Dismantling the Construct of Shame

shame, Brene Brown | Dianna Bonny Photography

One of the most humiliating moments of my young life happened on the morning bus ride as we pulled into the parking lot of intermediate school. I  was awkwardly sporting a brand new training bra and vacillating between being extremely proud, though I’ve no idea why since I had no breasts to speak of, and utterly terrified that someone might notice. Just as the bus was coming to a stop, a boy, who of course happened to be popular, reached from behind, snapped the strap loudly and proclaimed, “Nice bra, Vaught.”

You cannot imagine the humiliation. Or maybe you can. My cheeks burned, turning bright cherry red as my twelve-year-old body trembled with shame. Pounding furiously, my little heart circulated the flood of emotions through me like a tsunami. I huddled under a cloud of embarrassment as all the boys laughed while shuffling past me that morning.

I’ve never forgotten that feeling. It’s come back to me in different forms over the years, but that first experience of having someone publicly ridicule something private about me seared the core of my cells so much so that when any inkling of that experience shows up, it’s like a bullet train right back to being twelve again.

I felt this same tsunami when I received the phone call about my husband and the other woman. It unleashed so many raw emotions I literally felt like I was drowning.

Emotions are funny things. They hold the memories of everything we have ever experienced, which means that what is happening to us right now is awash in the entire soup of our lives. It is our job to extrapolate the difference, or be forever chained to the ghosts of our past.

I often think of emotions as a breadcrumb trail that can lead us back to the places we need to explore a little deeper.

Not every emotion has to be acted upon. Quite the contrary. The optimal response is to notice and observe. I will be honest that this was impossible to do in the midst of the phone call. It is only with the benefit of time that I have been able to reflect and see the pattern.

Had I not started making these connections however, I might be lost in the shame that crippled me back in seventh grade. Make no mistake about shame. Its job is to cripple and paralyze, which is why we must take extraordinary measures to dismantle the structure beneath it.

I lived in fear after the bra-snapping incident. I didn’t wear it again for a long time and tried to make myself invisible on the bus. It’s difficult to imagine this in today’s world where everything is put out for public display, but this was not the case in my seventh grade world where wearing a bra was a huge step towards womanhood and fraught with the mores of the day. The snap caused a huge step backwards for me.

The phone call, on the other hand, was a huge step forward into owning the reality of my life — as uncomfortable as it was. I certainly swam in the current of shame and humiliation for a while, but I found that it was so much more empowering to fully embrace the truth of what was before me and explore it all with a genuine sense of curiosity.

I often think how lovely it would have been if my older self could have reached through time and shared this wisdom with the twelve year old girl on the bus that day.

Where is the breadcrumb trail of your emotions leading you? Does shame keep you from shining as the truly illuminated being you are meant to be?

Shine on.


Who is Dianna Bonny?

Hi, my name is Dianna Bonny. It’s my mission to candidly share my journey with you. For me, it’s all about the healing: to create a radiant healing energy for others who have befallen a similar fate. Together, we can forge beautiful lives of belonging and connection. Thanks for joining me today! I look forward to hearing from you.

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