’T hurt their feelings, so I’m moderating too much. About how I have opinions and they hate that.

          So for the record, I’m tired of it right now, this week. This blog gets about 600 comments a week. I can’t make sure that all of them are 100% right for each of you. I can only do my best, say my piece in my voice (Because hey, this is my blog, that’s why I write it. If I didn’t keep writing in my voice and world view, I’d kill the site, because that’s the why of it for me.) We all need to take ownership of the fact that the world is imperfect, and the thousands and thousands of women who use this site every week are imperfect. They generally mean well. I mean well when I moderate. That’s not going to mean that no one gets hurt ever, so we each need to practice self-care, and as much thoughtfulness as we can muster when we comment.

          I’m sorry that’s not enough for everyone, and I am genuinely sorry that people get their feelings hurt now and then. BUT. It’s the best I can do, and that’s the end of that. Moving on.

      • Leahismyname

        Can I just EXACTLY your whole second paragraph?! You’re a wise, wise woman.

        • Melissa

          As a dialogue facilitator, my hat is off to you, Meg. You gotta let people feel what they feel and you gotta allow some of those feelings to be hurt ones. We sometimes say in dialogue that if everyone feels good, we’re not really having an honest conversation. Any forum in which people feel safe enough to take risks and make themselves vulnerable means that some people may feel kinda rotten sometimes. But usually under that feeling is a bit of growth. I hope based on the obvious intellectual and spiritual self-knowledge of your audience here, that people can understand what a kick-*ss job you’re doing keeping it all in check.

        • Clairelizabeth

          Meg – I think you do a great job with the moderation as well as fostering a community of smart, opinionated, passionate people.

          Both my fiancee and I work in media and deal with online commentary and 95% of the time it is a vitriolic cesspool. People can be jerks – no surprise there – but what constantly surprises me (although I should be over this by now) is how swiftly misunderstandings sprout, grow and evolve. Online commenting is devoid of tone of voice, inflection, facial expressions, and often a lot of context. When we reply to a comment, we’re replying to what we *think* they are saying/thinking/talking about, and sometimes we muddy it all up. Or sometimes it is muddy to begin with and we comment anyway.

          APW, for me anyway, is the warm bath of internet fora. But being in a warm bath doesn’t absolve us from taking responsibility for our comments or recognizing that speaking up is risky – the way speaking up anywhere else is risky. Sometimes there will be differences and misunderstandings. But the value of this community is that, more often than not, these tensions lead to expanded discussions and more thoughtfulness and support.

  • Emily

    Oh my goodness! This explains so many things going on in my life RIGHT THIS SECOND!

    I’m ashamed of my wedding which is ridiculous, but my mother keeps saying all these hateful things about my recent elopement. She recently told me I shouldn’t be spending any money, which, as a recent college graduate with student loan debt, is true. But when I told her how much our wedding bands cost, she said, “What, are they made of brass??” Then she requested that I send a note to my step-sister who just got married. I pointed out that my step-sister hadn’t sent me a congratulatory note and she just said, “Well, honey, you didn’t have a real wedding.” Agh.

    Without APW, I wouldn’t have had the guts to elope in the first place, and that’s a true story. You ladies are all just so damn cool and I love that there are people out there that I can relate to.

    • Englyn

      didn’t have a real wedding my a***. Shame blasters activate! pew pew! (totally stealing that!)
      of course you are deserving of congratulations. Here’s some from the anonymous internets: Congratulations!
      And if it was me, I’d send a congratulations note to the step sister. Then you can be smug at your mother that at least *you’ve* done the right thing, and your step sister can be embarrassed.
      aaargh. I’ve just realised I’ve advocated making someone else feel shame while standing up for you. Can a little shame ever be a good thing? A motivator to treat other people better?

  • Estrella

    This post reminds me of this childhood favorite:

    “Listen to the MUSTN’T, child,
    Listen to the DON’Ts
    Listen to the SHOULDN’Ts
    the WON’Ts
    Listen to the NEVER HAVEs
    Then listen close to me–
    Anything can happen, child,
    ANYTHING can be.”

    Shel Silverstein

    I read a post somewhere that suggests replacing the word “listen” with “forget.” While I love me some Shel, I like the new intention.

    • Lisa B.

      That poem is telling you basically, to pay attention to what other people think can’t or shouldn’t be done, and then grin as you do it anyways.

  • Liz

    aaaand. i have a crush on doc brown if ONLY for finding this on the site you posted, jo-

    “Do I work or am I a full-time mom? Both. I don’t know any mother who doesn’t work and there’s no such thing as a part-time mother. Dumb question. I’m tired of being asked and I’m tired of asking myself. ”

    let’s adopt her.

    • she’s seriously so incredible. I found this theory in my textbook and was like “wha?! This is incredible!” and immediately bought her books, started reading her sites, and followed her on twitter. I just loves it!

      When my mom was out here for a visit I gave her one of the books to read on her plane ride home (on the condition that I got it BACK), and she immediately went to her email after landing and suggested it to everyone.

      Dr Brown, totally my hero. So scientific and insightful and hilarious and everything.

      Commence the adopting!

  • The flip side of the shame coin is judgment. Many women make their stock and trade in judgment. I think to resist shaming our selves we must also resist judging others. It may be difficult, but it can be done. And just like everything that seems so hard at first, once you stop the judgment-shame cycle it seems like the easiest thing in the world. It is very liberating owning your choices and allowing others to make their own choices in turn.

    • Wow, first time I’ve wanted to say this, but I’d like to ‘Exactly’ this comment a million times.

      I notice this odd behaviour in myself and others (male and female), where we can be quite quick to express strong opinions, and end up being careless with tone of voice etc. But on top of that, I am (and others are) sensitive to people speaking to me in the same way – I don’t like it at all when people are careless with their tone of voice, or forget my feelings.

      I think the point of re-joining judgement and shame, seeing them together, and how we can have tendencies towards both will create even more personal growth and insight.

      We have to be aware of both our victim and our oppressor parts.

  • Holly

    Oh Jo- its always good to hear your amazing insights but this one really struck a chord with me today. Especially since I was talking about how G and I were still stuck on wedding/elopement negotiations and a lovely VOICE friend of ours said to me on Monday ” shouldn’t you just give up on your side and plan your freaking wedding by now”. In light of my recent struggle finding a job and making things work in a new city, and along with some other very insensitive comments made by the same girl, this sent me straight home and back to bed, feeling again like I was failing at everything. Thanks once again for directing me to this community and to theories such as this. I cannot wait to start my MSW program next fall :)

    • You’re so sweet! And I’m so sorry that that’s going on. I have loved our talks about weddings, you’re doing what’s good for you. I’m proud.

      GO TO THE BOOK CLUB MEETUP BY YOU!! I’m jealous since the one by me is not happening again. I almost drove to visit you this weekend! ;)

  • KA

    This is the 2nd time *today,* that Brené Brown has come up, and I’d only first heard the name on Sunday. So I’m officially taking it as a sign, her book(s) is flying to the top of the must-read list after Committed.

    I love this post. I love that we talk about these things. Thank you.

  • Thank you so much for this. Connection is something I struggle with, a lot, because I’m afraid that if I get close to people they’ll judge me (yes, I have baggage from the past where this happened). Shame definately makes me want to hide, and I’ve been doing that for far too long.

    So, thank you!

  • Alyssa

    I think the most important part of what Jo is saying is that APW TRIES to reduce this, without even realizing what we’re doing. It may not always work, but the fact that we’re trying at all is a testament to the people on here.

    I’m definitely going to check out Brown’s site and do more research on this, it sounds SO fascinating. I’ve got the gist and I want to know more before I apply it to my own life; it sounds like it’s very easy to confuse, “You think that, but I did too and but I don’t anymore, ” with a “You’ll seeeee….” I don’t want to be all, “OMG, you’re Shaming me!! BACK, DEMON!!!” when someone’s trying to help. I know it’ll apply in many cases, (oh, Debby Downers, you suck my will to live….) but not all.

    • Robin

      Alyssa, I think there’s a balance to be found for responding to people who intend to be helpful, but may in fact be creating (or triggering) shame. While ideally people who are trying to be supportive would just say exactly the thing we want or need them to, it’s not likely. And I think many of us have, at some point, the expectation that those closest to us should KNOW how to support us, or what to say. I don’t actually think this is reasonable (though it certainly is dreamy). I have had great success with telling people EXACTLY what I need to hear from them. It can be uncomfortable at first, or awkward, but I haven’t had anyone say no.

      And as a friend, often the easiest/best way to be on the other side of this is to say, “How can I support you?” Not everyone is able or willing to give an honest answer to that question, but I think it’s a powerful gesture, with the purest intentions, and the highest chance for supporting someone in a meaningful, effective way.

      • THIS.

      • Alyssa

        Definitely. Just as much as I don’t want to assume that someone is always has my best intentions at heart and then eventually get burned, I also don’t want to assume that someone is shaming me when they really think they are helping. (Sounds like a lot of mother/daughter relationships, huh?)

        And I’m actually rather good at telling my husband what I need. Not so much with everyone else, but definitely him, just usually after the fact.

        “…and then she said it was my fault!”
        “Well, if you just- ”
        “I don’t want you to tell me what to do, I just want you to tell me it’ll be okay!”
        “Um, it’ll be okay?”
        “NO, not NOW, now I know you’re saying it because I TOLD you to! *cries*”

        And then my husband is left wondering what kind of crazy-person he married.

        • Robin

          I’m sure ALL of our husbands wonder what kind of crazy people they married.

          I like to say either that it’s part of my charm, or, (i’m not crazy/irrational/etc), “I’m a delight!”

        • Pretty sure the fianc and I have had this *exact* conversation more than a few times :D you’re not alone on that one!

    • “Back, Demon!” is so under-utilized in day-to-day life.

      • Katelyn

        Gandalf: “You… shall not…. pass!”

  • Robin

    I also want to add that on the other side of shame is forgiveness. For me, I don’t often feel shame as a result of other people’s comments. But I’m really good at creating a shame-cloud all on my own. For me, practicing forgiveness is hugely important (and, difficult).

    I can say, “I forgive myself for not going to the gym yesterday.” That’s pretty good. But even better, is to say (and mean) “I forgive myself for JUDGING myself for not going to the gym…”

    It’s a really short path for me between disappoint in myself for actions or behaviors, and making those issues about my worth or value.

    So. YES. All of this. Shame-blasting in the community, of course. But shame-blasting in our own heads (mine, at least) too!!

    • Also a well-meaning and kindly given apology does wonders. “I’m so sorry; I did not mean to hurt your feelings…” can make all the difference between someone who stays angry/hurt/shamed and finding common ground.

      My mother always taught me that the apology should be equally as public as the humiliation or hurt, and I have found that this wisdom holds true. Thus, if you give someone a dressing down, you should also be willing to go back and apologize in front of the same people. A private message sent after the fact is not nearly as effective as a public mea culpa.

  • Emily

    This post couldn’t be more topical for me. Just a few days ago, I found myself at a dinner party, engaged in conversation with a woman who is just an acquaintance of mine but a close friend of our host. The conversation (about money, career, and my profession) was… weird. Or at least that’s how I registered it. I was in “get-along” mode because I was a guest in someone’s home, and among people who have known my boyfriend a long time. I was on my best behavior, and less argumentative and questioning than I might be among my closest friends.

    What happened is that this acquaintance just made me feel like garbage. She did it subtly, but she did it. She put down my profession, dismissed my career aspirations, and belittled me on the issue of money. Not directly, of course. But by ignoring things I said, or dismissing arguments I made (not with an argument of her own, but unilaterally), she made me feel like my life was less than hers. Which made me feel like I was less than her. I didn’t even realize it at the time, because again, I was trying to be polite and friendly. I didn’t let all of this register because I didn’t want to pick a fight. But I went home feeling bad about myself. The next day, I woke up still feeling bad and couldn’t figure out why.

    Which is why this post is important. Once I realized what had happened, I was able to put it all in perspective. Shame is insidious because people can impose it on us without us knowing. This is ESPECIALLY true of people we’re very close to (like family), but as my story shows, it can happen whenever you’re in a situation where you feel like you need to act with deference. That can be a dinner party, an office meeting, or Thanksgiving dinner. The important thing is to recognize what’s happening, so you don’t take that shame home with you. Or, if it sticks, so you can go someplace (like APW, or your best friend, or your therapist, or wherever) to talk it out and recognize that you don’t need to feel ashamed of things like your income level or your dress size or whether it took you two weeks or 8 months to get out your thank you cards. You just need to deal with the problem before you and keep your chin up.

  • Lindsay

    Well I just went and read Dr. Brown’s paper on Shame Resilience. Then I re-read Jo’s post. Then I read Ariel’s post on You’ll Seeeee. And now I understand more clearly why the Mamadrama in my wedding planning is making me feel so crappy (shame!), how reading APW is helping me deal with that, and how I can help future brides by turning the tempting You’ll Seee shaming comments into productive advice if it’s needed. My frustration with dealing with my mom has already lead me to make these types of comments to my younger sister, and she’s not even engaged yet!

    Dr.Brown says that a benefit of connection is that “we share in common what makes us feel the most apart”. There have been lots of isolating moments during my wedding planning and APW has given me a way to connect. What I love about the comments is that I do get to see so many varying opinions. Channamasala – thanks for speaking up. Definitely a lesson for all of us and the exact reason I keep reading.

  • This discussion reminds me of my favorite Eleanor Roosevelt quote: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” It’s a helpful mantra to have on hand when someone (intentionally or not) is making me feel “less than”.

    I do really love that APW is such a supportive community (although we are all human, with the requisite imperfections), and I love this post for showing how powerful having a positive, supportive community can be. Because it can be tiring and lonely to have to battle the shaming, whether self or by others, on your own.

  • Josephine

    Maybe I am a lone she-wolf on this, but I am not buying the whole shame spiral thing, at least as I’m understanding it here. I get that words can hurt. But I don’t think the solution is attempting to control or shut down what others may have to say to you, even if it’s not what you want to hear. If someone is consistently negative towards you, either shut them out and move on, confident in your own choices, or, if possible, disengage from that person and their grossness entirely (I realize this second choice is not always available). OR, if need be, tell them how you feel. But I have to disagree with adopting the default position that I think I am seeing here, which seems to be to TELL people how to talk to you so that you’ll like what they have to say, or PREVENT them from saying what they’re trying to say entirely. Am I totally misreading these comments? If so, please let me know. Just some thoughts. Keep up the good work, ladettes!

    • Josephine

      Also, to clarify, not advocating that we should abandon the task of being supportive towards one another.

    • meg

      I think for me, what I took away from it is an awareness that A) When people are making you feel sh*tty about your choices, you can ask yourself, “Hum, are they shaming me for making different choices than they did, to make it less scary for themselves?” If the answer is yes, than I can feel like I get it, let it go and move on. (Knowledge = shame blaster). and B) That if I’m feeling shamed and hence sh*tty about my life choices (ones that I know deep down are good for me), then the best way to take care of that is to find a little community to support me. That might just be some lady friends who are like, “Go you! Eff the people telling you your wrong, you’re awesome!” or it might be a blog, or whatever.

      So, I don’t really think it’s about controlling people’s behavior. I think it’s about UNDERSTANDING the dynamic, so we can more easily not allow people to shame us (well, they can do whatever, but since we get it, we can stop ourselves from feeling shame).

      This is super helpful for me, given that lots of dynamics where I end up feeling this way are unequal ones where I can’t really walk away or change the persons behavior. But what you can do is change how you react, and this is helpful on that count.

      • Josephine

        That’s helpful. Thanks.

    • Robin

      Josephine, I’m not sure that anyone has suggested that we ought to control or shut down other people.

      And in no way, did I mean that you should tell people how to talk to you so that you like what they say, or that you should attempt to stop people from speaking their mind. People are going to have opinions that you don’t like, this is a given. Some of them will be hurtful. Also true.

      I think many people are speaking to what to do with your feelings about that after the fact, and how to continue to interact with the people involved in these situations, or how to be with yourself afterwards. (this is where the shame-blasting part comes in)

      For myself, I was speaking to what to do with people who you know are on your team, and who are trying to support you, and who may, BY ACCIDENT, be hurtful, shame-inducing, triggering of your issues, what have you. To those people, yes, I think you can be explicit about what support looks like to you, and if necessary, what it sounds like.

      Example? My dad is a huge fan of mine. He’s also really not great at being supportive of me in a way that’s resonant for ME. Sometimes, so much so, that his “support” feels dismissive, judgmental, etc. I’m not trying to control him, by telling him that. And I’m not trying to get him to change his opinions so that I like him. I’m trying to be authentic, and to build a relationship, by talking about my feelings, and his words, and how they interact with one another. I’m not blaming him for anything– he is doing his very best. I think it is MY job, MY responsibility, to do MY best as well, and part of that is saying, I don’t feel supported when you say that. If you want to support me, it would help me if you…xyz.

      Because if he knew what xyz was, honestly, he would have just said that to begin with, since it’s really what he was shooting for.

      So- I can’t speak for anyone else here, but I think there’s been a lot of positivity and support in the comments today. I didn’t interpret anyone’s opinions as suggesting that shutting other people down, or telling them what to think/say was a good approach. And if my comment suggested that, I hope this clarifies.

      • Josephine

        Thanks, Robin. I totally hear you. I understand that sometimes people want to be supportive of us but don’t know how to package it. Totally get that. However, I would suggest that sometimes the best lessons we learn from other people are not packaged exactly the way we’d like, and may even be hurtful or shocking at first. I think if we close ourselves off to what may be an uncomfortable dialogue (or even monologue, heavens forbid) from another person, we run the risk of missing out on some real wisdom and, yes, potential support, even if it’s not something that we would have come up with on our own. Right? And sorry for the obnoxious over-use of “we” but it’s just one of those days.

    • Liz

      josephine, that’s not how i took the post. i sort of saw it as taking responsibility for your own actions, not really trying to control the actions of others. as in, no matter what someone says to me, how they make me spiral into shame is MY problem and my responsibility to be aware/fix. but conversely, it’s also my responsibility to try not to shame anyone else- to recognize the propensity of hurting someone with my words, actions, tone, whatever.

      when it comes down to it- people are bitches. and even the nice people have bad days. i’m always going to be confronted with negativity. it’s MY responsibility to sort and sift- to keep the good, understand the well-intended, and protect myself from the bad.

      but that’s just how i read it.

      • An extra “exactly” to this, Liz.

  • I wanted to say, once again, that i love the brilliance that is APW.

    I spent a long time reading through all of the comments on this one, because reading the post wasn’t quite enough for me to “get it” (sometimes you all are too smart for me…sometimes i need to read the post, digest it, come back and read your comments and then i end up eventually understanding what is being said…). I think there is nothing more powerful than a woman. And I think that a roomful of women is intense and can be overwhelming at times. BUT. The brilliance that comes from this room filled with women is something that I can’t even put into words.

    Super Epic Girl mentioned “empathy, connection, power, and freedom” as being the way to move away from the shame in our lives. Those four words are ones I would personally choose to describe this community Meg has brought together. Sure, there’s a lot more to it than that, but come on! Meg has done an amazing job at bringing subjects to light that would otherwise make us all sit at home (on the couch, in our PJ’s) and feel shame for feeling/thinking/doing….be it related to wedding planning, relationships, religion, our homes, our families, our selves.

    Through APW, I have a safe place to check myself, my feelings, my beliefs…

    And for that, I’m grateful.

  • HOLY MOLY!!! I’ve been an APW for a full year now!!! I think I found this site Octoberish of 2009. Makes me think about how much I’ve changed just by reading this site and meeting other great readers. It’s challenged me, encouraged me and made me feel like I wasn’t alone when I used to think I was. I remember sharing posts with my fiance saying how awesome the grads were for owning their weddings and being themselves. And it’s weird b/c I’m not really quite sure how to thank Meg or this community except by being part of it.

    I try and tell my gf’s in real life about this community and a lot of them don’t get it. I think they think I’m kind of geeky for doing the whole Internet thing, but pssshhh! whatevs! Ain’t no shaming happening here!

    And this was an awesome guest post – exactly what I needed to read today.

    • Meant to say “been an APW READER” … reader. Sheesh! Someone’s ready to get out of the office in fifteen minutes!

      p.s. I also love that this site brings lurkers out to comment. It’s beeyootiful.

  • Robin

    I don’t think I said anything about closing off to uncomfortable dialogue. And I wouldn’t suggest that telling people what you want or need, comes with the expectation that it will come back to you precisely packaged.

    I’m suggesting that we be our own agents, in achieving the kind of interpersonal interactions that make us feel whole, supported, and un-shamed. And I think you are acting for yourself when you tell the people around you how you feel, what you want or need, and in essence, who you are.

  • Maddie

    This post totally hit home and is essentially the reason I read APW. Sometimes I feel like I come across as a Meg-Bot because I’m always like, “YES, OMG, TOTALLY WE NEEDED THAT!” and I think that’s because I feel it is so important to be supportive of each other’s experiences. We definitely don’t have to agree with each other, but we do have to appreciate each other. And I think that is what this blog strives (and succeeds) at doing every day. It reminds me a lot of my relationship with my sister. I expect so much from her, but sometimes I get that confused with expecting her to learn from and avoiding my mistakes, rather than her own. But when I switched my thought process and starting cheering her on for her decisions, it totally changed the way we see each other and now we have this incredible support system in each other.

    But a lot of the work that we do towards community, is owning our insecurities and not letting them manifest in the words of others. I am the proud owner of the Thank-You Card question from a few weeks ago and I was really putting my own shame out there for you guys and you know what? For the most part, you talked me down from it. Some comments definitely echoed the feelings I had about myself, like “HOW HAVE YOU NOT DONE THIS ALREADY?!”, and at first they stung a little bit. But then I took a step back and asked myself if I was feeling this way because someone had attacked me, or because someone echoed my own internal shame? And when I read APW through that filter, it makes everything a little bit more warm and fuzzy.

    This blog isn’t perfect, but it’s communal. And that’s important. We’ll have dissenting opinions and it’s equally important how we share them and how we interpret them. Unfortunately I feel like society has set women up to be on the defensive, and I strongly believe that APW fights to break down our defenses so that we can work together to get shit done. But it can’t be everything for everyone, and it’s unfair for us to put all of our expectations in Meg’s hands. We’re just as responsible for making this content fulfilling to us as Meg is (you know, to the extent that we don’t hijack her blog and run away with it).

  • “I practice this myself by engaging in positive self talk. Instead of saying mentally “I’m such a screw-up”, I say, “I screwed up.” And I take responsibility for that and move on.”

    That is so powerful. Rather than identifying the screw-up as innately you, it’s just something that happened rather than who you are. The words we use are so powerful.

  • Thanks, everyone, for being so awesomely nice!

    I totally thought I was going to have my internets license revoked for being so uppity. ;)

  • love it, you’re awesome.

    i think its a shame that we are all shamed in so many ways everyday and there are so few places where we get the counteractive “shameblaster” experience. this place is that for all of us. thanks meg for creating it and in the process helping all of us feel less shame.

  • Agape

    Hello all! First time poster slinking out of lurkerdom…to comment on this really juicy post. Lots of good stuff in there. I’d never made the connection between shame and isolation, but that really is a huge part of the dynamic.

    What this post brought up for me is how often shame for me at least somehow entwined with needs. Need for food, for love, for acceptance, for freedom, for forgiveness. When I was initially typing this post, I put up my shame trigger words near each of those items and it was so ugly and hurtful I took them out.

    It seems like, somehow, shame is being used to isolate us from our needs to reduce our helpings down to what we “deserve” according to some arbitrary scale. The weird thing is, even if we have manifold unjust systems of distribution in the world, there actually is enough of all the good stuff to go around (my Anglican beliefs may be leaking in a little at the end there).

    Weird. I have a lot of thinky thoughts to think tonight.

    • Carreg

      Know what you mean. And the thing is, with the possible exception of food, having more of those things will not cause anyone else to have less. So there’s no reason, like you say, to put ourselves on rations. ‘If it’s not diminishd by being shared, then if it is not shared, it is not properly owned’.

      • Agape

        Rations…..that is totally it. Just being given (or giving yourself) enough to survive but not enough to be satisfied. :(

        PS – I hadn’t heard that quote before, but google was my friend as always. St. Augustine was so prolific!

  • DIDI

    How great would it be if we trusted our own judgement and had faith in ourselves a bit more, so that maybe we put a tiny little less pressure on ourselves. Today I feel I can, ’cause it’s sunny outside and I’m having a pretty good day, but I know it’s not sunny every day.

    I love this post, because it’s just so hard and so exhausting when I try to be my best self the way I think others think that I am my best self (does that make sense?).

  • I love social workers.

  • Kamilah

    how profoundly interesting!

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  • Aleza Berube

    Woowza… what a big issue. I think this issue is especially huge for weddings where we are making endless choices that typically are some how different from everyone elses.

    This post brought up a memory for me of a walk I took with a friend and we were talking about what makes people choose the friends they choose. We came to the conclusion that often we are friends with people who make similar choices as us because it can help validate our choices. This isn’t always true of course, but I thought it was interesting.

    I’m always working to objectively view other’s choices without it being a reflection of my own. It’s hard. I like what was said about leading with empathy and that this is the major enemy of shame. I’m a teacher and that is something I try to do with my kids- lead with empathy. The other tool I use is ownership of my choices- they may not be perfect, but they are my own and I typically can’t change the choices I’ve made so I might as well enjoy them.

    Great post… it really got me thinking.

  • I’m late to reading this post but….deep breathes just kept coming out of my chest as I read this. I think I am one of those people who feels shame all of the time almost no matter what is happening. This post was a really big eye-opener and reminder to myself of how damaging that is and how I need to find a way to break out of the shame pattern. Thanks, Jo, for writing it and Meg for publishing it.

  • Oh man.
    The day before this posted I wrote this post ( about being grumpy with blogs for making me feel bad and deciding to stop reading them for awhile.
    Shame blasters activate! pow pow! (I totally love the sound effects :D)
    Thank you Jo for writing this post, and Meg for sharing it. It’s helped remind me that I am not my behaviours, I am more than other people’s judgements, we are lucky that my fiance and I are in good positions employment-wise to be able to afford the amount we’re spending on our wedding.
    The hardest thing amount feeling that shame is that I’m actually physically alone during this wedding planning. Yes, my fiance is here in our house, but his concerns with the wedding relate mostly to money, which I understand completely because of a great story he told me, but it’s still a bit lonely with just my Mother-In-Law here (thankfully we get on *really* well). My family, sister, friends, bridesmaids are all in other countries and it just makes it hard… So when I’m going through the downs of this process, there’s not often anyone around to remind me to activate the shame blasters.

  • LB
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