You Ought To Be Ashamed

I recently read the book “The Gift of Imperfection” by Brene Brown for my ward’s book club. It is an excellent self-help book, one that I recommend. There was one idea that was particularly useful to me. Brown believes that when we feel shame the best way to overcome it is to share that feeling with somebody who can be supportive but can also help us be honest with ourselves.

This has been a useful discovery for me because I tend to internalize my feelings in ways that are not healthy. When I feel ashamed I try to bury those feelings. Of course they don’t just disappear, instead they end up turning into negative thought loops where I beat up on myself. If left unchecked these feelings can become a much more serious problem.

So that being said, I have something to get off my chest.

A couple of months ago I was at a conference on human trafficking and sexual slavery. This conference was held on the same campus that mr. mraynes works. Because I am currently nursing my baby I needed to pump while I was away from home. I couldn’t find a convenient outlet anywhere so mr. mraynes suggested I use his empty office. I went to the music department office and asked the secretary to let me into my husband’s office. I could tell the secretary was not happy about this, he was busy doing something else and didn’t want to be interrupted but he grumpily got up and took me to the office.

Unfortunately, he forgot that mr. mraynes had recently changed offices and he took me to his old one. Not wanting to bother this man any more than I already had and knowing that since it was the middle of summer the occupants of that office wouldn’t be there anyway I figured I would just pump quickly and go back to my conference. I had been pumping for about ten minutes when all of the sudden the door opened and in walked the actual occupant of the office and another professor. The office now belonged to my husband’s brand new colleague, a woman that I had never met before. Because I thought I had the office to myself I had not bothered to be modest so when these two women opened the door they were greeted by a strange, fully exposed woman.

I was so shocked that I could barely sputter out an explanation before I burst into tears. The conference had been so emotionally draining that I was unable to process that level of embarrassment. The professors quickly excused themselves and I got re-dressed and fled the office. I called mr. mraynes in near hysterics and asked him to send a coherent explanation and apology to these women. They were, of course, very nice about it but I still feel a great deal of shame over what happened.

I know I didn’t do anything wrong and the actual circumstances are pretty funny. I generally prefer not to meet my husband’s colleagues while topless so this is easily the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to me. What I am ashamed of is my reaction and the accompanying feelings. I feel stupid that instead of brushing it off I started crying in front of these two highly educated, professional women. Even though they were nice about what happened I worry about what they think of me. I worry that they think I’m emotional and simple-minded. This plays on my insecurities about not having post-graduate degrees and being a stay-at-home mother. And, of course, I am ashamed that I have these insecurities because I know that staying at home with my children doesn’t make me inferior or stupid.

I need to get over this because even months later I still hate going to my husband’s office for fear of running into these women. Last week we went out to dinner with them and the whole time I wished that the earth would open and swallow me up.

So how do you get over shame? Do you agree with Brene Brown that sharing your shame helps it disappear?  Is there shame that your currently feeling that we can help you with? Please share.

P.S. I feel better.


  1. I think you are on target, When Beau (my dog) is scared about something (He shakes violently), I often lay on the floor and cuddle him in my arms. It’s interesting that when I’m talking to him ( in an attempt to sooth him) I often tell him that it is okay and he does not need to be perfect for me to love him, and that I love him even though he is imperfect. Generally, while I am talking to him I realize that I am verbalizing out loud what I should be saying to myself internally.

    I know some of you may find this odd, but, I bet all the pet parents out there do the same thing, they just won’t admit to doing it.

  2. Wow, yes. I don’t think this gets talked about a lot but from my experience, talking about shame with someone who will be loving but honest helps me the best also. I try to remember that when I’m parenting my 7 year old. I had huge issues with guilt and shame as a kid so I make sure whenever I discipline my girl I tell her how much I love her and re-enforce that I know she’s trying. I notice, too, that she’s a lot more willing to admit a mistake when I’ve been consistent in doing that.

    BTW I had a similar experience one time. I forgot to lock the door while using an airplane restroom and a man opened the door. He quickly shut it again and retreated while I managed to sputter out a “sorry!”. After all it wasn’t his fault, and it was an honest mistake on my part. I ducked back to my seat afterwards and buried my face in my husband’s neck for about a half hour. I was 5 months pregnant at the time, funny how being pregnant or nursing can make you feel so much more vulnerable. I also have social anxiety so I’m a little surprised that experience didn’t rattle me more.

    p.s. I’m glad you feel better!

  3. Wow, thanks for sharing this. I am sorry to hear about what happened. Can I just say how much I admire the effort breast-feeding mothers go to to pump. Also, thank you for attaching the picture. It immediately captured my attention. In terms of shame, I am easily embarrassed and this makes me think a lot about how can I react better. Granted in your shoes, I would have done the same I think.

  4. Just read a post on Times and Seasons, about Mormon Singles, one of the commenters keeps making statements about how overweight woman are seen as less desirable and least likely to marry.
    Though he states that he is not targeting obese or overweight woman with specific health issues his statements leave little to be desired.

    I am not apologizing to anyone for being overweight, I will not let anyone make me feel less than or ashamed because they feel that as an overweight person I’m less than desirable. ( and then use studies to back up their claim) Why is it that people think they can say things like this and think its okay, because they have studies to support what they are saying/ There I said, and now I feel better.

  5. I am also ashamed of crying! Especially when the tears come when the logical part of me thinks tears are uncalled for. If I had been in this situation, my logical side would have been saying all sorts of completely true facts like, “It was no big deal…I shouldn’t overreact…Breastfeeding is a good thing; I shouldn’t be embarrassed…etc.” But this kind of “logical”self-talk serves to further shame, instead of offering comfort. Maybe that is why talking to someone other than ourselves is more helpful.

  6. Thank you for sharing this! What an important message! I have a habit of going one of three ways… the first way is to run away. Seriously- pack up and move town. I did that a lot as a single, for real or paranoid/died of embarrassment things, most often things, like your situation, where you tried really hard to do everything right for everyone else, and everything still came crashing around down, even if it only lasted for a moment.

    The next is more complex, and one I have been forced to do since marrying- mainly because my husband is less flexible about picking everything and moving town every time I put my foot on my mouth. I usually start with, “It could have been worse…” then fill in the blanks. In your case, it could have been worse if a large groups of students were with this professor. It could have been worse if your husband worked for an uptight, conservative, masculine corporation and the people who walked in were uptight freaks. It could have been worse if this was a professor of film and theatre and they were recording all of their interactions for the day on film (no matter how crazy, whatever gets me into my “could have been worse” place). In considering how it could have been worse, I realise that my situation has some redemption, if only as “not the worst”. In applying this feeling of redemption, I remind myself that I can pick up my chin and be the bigger person about it. Because it was unintended, and I was doing what seemed best at that moment. So, there is nothing wrong with trying hard and getting some stuff wrong. I am not great at this second one, but to be honest…when I do it, I do feel better about myself.

    Lastly, sometimes I just laugh at myself. Because I am funny, even if I don’t always mean to be.

    I am sorry that you experienced this. But, I admire you for being driven enough as a woman to attend this class, and as a mother, to pump when it was VERY inconvenient. I honestly can’t express enough my admiration for you in your balance of and drive to succeed in both of these areas. Good for you.

  7. I think you did a nice job of clarifying what the shame was about.
    Words like guilt, shame, remorse and fear are so intertwined.
    Marsha Linehan, of Dialectical Behavior Therapy fame, teaches to basically do more of the things that cause guilt and shame, assuming they aren’t immoral/unethical acts.
    So, for example, if raising your hand in RS, and gently, lovingly, compassionately questioning some other person’s comment which is clearly false doctrine creates intense feelings of shame, Linehan suggests doing it until the feeling goes away.
    An easier example is dealing with irrational fears. Scared of spiders? Look at pictures of them, hold a non-poisonous one, etc. More simply, it’s about approaching the feeling rather than running from it.
    I had feelings of anger and shame at parent teacher conferences. All the middle school teachers were in the gym and it was pretty much wait your turn. While talking with another mother (I had never met her before) she made comments about how homeschooling her older children so they don’t have to endure the evils of high school is really the best action, she thinks, and how much her daughters look forward to graduating from high school and becoming full time mothers (no mention of any contingency planning)….
    My shame–only have 2 children and she has like 10 or something, and I constantly feel like an under-achiver in the reproduction department. And, I’ve worked outside the home consistently part-time in a career that I absolutely love (and feel guilty that I love it).
    Don’t you think that blogging is the telling of the shame? To get a more realistic perspective? I think that happens a bit on this blog. I think that is what Brown is getting at. When we tell someone else, they see what is distorted about our thought process, and help us see the lies we tell ourselves.

  8. I’m in a new job as a cashier in a busy superstore. I get embarrassed and feel deeply ashamed of myself on a regular basis because I expect myself to have everything perfectly figured out and because some customers treat me poorly when I make a mistake. I keep reminding myself that I am trying very, very hard and that I’m still new, but I’m still ashamed of what I’m seeing as slow progress, and I’m afraid that I won’t be able to keep my job because of it. I tend to throw things out of perspective, but generally after a couple of days no one says anything to me about the mistake I made the other day and I can let go of those things. But it is very tiring to have so much worry for a minimum-wage job.

  9. I hope this isn’t off topic – it’s more about when people try to shame you, or to manipulate feelings of shame you might have:

    Once in grad school I submitted a paper that I was really proud of to a professor. He handed it back with no grade and one comment: “This is by far the worst work I’ve ever seen from you.” I was devastated. Mortified. I took a deep breath and tried to ignore my burning cheeks and scheduled an appointment with him to figure out how I could do better.

    When I went to the appointment, he acted confused and surprised that I was there, and then said that I shouldn’t have used the future progressive tense in the introduction and a couple of other very odd, non-substantive critiques (for a grad history paper). He then asked me why I even bothered to schedule an appointment. I was so caught off guard by that comment that it took me a moment to splutter uncertainly “Well, because you said it was the worst paper I’d written, so I was trying to figure out how to improve.” He then chastised me for “not letting things go.” Tears of shame came to my eyes – I couldn’t help it – to which he said “Why are you so emotionally labile?” I gathered my things and fled the room. I was so confused, embarrassed, and ashamed.

    After talking with some friends, I went to talk with someone in the grad school administration about it, and was informed that this professor had a reputation for alienating people with mean, sniping attacks when he decided to go off his meds, that he was almost never on any boards or committees, and that there were many professors who refused to work with him. They also said that I was just one in a long line of students he had verbally attacked, and they they suggested that I drop his class, even offering to help me with the paperwork.

    What I learned from this is that sometimes you do need to go ahead and act despite your feelings of shame – had I not swallowed my embarrassment and scheduled that disastrous appointment, I may have been subject to even more abuse and belittling shenanigans from that man. Similarly, if I hadn’t been willing to go and talk to the administration about it – something that I was mortified to do, because I was so ashamed of having started to cry in front of a professor, and I was worried that I hadn’t been professional enough – I wouldn’t have learned that this was really about him and not about me.

  10. I asked someone if she were pregnant, and she was not. I’ve actually done this at least twice (two different women). So I’ve stopped asking people if they are expecting (no offense) because I don’t want to go through that again!

    There are some women who may be offended because people don’t ask them about their pregnancy, but this is why.

    I think we want to divorce ourselves from appearing imperfect, from appearing human and making mistakes. That’s where I’m at. Sometimes some of us had people in our lives who told us we needed to do better if we got an A- on a report card…why didn’t we get that A? It’s insidious. I don’t know why some people suffer from wanting to be perfect more than others. For me, I just remind myself on a regular basis that I’m doing the best I can, that I’m doing a good job considering where I’ve been.

    Also – I’ve found fear is a primal emotion (for me). If I’m afraid of losing face or being “less than”, it’s a primary motivator for me. What am I not doing because I’m afraid? In the end, does it matter? I also think it’s important to let my kids see me making mistakes…to remind them that I’m human.

    Finally, I ask myself (often) how important something is, and how much of my mental energy I want to spend on it. Usually that can help me let things go – to remember that other people’s approval isn’t as important as how I want to live my life, what I want to focus on.

  11. Mraynes,
    Bravo for sharing this story and working through your feelings about it.
    I’m sorry that this happened to you, but on the bright side you’ll always have an answer to the question, “What’s your most embarrassing moment?”

    Shame isn’t a word I’m used to using, I’m having a hard time thinking about how it applies to my life. It’s like embarrassed, but darker and more secretive. I probably lack the self-awareness to process shame in a good way.

    Thanks for writing this post, it’s really made me think.

  12. […]  As part of her New Year’s resolution, a friend of mine is trying to watch a few TED talks a week.  Together we were revisiting Brene Brown’s moving TED talk on vulnerability as a key to emotional connection and I was struck by her use of the word, “worthiness.” (Many, hopefully most, of you have seen this talk, it was given in 2010. If you haven’t seen it, I’d suggest you take 20 min and watch it, especially with someone you love. It’s well worth the time). MRaynes blogged about Dr. Brown’s book here. […]

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