Shame – A painful emotion caused by a strong sence of guilt, embarrassment,
A while ago, I was asked by a parent to help on a school project. I was reluctant, because it was not my area of expertise. I told her I didn’t think it was a good idea. The parent assured me that it would be ‘easy’ task and she really needed my help. She provided the instructions and sent me on my way.
As I started the task, I realized I was in trouble. I could not do it. Looking back, I should have stopped and returned the project back to the parent. But I didn’t. I wanted to prove to her and to me, I was capable of doing something difficult. My pride kept me moving forward, knowing darn well I was creating a piece of junk.
Half way through the project I became ill. Instead of taking the time to rest and get better, I kept working. I did not ask for help. I did not call the parent to tell her of my illness. I just kept working and working, until at last it was complete.
I will admit I felt pretty darn smug, because I had completed the difficult project and did it while I was sick. Yes, I was confident I would be nominated for “Super Parent of the Year”. The entire thing looked terrible, but who cared? I did what was asked and now my part was over.
When I brought the parent the project she was grateful. I felt good and went about my way. A few days later I got an email from her saying she wanted to meet with me. When I met with her, she informed me she had re-done the entire project. She claimed there were too many errors and it needed to done correctly. She showed me the re-done project looking flawless. My heart sank.
My emotions overtook any sense of reason. I was insulted to see my work had been re-done. Sure my project was horrible, but still. I could not believe she did not even call to tell me what she planned to do. I worked hard on the stupid thing and now it meant nothing.
With anger in my voice I launched into a loud rant. I told her in many words, that I did my very best on the project. I informed her I didn’t want to do the project in the first place and she should have never asked me. With my voice shaking, I explained to her I have three children, no housekeeper, no gardener and no relatives who live near by help out. I yelled, “I did the project without any help from anyone!”
The parent listened to my rant and told me it was unfortunate, but the project I had done was not good enough. She was calm, talking to me in her best mother voice. The calmer she spoke the more crazy I sounded. Suddenly, I realized I had blown it. My reputation as the ‘funny, helpful, kind school parent’ gone.
Realizing what I had done, I ended the conversation. I ran out of school as quickly as possible, not saying goodbye to anyone. Shame filled my head. I thought of all the things I should have done differently.
I should have said no at the beginning. I knew I could not do what was asked of me. I should have informed the parent things were not working. I should have told her I was ill. But most of all, I should have controlled my tongue and spoke with her privately to express my disappointment.
You may think I was too hard on myself, but you did not hear me yelling. I give myself some slack because I was ill, but overall it was a low point in my school parent career.
Thank goodness I read a wonderful book, The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown, and learned shame “can’t survive being shared.” I needed support. The last thing I needed was a pity party, lecture or someone telling me it was not a big deal. It was a BIG deal. I had always prided myself on being the calm parent and now the entire school would know it was a sham!
I ended up calling another school parent. She was kind and non-judgemental. She did not try to fix me or the situation. She listened to me and shared her similar humiliating experience.
After talking with my friend, I was able to take a deep breath. I realized I would be okay. It was not the end of the world and I may have over reacted, but everyone does sometimes. My feelings of shame lessened.
I realized that when I am filled with great embarrassment, I need support. It would have been easy for my friend to have said, ” Why are you making such a big deal out of this?”, but she didn’t. She just listened.
A while later, I summoned up the courage to apologize to the parent. It was hard, but I felt better. She did not exactly apologize to me, but it didn’t matter. I had moved on. I was able to accept her imperfections, just as someone was able to accept mine. And that is what being human is all about.