Drip. Drip. Plop, plop. Drip.
As I sat with my face plastered into the table at my chiropractor today, tears began steadily falling to the floor beneath me. I was in so much pain. I injured myself at work recently, and it was kind of like salt in the wound of an older injury, compounded by my stubborn nature to push through and ignore the blaring warning signs to stop pushing myself. The result is that I woke up two days ago and couldn’t move my neck without a million knives stabbing every nerve ending I have. If you’ve never waited tables, your body should be thanking you right now. My chiropractor and her husband (they run a practice together) are AMAZING doctors, and as she pushed and massaged and shifted, she could hear my tears and she kept asking, “Am I hurting you? Is this too painful?” It wasn’t. At least, not enough to make me cry. I have a fairly high tolerance for pain (in this case, it was my demise because it caused me to wait far too long to do anything about the pain I’ve been in).
My tears had nothing to do with my physical feelings, and everything to do with how ashamed I was that I was feeling pain at all. I was so angry that I couldn’t fix myself, that I hadn’t figured out a way to brush this off. I was embarrassed that I had given up yet another shift because I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep from wincing every time I tried to carry anything with my left arm, and I didn’t want my co-workers, and more importantly, my bosses, to see me weak. Was I being dramatic? Was I making a bigger deal out of my pain than it really was? What if people found out why I gave my shift up and thought I was faking? After all, I never show how much pain I’m in at work, and now all of a sudden I can’t work at all? What would everyone think? These self-shaming thoughts overwhelmed my head until they flooded over into my tear ducts and onto my chiropractor’s floor. And then, of course, I was ashamed that I was crying over nothing.
Why do we beat ourselves to a bloody pulp over things that are completely out of our control? Why do we insist on blaming ourselves for naturally occurring, and perfectly normal, human reactions. We get injured, we feel pain. We see something sad, we get weepy. Somebody wrongs us, we feel anger. These are natural reactions to the broken world that we live in, and yet we feel a weight on our shoulders to mask every bit of human response we feel. And when we’re unable to mask what we feel, we call ourselves failures, either publicly, or worse, in the deepest, darkest parts of our souls. I know I’m not alone in this behavior, because I see and hear it all the time around me. A co-worker of mine called herself a baby the other day because she couldn’t stop crying over a customer being rude to her. Her feelings were deeply hurt, and she was ashamed of that. I’ve heard women gossip about how upset they are at a friend for something that friend did to hurt them. But they refuse to confront the other party because they are so afraid of being “petty”. Their gossip isn’t malicious, it’s simply the only way they feel comfortable releasing their feelings. We’ve been trained to need validation from everyone around us to justify that we FEEL things. But why? Why do we need anyone else to tell us that it’s ok to not be ok?
My Freshman year of high school was a nightmare. I had been hiding this big, dark secret from the world for years, and it was starting to wear me out. One day, I was on a bike ride with one of my best friends. We stopped at this boy’s house and even though I knew I wasn’t allowed to go inside, we did anyway. It was an innocent 10 minutes of hanging out watching my friend’s crush play video games. As we headed back out to our bikes in his front yard, I saw my dad drive by, staring at me as he passed. I knew how much trouble I was in. For most kids, a heavy scolding or a few extra chores might have been sufficient punishment for my offense. But my dad and I had a different type of relationship, and I knew this was the end for me. He drove on and I knew he would be waiting for me at home. I burst into tears and my entire body started convulsing. My friend, having no clue what was wrong with me, other than recognizing my dad’s truck had just gone by us, simply sat down by my side and held me. She held me and said, “it’s going to be ok.” She didn’t get weird, she didn’t leave me to deal with my freak out moment on my own. She didn’t judge me or even tell the whole school the next day how dramatic I was. She just sat by my side and loved me. And even though I knew what was coming, in that moment I felt completely safe to just be me, and to show my pain without feeling any shame for it.
I don’t know when we all grew up so much that we stopped feeling safe around each other. I think we, as a society, have created this merry-go-round of shame, where we feel it so we project it onto those around us, and on and on the cycle goes. I know I’m guilty of shaming others for their natural reactions, for judging those who don’t react or feel things the same way I do. But I want to do this less, and I would love it if you would join me. Could you comment below and share a time this week when you saw someone struggling with shame and you chose to build them up and remind them that their feelings are valid and ok? I know we often even feel shame for bragging on ourselves when we do good, but this is something I believe is worth bragging about! Let’s share our stories and encourage each other to keep building our world up instead of constantly tearing each other down.