I live in fear of the misunderstanding -- not the big, relationship-rending miscommunications but the small gaffes, the simple ‘oops, I got that wrong’ moments. This sort of minor awkwardness has never been something I’ve been able to brush off; instead, my fear of “getting it wrong” is occasionally paralyzing.
What if the party wasn’t today? What if I’m at the wrong house? What if I pronounce his/her name wrong? What if I’m standing in the wrong place? What if I was the one who was supposed to call? What if I wasn’t supposed to call?
This circling rat’s nest of anxieties has a simple name. Shame.
Shame is the feeling that dogs me at 3A.M. following an embarrassing miscommunication (often one so minor that I’m the only person who notices.) Shame is the heat that floods my face, creeping up from my chest and paralyzing my legs when I realize my error.
We all experience shame in one place or another. For some, those feelings may center around work. For others, parenting, or sex. We all have the things that trigger shame, that we try to work around, to avoid, to pretend don’t bother us.
But, we aren’t perfect. And so, the stuff we try to protect against pops up anyway.
I’ve written before about Brené Brown’s work. Brené is a ‘shame researcher’ whose books The Gifts of Imperfection and the one I’m currently reading/listening to, I Thought it Was Just Me (but it wasn’t), address the issues of perfectionism and its counterpart, shame. As Brené says, she researches the things that get in the way of joy.
And, boy does shame get in the way of joy, but guess what – joy can get in the way of shame, too.
Recently I had one of those dreaded miscommunication moments. It was so minor as to be a blip in time – a matter of my misinterpreting something someone had said to me. Yet, once I realized what had happened and how I’d misunderstood it, that familiar tail-chasing, self-name-calling cycle started. I had forgotten something the other person had told me, and that had led to my not catching the meaning of the conversation later. No big deal, right?
Well, of course, me being me, not only was I ashamed for misunderstanding, but I fell into the self-centered trap of being appalled at my own self-centeredness. (That one can chase itself in a circle for days.) About the time I was using self talk like You stupid bitch, why can’t you get out of your own stupid head long enough to remember something for someone else. I ran across something so beautiful that it completely broke the cycle of shame and self-negation.
I found this on both Facebook and Twitter, shared by Brené Brown and Quiet author Susan Cain on each of their pages. This was posted recently on the Atlantic’s website – a flashmob, performing (appropriately enough) “Ode to Joy.” The sight of all these people, risking vulnerability, putting themselves out there, risking ‘standing in the wrong place’ just to make something beautiful completely changed my mindset.
If you let it in, joy is the antidote to shame. In the meantime, watch…