Take Out The Trash: Throwing Away Shame

I read two posts that stopped me in my tracks this week. I mean that in a good way. These posts made me stop, examine and ponder…about shame.

Shame is a huge thing in my books, and it’s almost never conscious.

I’ll go exploring my chapters for themes, to make sure I’m “bringing it home.” Every time I go in, thinking this time I’ve branched out in new and amazing ways. I turn the story in a few different directions and really hold it up to the light.

And there at the root, hiding in the dark spaces no one likes to talk about, rests the root of all evil: Shame.

You want to know what I hate most about this emotion?

Shame is learned. Shame is fed to our children like porridge by every media outlet we possess. Shame is the psychic peanut butter slathered on by peers and parents alike.

Some of them mean to do it, but most of them don’t.

The first post was on Freshly Pressed: How To Talk To Your Daughter About Her Body.

And as I read, I thought about how often I have said or done these things myself. How often I’ve bonded with other women over our body flaws. Then I pondered how much I DON’T want to pass that behavior on to my daughter.

Excerpt from the post:

Don’t you dare talk about how much you hate your body in front of your daughter, or talk about your new diet. In fact, don’t go on a diet in front of your daughter. Buy healthy food. Cook healthy meals. But don’t say “I’m not eating carbs right now.” Your daughter should never think that carbs are evil, because shame over what you eat only leads to shame about yourself.

The other article,  Rape Exchange, was from one of my Triberr pals, Andi-Roo:

Excerpt from Andi’s post:

I wrote “Rape Exchange” in the middle of the night after reading a poem about another girl’s experience. The poem itself — “Rape Joke” by Patricia Lockwood — is staggering in its powerful display of emotions held in check, its tongue in cheek approach, and its {dare I say it?} sense of humor.

I hate it. It’s gorgeous and it made me cry and laugh. It made me feel. I don’t enjoy when that happens. I’d rather be a rock, or an island — for “a rock feels no pain, and an island never cries” {Simon & Garfunkel}.

I capped off this trifecta with August McLaughlin’s Body Image PSA. August just had a Self Discovery/Self-Recovery Party on Facebook last night and we all talked a lot about body image, emotional eating and yes, you guessed it…the shame it leads to.

Here’s August’s video (also her book In Her Shadow is FREE on Kindle for one more day!):

The Bing Dictionary says the following about shame:

 [ shaym ]
  1. negative emotion: a negative emotion that combines feelings of dishonor, unworthiness, and embarrassment
  2. capacity to feel unworthy: the capacity or tendency to feel shame
  3. state of disgrace: a state of disgrace or dishonor
Synonyms: disgrace, embarrassment, dishonor, humiliation, indignity, ignominy, infamy


From the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders:

Shame is an emotion in which the self is perceived as defective, unacceptable, or fundamentally damaged. Shame is often confused with guilt, which is a related but distinct emotion in which a specific behavior is viewed as unacceptable or wrong, rather than the entire self.

People who experience traumatic events are prone to shame, particularly if they blame themselves for the event. Shame can be a particularly problematic emotion because it is associated with a desire to hide, disappear, or even die.

Hide…disappear…die? Holy cowbell, these are the last emotions I want my daughter to feel about herself.

Since it’s up to me to lead by example, obviously it’s time to take out some of my own trash and make sure that the message I’m giving her is esteem-building. Hubs and I already try to focus on praising her for being smart or funny or strong, rather than for how she looks.

After reading these posts and watching August’s video, it occurs to me that the best thing I can do for my child is to apply those same rules to myself.

How are you on the shame-o-meter? Do you fight with self-esteem? What are the esteem-builders that have worked well for you? What advice do you have about building self-esteem in others? Enquiring minds LOVE to know these things here at More Cowbell!


About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm (http://writersinthestormblog.com). Write on!
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37 Responses to Take Out The Trash: Throwing Away Shame

  1. Debra Eve says:

    I battle self-esteem problems daily, Jenny! I never linked them to shame until I stumbled onto the work of Brene Brown, a shame researcher at U of Houston (she had a TED talk go viral, a must-see). I’m on the last two chapters of her book “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.”

    It’s an eye opener and she comes to the same conclusion as you have — we can’t expect our children to model what we haven’t given ourselves. She’s also big on engagement — not running from or numbing out what makes us uncomfortable in our vulnerability. Great post and interesting coincidence, for me 🙂


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      How very, very interesting, Debra! I’m going to have to go search out Brene Brown. She sounds amazing.

      I think one of the reason so many of us are late bloomers is all that shame that gets loaded on while we’re still young. It takes a while to fight your way out of that tangle.


  2. Wow, what a powerful blog post, Jenny! I’ve been mulling shame myself, though I hadn’t expanded it in the directions you did. I blogged about weight shaming after a frustrating visit to the doctor last month for an ear infection that turned into an episode of weight shaming. Because, when you have a screaming sinus infection headache, that’s the best time to talk about weight issues. It struck a chord, because it is my most viewed blog post ever, but you really developed the idea further. Thank you for connecting the dots the rest of the way. Wow.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Thanks, Pauline! I had good material to work with. Those other two posts knocked me flat with deep thought.

      Weight shaming from a doctor is such poor bedside manners. Should they worry about obesity in their patients? Yes. Mine worries about me. But he compliments my efforts and gives me referrals to good nutritionists instead of shaming me. I’m sorry yours was a butthead to you while you were sick!!!

      Feel better. 🙂


  3. Piper Bayard says:

    Amen. Kids learn who we are, not what we say. Shame has been more of an issue for me in the past than it is now, but it has been huge, for sure. I once heard that people are shame-based or fear-based in how they operate in the world. I haven’t seen anything that would make me think otherwise.

    I’m happy to say my baby girl (15) has a pretty healthy body image. By the age of 4, she had friends who were dieting because of their mothers’ messages, so I got to thinking about how to relay healthy attitudes. I was getting allergy shots at the time. We would sit in the waiting room looking at Vogue and Town & Country magazines, and I would point to the women who had clearly starved themselves and tell my girl, “She needs a snack. God never meant her to be that thin.” Then I would point to women who were naturally willowy and say, “She’s healthy. That’s what matters.”

    It worked great except for one incident. While sitting there looking through Vogue one day, a woman came in with a little girl about 10 who was incredibly thin and possibly very sick. My daughter looked up, pointed dramatically, and said in a very effective stage voice, “She needs a snack!” LOL. That opened the door to a couple of new lessons in manners.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      LOL…She need’s a snack. Kids are the bomb, aren’t they? It’s a great example you’ve set and I’m going to re-double my efforts to do the same and change my language about my body. Lord knows I don’t want my girl angsting any more than the magazines and TV will tell her to. Oh, and her peers. I’m SO not looking forward to the peers.


  4. I am SO glad that a pediatrician once told me about what NOT to do or say in front of my kids when it comes to food and dieting. I followed her advice which is exactly what you are talking about here. I am so careful and always tell my daughter that she looks healthy. Great information!!!


  5. I had to think about this powerful message before I commented, Jenny.

    I don’t have a daughter to raise. Thankfully, I never did. Not because I don’t like children. I always wanted to have a child. Rather, because I would have been a horrid role model for a daughter, and I was past the age when it was possible before I got comfortable in my own skin. Became the same ME on the outside AND the inside.

    It was the hops to the other blogs and poems that put things in perspective. One of the links on The Rape Joke site was a letter from an not-yet-in-recovery alcoholic. I saw many similarities between her story and mine. She hid her emotions and her insecurities with alcohol.

    Pain, shame and remorse don’t come in a one-catalyst-fits-all package.

    It was alcohol that “freed my spirit” (translation: lowered my inhibitions and standards) to lose my virginity to a doped-up dude during my sophomore year in college. Not pretty. Not memorable. Not an experience I’m proud to own.

    But I “own” my past. It shaped who I am today. Thankfully, I’m a survivor — albeit flawed and a work-in-progress for the rest of my life.

    Shame (for me) came as a package deal. Guilt, shame and remorse, swirling like an out-of-control tornado, and sucking me up daily into a fresh spin. Feeling guilt about yesterday? Have a drink. The hurt will go away, and lay fresh manure for shame, so remorse has fertile ground to grow during the wee hours.

    F1 to F5 until I hit dual diagnosis rehab and sorted out the root cause for why I drank to fill a hole in my soul. Too old to continue to blame teen angst, I had to take responsibility for how I chose to cope with what I long perceived to be insurmountable shortcomings.

    KUDOS to mom’s who want to break the cycle of young girls growing up feeling as if they’re not-good-enough.


    • After I hit send, I worried that others might mistake my comments about “owning” our choices to include those who suffered at the hands of others — in particular, the victims of violent crimes, such as rape — the one highlighted in this post.

      Far from it. They didn’t have a choice when they were abused. They own the memory, horrid as it may be. They own how they chose to deal with the aftermath. The two heart-wrenching, raw, poems hit my WTG button. Both women chose to speak up and share.

      Jenny Jo! Perhaps I should have worried more about Blather Blog Comment Syndrome. Ya’ think?


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Actually, Gloria, I had too much deep thinking to do to give this comment justice to answer it during my bus rides yesterday, which is when I’ve been answering comments during my San Fran time.

      I don’t think it’s wrong to tell everyone to own their feelings. I think it’s wrong to not give them time to process the feelings brought on by trauma, but not to take responsibility for how they feel about it.

      Trauma takes years to heal. Trust me, I know. But not taking responsibility for your side of the feelings just keeps people a victim. Standing up and rejecting shame takes fortitude, courage and grace. So does showing vulnerability, which is why you humbled me with your gorgeous comment.

      You KNOW you never have to second-guess yourself at my place, girlie. You’re a rockstar, and I like your rambling. 🙂


      • You both made me cry this morning. Gloria, I’m so freaking proud of you for owning your story. You’re a rock star! And Jenny, “Standing up and rejecting shame takes fortitude, courage, and grace.” That got me. Powerful stuff there.


        • Jenny Hansen says:

          Awwwwwww, thanks Tameri. {{hugs}}


        • What woman-with-a-heart doesn’t appreciate a laugh, some tears, and a love fest?

          Hand me the tissues. And, who ate the Chunky Monkey Ice Cream? Hunh? Don’t make me ask the Ouija Board. 😉

          Thanks, Jenny and Tameri. I don’t deserve the accolades, but I’ll sure take them. I know I don’t hold a monopoly in this group on overcoming seemingly insurmountable stacked decks.

          I had a lot of help on this journey, and depend on the energy I draw from people to keep on track and happy. People like those found in the MORE COWBELL posse.


  6. Catie Rhodes says:

    I do battle self-esteem, Jenny. I’ll never be pretty enough, smart enough, or talented enough. I’ll always fall short in some way. And it’s because of things people have said to me, ways people have made me feel. See, I was taught growing up to care what people thought of me. So I internalize everything. I tell myself every day I’m going to just let things roll off. But it’s a hard lesson to learn. Some days I do better than others.

    Aging helps a lot. After this many years on earth, I have a lot more confidence than I did when I was 5, 15, or even 30. I’m a lot quicker to tell people eff off. But it still bothers me. Sometimes it takes a while for it to roll off.

    If I had a daughter, I think that’s what I’d teach her: let it roll off. If people say ugly things to you, they’re the one with the problem. If they make you feel funny or bad, get the hell away from them and feel like you did something wrong. It’s not about you. You’re not wrong or defective. They are.

    I wish so much I had learned that stuff earlier.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Catie, one of my favorite phrases is: “When we know better, we do better.” That applies to everything. You know NOW. And you’re letting it roll off NOW.

      And you are gorgeous inside and out, in my opinion. (Be sure to let that one roll IN. 🙂 )


  7. Marie Trout says:

    Here is a great talk by Brene Brown… She is awesome… and so are you Ms. Hansen:) http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html


  8. I have chills, Jenny. It takes a strong, insightful person to examine emotions and behaviors that way you’ve been. Your baby girl is lucky to have you! I’m also thrilled to hear that you’re going to apply the kind of love you give her more readily to yourself. Lotsa love!

    Following my passions and being true to myself have been the biggest self-esteem boosters for me – that and surrounding myself with awesome, like-minded folks. 🙂


  9. Thank you for sharing my piece here, Jenny! What an honor — you have humbled me, ma’am! I’m glad you found value in my writing, and I hope it can help others come to peace with their history. It’s so important to understand that we are never alone in our suffering, because someone, somewhere has asked the exact same questions we stumble over in the privacy of our self-imposed cells. That’s what Patricia’s poem taught me, and it’s what I’d like to teach others.


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  11. Jenny. Wow. I’m practically speechless. We both know that’s a rarity. Shame is such a powerful thing. You’re absolutely right. Raised by a mother who taught me how strong, powerful and beautiful I was and that I could do anything or be anyone I wanted to be, I was very lucky.

    Yet shame still found it’s way to me in the form of constant, consistent bullying immediately following my brother’s death when I transferred to a new school for the first two years of high school. I suspect the damage could have been much stronger had my mother not placed such a firm foundation of faith, hope and belief in myself and God into my upbringing.

    The impact was life altering…but only so far as to give me a voice to help others. The emotional damage was temporary as I found my way back to myself…. I figure everyone gets lost for a little bit. What’s important is finding your way back and using what you’ve learned for the power of good. That lesson is a big part of why women and self esteem/sexuality is such a passionate subject for me. No one should feel as though they’re less.

    I’m glad you’re working on being the example for your daughter. It’s amazing the power mothers can have when the battle between love and peer pressure begins.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      It’s a comfort to hear that the early lessons stick! What a perfectly awful time for you to be bullied. It makes me want to travel back in time and whip out some whoop-ass.


  12. You should also watch Brenee Brown’s TED Talk on Shame. Powerful stuff. Great blog Jenny!!! 🙂


  13. filbio says:

    I think society in general entices negative feelings about body image and shame. Sure, it is also learned by family members too. It sounds like you are great parents and know how to raise your children the right way, and to help them feel secure about themselves. More parents should take heed and listen to themselves and how they act in from of their children. Great post!


  14. What a cool post to read on this dreary Saturday morning! It’s brightened my day already, especially reading the comments. I’m going to have to check out Brenee Brown, she sounds AWE-mazing.

    Several years ago I was reading ‘The Zone’ and my daughter asked me if it was a diet book. I told her yes, but I wasn’t reading it to ‘diet’, I wanted to research different theories of what food does to our bodies. I think that was a critical moment in her life. Being overweight, I didn’t want her to look at me like I was a failure for not keeping my weight in check, but see that I knew I was overweight, but was doing something about it. Since then, we’ve had many discussions on what’s healthy, what’s not, etc. I’m still overweight, but I own it. I don’t try to blame (or shame) others because of my weight. I think I’ve finally reached a point where I can emotionally deal with the weight gain and tackle those issues, which will translate to a slimmer me, but most importantly, a healthier me mind, body, and soul.

    Good on you for figuring this out while Baby Girl is so little! The two of you can talk about how food grows in your backyard and how healthy it is, that will be huge for her. I wish I’d gardened more when the kids were little.


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