Is it shameless to say I’m shameless?
by Debra DeAngelo
One of the joys of this whole iPinion venture is meeting people I’d otherwise never even knew existed: Tracy Thomas, Spring Warren, Judith Newton, Christy Sillman. I’m truly so glad to have collected these amazing women into my life. But today, I’d like to single out two: Amy Ferris and Hollye Dexter.
Amy and Hollye are both writers, and friends in “real” life. Their blogs and conversations over the years evolved into a project, “The Shame Prom,” a collection of writing by them and other similarly brilliant women, and soon to be a weekend workshop in Los Angeles in October. The topic of shame and its toxicity resonates with so many women. I see it in the comments about their project, and I know people who are planning to attend the October workshop. I’m toying with going myself, simply because it’d be worth the price of a ticket just to spend a day with these two women – they are goddesses! But, I’m hesitant. I’ll feel like an imposter. Shame is just not really a part of my life. I don’t have any more use for it more than I have for a typewriter. It’s an obsolete emotion.
But, that’s now. There was a time when shame poisoned my spirit. It started when I first put on a wedding band and ended when I took it off. My starter husband planted a little seed of shame into my subconscious just after I said, “I do,” and cultivated it over the next 17 years until the arbor grew so thick and wide that it blocked out the sun. But, not totally. There was one tiny ray of light that helped me reconnect to myself. That ray of light was (is) Sunny Schlenger. “Sunny.” Ironic, no?
Sunny is a life coach, and we spent a lot of time talking in those days, chewing over the shadow that had been cast over my soul. On the topic of my ex’s stream of toxic insults, she said imagine the most prickly thing you can. OK, a sycamore ball. And then she said, “Every time he speaks to you, imagine it’s the sycamore ball talking. Why would you listen to a sycamore ball?” Bingo. Whenever my ex started ranting about how fat/ugly/useless/insert-your-favorite-insult-here I was, I imagined a prickly sycamore ball flapping its yap. It worked. His words became meaningless to me. Flies have buzzed louder.
I’ve since extrapolated this technique to all sorts of people who feel compelled to berate, confront or insult me. As a columnist, that comes with the territory. But I’ve learned that just because someone says something to me or believes something about me doesn’t make it true. They have their reality, I have mine. I choose to believe mine. You can believe whatever the hell you want. Whatever. Makes no difference to me.
You think starter husbands are cruel? You should read some of the stuff people write to me that, trust me, they’d NEVER have the balls to say to my face. Harsh words used to get to sting. Now? Just more sycamore balls. I’ve realized that regardless of what I write, someone will be offended. I could write about puppies being warm and cuddly, and someone will blast me for not mentioning kitties. No matter what I write, someone will be furious, hurt, angry, whatever. Know what? Not my problem. I’m not responsible for other people’s reactions. I’m only responsible for my own.
Of course, some people love what I write. In fact, they’ll love the very same column that inspired someone else to vomit into my email box. Which galvanizes the fact that opinion is all perception, not reality. Who decides if my column is bad or good? Me. In the end, my own perception about my column – or myself — is the only one with any validity. I’m the only one with that power to decide what is good or bad about me or my work.
Power. Or lack thereof. That’s the key to your relationship with shame. Powerlessness fuels shame. If you feel shame, you’ve given your power to view yourself over to other people. Willingly. On the proverbial silver platter. So like Cher said in “Moonstruck,” I’m slapping your cheek and saying, “Snap out of it!” Snatch your power back. It’s yours and yours alone.
It begins with your thoughts. Memorize these words: “Fuck you, asshole. Whatever.” That’s my internal dialogue when confronted by someone in full jerk mode. On occasion, it’s also my external dialogue. Over the years, I’ve lost most of my ability and/or patience to tolerate other people’s bad behavior. Of course, waning hormones helps. As the estrogen drops in midlife, so does your willingness to put up with other people’s crap.
Midlife helps you realize which things are worth worrying about and which ones aren’t. And at the top of that list is what other people think about you, whether it’s because you’re mowing the lawn in a ripped T-shirt and shorts that are two sizes too small or whether it’s something you wrote, or did, or said, or are.
At this point in the game, I’ve learned to put my verbal and mental fists up when I need to. If you punch me, I’ll punch you back. Harder. I’ll make you think twice before you do it again. Or, I may just ignore you because you aren’t worth the energy. But I’ll be thinking, “Fuck you, asshole. What. EVER.” What an asshole thinks is right on par with what a sycamore ball says. I just don’t give a shit.
I never really examined my relationship with shame until Amy and Hollye shined a light on it. I really appreciate that. They really inspired me to stop and think about shame… examine it under a microscope. It was absolutely self-affirming. It feels good and solid. It feels okay. I feel okay. Shameless, in fact. And some folks will say I’m shameless to say I’m shameless. But you know what? I just don’t give a shit.
And it feels great.
Thanks, Amy and Hollye.
(If you’re struggling with the shame, check Amy and Hollye’s workshop website: http://shamepromworkshops.webs.com/ )