A continuation of thoughts and lessons I received from my three trips last month: selling pet portraits at the UFLI national flyball championships in Missouri, visiting my mom and attending an art conference in Massachusetts and a week in Costa Rica with my husband.
The Ebb & Flow of Shame
At the UFLI tournament, my booth was in one of the back corners of the vendor area in the main arena. It was loud, cold and I couldn’t see any of the races from there. Despite those issues and having friends from Chattanooga actually participating in the tournament, I was reluctant to leave my booth empty any more than was necessary. It’s difficult to make sales that way. Having attended other smaller tournaments, I know that there is a lot of down time between races, so I anticipated that my friends from Chattanooga would visit and hang out for a bit to help pass the time. A few did stop by briefly, and I passed others on the way to the restroom, but that was all.
As the hours and days passed my anticipation turned to disappointment. These people had been so welcoming and supportive when I began showing up at their practices in Chattanooga. Some have purchased portraits of their dogs. They suggested and encouraged me to come to the championships, even though it was outside of my comfort zone. I felt a kinship with them and thought I was part of the group. Apparently, I was wrong. The tide of shame rolled in. Why would I think they were my friends? As much as I love dogs, I don’t have one. I don’t have any history with those people and aside from my paintings, there’s nothing particularly interesting or special about me. I’m a fool. Bring on the self-hatred.
Later I found out that there actually wasn’t a lot of downtime between races at the championships. And regardless of friendship status, people weren’t there to socialize, they were there to race! They needed to care for their dogs, keep track of statistics and strategize. But I didn’t think of that. I allowed myself to be pulled out into the sea of shame. Why? I was navigating unfamiliar territory, outside of my comfort zone and wanted support. A perfectly reasonable desire that doesn’t really account for the self-directed rage. That came from a place many miles away and many years ago.
In my neighborhood growing up, there were few children – most were older kids who were bullies. School gave me the opportunity to make friends but the summer months were lonely. Desperately lonely. When one of the older kids said I could be a part of their group as long as I played their games, I jumped at the opportunity. That was when I learned about humiliation, degradation, and shame. And while I hated myself for allowing it to happen, my desperation for community kept me going back for more. I don’t recall how many times it happened, but I eventually put a stop to it. Then, I did it again years later in high school, when I allowed a boy to abuse me in exchange for his attention.
Now, after years of therapy and marrying an extremely loving and empathetic man, I thought I had healed from those wounds. In a weak moment, however, the shame and self-hatred came flooding back in. That ocean is deep. I’m not ashamed of what happened in the past. The shame comes from the fact that I not only mistrust others, but I mistrust my own judgment. I’m envious of people who can make friends easily because for me, navigating social interactions seems like a minefield. I’m never sure if it’s safe to put all of my weight on a step.
Shame researcher Brené Brown says, “If you put shame in a petri dish, it needs three ingredients to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in the petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive.” My irrational reaction to a non-event at the UFLI tournament made me aware of what I’ve been doing to myself. I don’t deserve that. No one does. Despite what social media might have us believe, we don’t have to have a perfect body, perfect family, lots of money, an awesome job or anything else to be worthy of love and acceptance. If we let go of our obsession with perfection and take off those masks we can appreciate what we do have and who we truly are. From that perspective, we can be more loving toward ourselves and others and stem the flow of shame.
I haven’t been able to post any paintings lately because they are all pet portrait orders for Christmas but you check out my mountain views on Instagram. Also, please see my website for new prints and paintings available in my store or to commission a painting or pet portrait as a gift for yourself or a friend. Another way to connect and share the love!
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