I remember with a great amount of clarity a situation that shaped my entire life. The event happened more than 5 decades ago. The shaming event happened in the third grade. The teacher asked me a question which I couldn’t answer correctly. She asked me twice and the more that I tried to think what answer she wanted the more flustered I became. For years, I could feel the heat in my face. I know my face must have been beet red. There I was standing alone in the middle of the seated classmates and feeling lost. And then she said those words that are imprinted on what seems like every synapse and cell in my brain.
“You will never be like your brother.” ( He happened to be two years ahead of me in school. He was really smart). And then she compared me to my uncle who happened to be a Bible scholar whom she knew. By that time my face felt like it was burning up. And it wasn’t til decades later that I no longer felt the fiery warmth on my face as I thought about standing there, alone, in front of the class. The feelings of heat welled up from inside of me as I even thought about that event those years later. I was shamed. Shamed clear through. Every part of me felt absolutely worthless and alone. Shame produced in me the feeling that I was a MISTAKE. Not that I made a simple English grammar mistake –but that I was a mistake. This shame gradually withered away the more I shared with others my experience.
Put simply: Guilt is when you do something that is bad and you know it, and then you feel bad about what you did or didn’t do.
So feeling you are a mistake –feeling all alone, unacceptable to self and others, creates a person who tends to hide, isolate and feel no purpose for their lives. In my case, it was after getting into a 12 step program of recovery that others were having the same feelings about themselves as I was. It was here in the context of forming a trusting relationship with those like myself, that I slowly clawed my way out of my own little painful world, into a world where I was accepted for who I was. My story, was accepted and I was given the tools to live a life filled now with hope, serenity and purpose.