What made us believe that shame and humiliation are a motivating factor? If I’m failing at something, what makes you think being ridiculed about it will make everything better? As I’m working through my complex, multi-layered issues, at the root of most of them, I have found shame at the core.
Think back when you were in school and you flunked a certain subject. Or you didn’t get first place at the Prize Giving Day ceremony, parents would ask you who got the spot instead of you (as if they even knew that child). And that child’s name would become a thorn in your flesh because the comparison that would ensue? Now you are in a race with an unsuspecting student in your class. I’m pretty sure this is one of the reasons why kids get bullied. Especially the ones doing well in class. Since we are on the subject of comparison, should we cover being compared to a sibling? Don’t cry it’s just a blog post.
I watched this clip of Khloe Kardashian shaming people who can’t lose weight or get fit. I found it hypocritical since she had help from surgeons to get her body. As someone who was shamed for her weight by her mom and the media, I didn’t expect that statement from her. She suffers from body dysmorphia and I wouldn’t be surprised that shame is at the centre of it. She isn’t the only one shaming people into a healthy lifestyle. Plenty fitness trainers do it too. Listen closely the next time you are around one. There are a myriad of reasons why I’m obese and my lack of discipline is not one of them. When someone finally gets up to go to the gym and change their life, the last thing they need is to be shamed as motivation to keep working with you and lining your pockets as a fitness trainer.
Then there’s the motivational speakers and mbingas (fly-by-night rich people with suspish origin stories). I dislike that one viral TikTok sound that seems to be the mantra of the toxic 5am club. The sound says, “you don’t know what is going on, we are making money you are sleeping!” This is a shallow example of how the aforementioned will use shameful mantras as a weapon to put fire under your butt and inspire you. If they don’t use shame, what can they use? Certainly not the truth of how their success is rooted in shady dealings and corrupt systems.
My issues with cleanliness and being a germaphobe (borderline OCD) stem from shame and humiliation. I have an aunt that’s obsessed with sterility. She refers to germs as ‘bilharzia’ that’s the umbrella term that’s become synonymous with her. Every time I see a mess or suspish hygiene I can hear her voice in my head. She once washed relatives with a hose pipe in the yard. (So much to unpack here).
“A woman can’t be in bed until the sun enters her anus!” How many of you reading this heard this statement growing up? Obviously in your mother tongue. I watched this TedTalk about how we should teach women bravery instead of perfection. I wondered why collectively as women across the world we had the same problem. What’s the one thing that unified us in trauma? SHAME! We weren’t given room to experiment and fail because you would be humiliated. You had to get everything correct because what kind of wife would you become? You had to strive for perfection because the punishment of shame was a crumby feeling.
I’m 34 this year and shame is still showing up in my life in the strangest of places. In my work with Bulawayo artists, my one rule is, “don’t embarrass me.” I’m ashamed to say that because that rule is rooted in shame and that’s how I shield myself from it. No prizes for guessing who used to say to me that I shouldn’t embarrass them. This led to my fear of being seen. My low key agoraphobia. My fear of being singled out or thrown into the spotlight. Because when I was growing up, the times I felt most seen, were the family meetings where I was standing trial for one reason or another and I would be thoroughly shamed.
Shame is also popping up in my obsessive fixation with punctuality. Late comers would be shamed in all the schools I went to. Looking back in retrospect, it’s the parents who should have been shamed. My dad was dead sure he was Lewis Hamilton. He always thought he would make it. One time, we were so late, he was also running late. When he dropped us off, he sped off with our school bags in the back of the bakkie. Us being exhibited in front of the whole school for being tardy, detention and snide remarks from teachers made me allergic to being late. When I give you an earful about not respecting my time, it’s the trauma of shame kicking up and peacocking.
As you are working through your own stuff, try and start naming the feelings that come up for you and take note of trends and patterns. This revelation of how shame has affected me has changed the way I see things and the way I react to things. I didn’t even get into being slut-shamed and body-shamed. I’m a personal blogger but not that personal.
When your thoughts are shaming you, whose voice are you hearing?