The One Where I Talk to Myself About Shame

You’ve been putting off writing this for a while, haven’t you?

Yep.

Weeks?

More like months.

And how’s that working for you?

Well, I wrote posts about functioning and the verbal-nonverbal disconnect and executive function to avoid what I really wanted to write about.

Which is?

Shame. All the things I’m supposed to be able to do. The ways executive function undermines developmental expectations. What it means to be independent and what it means to be developmentally delayed and why those two things are not mutually exclusive.

Because I don’t live “independently.” I never have. I don’t know if I could or not. I probably could if I had to, though maybe not as successfully as I’d like to pretend.

You’re doing it again, veering into an easier topic to avoid that shame thing a little longer.

Right. Shame. Hang on.

shame

Hey, enough with the Googling! Get back here and write something.

Relax. I needed context. How about this:

Shame is rooted in our perceived defects. When those defects are revealed to others, we see ourselves in a negative light. Shame creeps in.Β 

Yawn. Sounds like something you Googled. Try again.

Okay, okay. Here’s an example of what I want to talk about:

If I don’t shower for three days and there’s no one around to notice, who cares. I got busy. I was distracted. My routine was thrown off. I forgot. It was too hot or too cold or too whatever. All of this makes sense to me.

I don’t smell great, but no one has ever died of body odor and there’s a simple remedy.

It’s not a big deal to me. It’s not a moral failing or laziness or a reflection on my ability to do other adult-type things. It’s simply impaired executive function with a side order of sensory processing issues.

300 words into this and only 24 of them are about shame so far. How, exactly, does the shame figure into this?

The shame happens when someone else is around to notice that I haven’t showered or brushed my hair or ironed my clothes or that I’m wearing the same shirt as yesterday, and oops it has a spot of last night’s spaghetti sauce on the front.

Just writing that sentence has me cringing and wanting to delete it and trash this post and never talk about this subject again.

Worried about what the readers will think of you?

Exactly. We’re supposed to master self-care as a child or, at the latest, as a teenager. Not being able to accomplish basic self-care tasks consistently on a daily basis–and worse–not noticing or seeming to care, suggests a certain lack of maturity. A lack of common sense, of intellectual development, or even of self-awareness.

I’d like to think I have all of those things, at least to the degree that the average adult does.

But I suspect others might see it differently. If you can’t manage to brush and floss every day, how on earth will you manage complex tasks like paying bills, driving or getting to work on time–let alone caring for another person, particularly a helpless little person?

That does sound like a logical question.

I know, and I don’t have a logical answer. It’s not as if I don’t know what self-care entails or can’t execute the necessary steps required. It’s not even that I’m intentionally not doing what is expected.

My self-care falls apart because it slides under the radar. This is going to sound unfathomable to the average adult, but I don’t notice. For example, I shower as part of a daily routine: exercise then shower. On the days I don’t exercise, I have to think about when to shower. Sometimes I keep thinking about it until dinner or bedtime. Sometimes I need to be prompted to go do it. If no one is around to do the prompting, well, the day could be gone–and I never shower before bed because that’s somehow a rule–and that’s that.

One day, two days, three days. It just happens.

Maybe you need a minder.

I have one! The problem is, I’m married to him. How uncool–not to mention unromantic and unsexy and un-equal-partnership-y is it when my husband needs to remind me to do all these little things? He’s not my caretaker. It’s not his responsibility–or at least I don’t think it should be.

It’s hard on a relationship when one partner has to assume a caretaking role at times. There’s an element of “not what I signed up for” regardless of how generous and loving your partner is.

I’m lucky to be married to someone who gets it, who knows how to broach the subject in a nonchalant way or make just the right amount of a joke about it. But there are times–painful for both of us–when the thing at hand, the thing that’s flying under my radar, is just a bit too much, too personal, too uncomfortable.

So he doesn’t tell you?

Oh no, he tells me. He agonizes over whether he really needs to say something, but in the end he says it. I can tell by his voice, the way he starts the conversation, that what he’s about to say is costing him. And those are the moments when I realize how strong our relationship is and how hard we’ve worked to get to this place. I appreciate that he loves me enough and is honest enough and brave enough and mature enough to say the hard things, the things that the average husband is not going to have to say to his wife.

You’ve written yourself into a corner again, haven’t you?

How can you tell?

It’s been four days since you opened this doc. That means you’re dead in the water and this is going to end up being one of those posts that never gets finished.

You’re right, I was stuck. But I gave a draft to The Scientist. He read it–slowly, carefully, in the way that he reads whatever I hand him. Then he said, “Your sincerity and passion and discipline and all of your other good qualities overshadow this other stuff for me.” He said it’s about care and that I deserve to have someone care for me.

I pushed a bit, asked him if he doesn’t get tired of having to remind me about all those little things. He laughed and said, “Of course, but what am I going to do? We chose each other.”

And suddenly everything seemed so simple

What started out as a post about shame has become a post about love. Because where I look at myself and see executive dysfunction and shame and dependence, my husband looks at me and he sees what he always has: me.

How nice for you.

What?

I mean, that’s great for you that you have such an understanding partner, but “go out and find an understanding partner” isn’t exactly practical advice. And what about all the rest of it–the “what will people think?” and the fact that you’re still going to end up going 3 days without showering occasionally and—

Okay, okay, I get it. I let myself get seduced by the guy I married. Again. He has a way of doing that. But I think there’s a hint of a solution in that last realization. He accepts me as I am, even when I don’t. He cares for me, even when I’m not sure I deserve it.

I’m hard on myself. I always have been. Perhaps that’s a coping mechanism. I scrutinize everything about myself down to the most minute details, because I so often discover after the fact that I’ve missed the obvious.

That might be where the shame is coming from, that feeling of failure, of not living up to some imaginary standard. I’ve spent weeks writing this, months thinking about it. I’d like to say I have some grand conclusion but all I have is a tentative realization: Questioning the shame–pulling it out here into the light–is hard, but it feels like a good beginning.

82 thoughts on “The One Where I Talk to Myself About Shame”

  1. Oh, shame. I’ve read and dealt a lot with this through a group therapy course I recently participated in on shame and vulnerability. Living up to imaginary standards is a big part of shame and shame culture in society. But it’s a huge elephant in the room and nobody likes to talk about it because it makes us feel vulnerable and weak (when actually talking about it makes you strong). But… as my therapist said… putting it out into the light reveals it and the “monster under the bed” is no longer there.

    It’s so interesting how we can look at ourselves and only see the negatives and our loving partners don’t see what we see. Or they see us struggling with these negatives which shouldn’t be as significant as we’re making them, if that makes sense.

    If you’re interested in reading more about shame, I highly recommend BrenΓ© Brown’s research and books (I Thought It Was Just Me and Daring Greatly are the ones I’m working through). If you’re ready to face it, it could really change things for you in regard to how you experience shame. I’m still working on that because it is a long process but it’s really fascinating.

    1. Thank you for your recommendation, I checked it out. But I don’t think “I Thought It Was Just Me” will work for me at all, based on the description:

      We are actually the most attracted to people we consider to be authentic and down-to-earth. We love people who are “real”.

      “Real” autistic people don’t get accepted a lot. I think there’s a few blogs discussing that subject around here somewhere.

      So we learn to hide our struggles and protect ourselves from shame, judgment, criticism, and blame by seeking safety in pretending and perfection.

      Hiding. Passing. Yep. It means I have a job and can support myself. Most of the time. I still get fired a lot. Not because I’m bad at my job, but because I don’t understand office politics and have a lot of trouble schooling my face into expressions that are considered appropriate. I’m working on asking for more acceptance at work, but it’s still an uphill struggle.

      I agree with you that “being myself” would make me a LOT happier. But a lot LESS employed. Because standards of normality and presumed competence are not imaginary. They are very, very real.

      (Yep, going from tears to angry to activisty in a matter of minutes. I do that a lot).

      1. I understand how hard it must be to have to pretend to be somebody else and hide yourself at work. The constant threat of losing your job if you do something wrong has to be super stressful. I’ve felt like hiding at work many times, though I’m not autistic. Sometimes I’ve said things to people that I thought were okay but they weren’t, that I’ve regretted later. Sometimes I do things that others might think are odd, or make noises or have reactions that aren’t contained. It makes me nervous and it makes me feel shame.

        Hiding our struggles and protecting ourselves are survival mechanisms. We can’t be open and vulnerable to everyone in life. It’s not safe to do so, given that our society is very much into blame and judgment–and like you say, there are standards of normality and competence that people demand we meet. Frustrating.

        The book talks about finding people you can be “real” with–finding people who you can be vulnerable with or share your shame with–and making them your foundation. There are people in my life (very few) I can do that with, and there are people (coworkers, even “close” family members) that I could never do that with. It’s about selecting who to trust and then revealing your true self to them. (Hard to do!) Unfortunately we can’t trust everyone to accept “real” us. But maybe it’s enough to be ourselves with those select people and find happiness in that. If those people can be empathetic toward our experiences then we can feel accepted that we aren’t alone in them.

        The book might not work for everyone and I think it’s great that you checked it out. πŸ™‚

    2. Thank you for the book recs. I put them both on hold at the library so I can check them out. (oops, inadvertent library pun)

      I feel like I have an unfair advantage in replying to your comment because I know some of the background of what you’re saying in a general way here. So . . . yeah, finding those people in our lives that will accept us feels priceless. As I was wrestling with writing this, my husband said something along the lines of how I see myself through a biased lens (of self-doubt maybe or just personal history) and he’s not bound by that so his view of me is very different. Not necessarily unbiased but different. So while I don’t entirely trust his view, I don’t entirely trust mine either because I know we all have that little voice inside that is hellbent on undermining us.

  2. One day, some day, I hope I will be able to be this open and vulnerable in a blog post. You are amazing.

    But right now I’m crying because I can’t even deal with your feelings of shame, let alone my own.

    “Your words touched me” doesn’t begin to cover it.

    1. Oh, thank you. I’m not sure you could have said anything more perfect. πŸ™‚

      And I’m sorry I made you cry. I nearly put a trigger warning on this because I know it’s such a difficult subject.

  3. … I don’t really have a productive way to deal with shame. I mostly just avoid thinking about it, avoid dealing with it. I admire your bravery in examining yours.

  4. “I let myself get seduced by the guy I married. Again. He has a way of doing that.”

    Good. Keep doing that. You deserve that.

    I know this post is about shame and about when things get hard with that, and I am no stranger to how overwhelming and all-powerful shame can be. It can take over your life for years and years. Letting yourself get seduced by your husband might not fix it I guess, but everyone deserves to hear words like that from someone they love and trust, and even if it can’t erase your shame or make you smell better after a few days without a shower, it is still something you need and deserve just like everyone else. It makes me so happy to hear you have that in your life.

    1. What a nice thing to say. Thank you. He’s incredibly good for me and to me and I’m very lucky. You’re right about it not being a fix but a huge help. I know that I have to grapple with these things on my own but it’s good to have someone to catch me when I feel like I’m about to fall into that ugly pit of moroseness.

  5. Oh Musings, I completely agree! When I detail very specific examples about my autism and reflect back on my life, I get soooo nervous putting all of that out there. Growing up, I was told by different people, “You really don’t know how to do such a simple task?” “Why do you keep forgetting stuff?” I I’d be so, so lucky to find a romantic partner who’s willing to work with me on all of this! But for now, I have my family, and I’m learning how to build a community of people (besides the wonderful online community I’ve found here :D) who can help me with even the smallest of things and who just get who I am. I may have been shamed in so many different ways, but I’m never going to give up.

    1. It’s hard to put things out there, but little by little I’m learning that it’s a good thing. I never would have been able to write this six months ago, let alone publish it. But each piece I’ve posted here has been a small step toward this and I know that this is a small step toward something else. It’s not like it gets easier exactly. Maybe it’s like weight lifting – the 15 lb dumbbells are as hard to lift today as the 5 lb ones were a year ago. I’m working just as hard, but my capacity has expanded.

      It’s great that you have a family that understands and supports you and that you’re building up a helping community. I think we each have different ways of going about building our support network but as you say, the key is in not giving up and in believing that we’re worth the effort.

  6. Shame goes away when you bring it out in the open. But it takes so much courage to do that, and you have honored us with sharing your truth. Thank you so very much. As a parent and as a therapist, you have educated me deeply on how to respect the challenges of others on the autism spectrum. I’m sharing this article with both kids and parents touched by the autism spectrum.

    1. I’m not sure it goes away, necessarily, simply by bringing it out into the open. I think it does lose some of its power over us because shame is a very secretive feeling and one that can fester in the dark.

      Thank you for sharing the article. Shame is a tough subject and one that I suspect a lot of autistic (and of course nonautistic) people struggle silently with.

  7. This both hurts and is irresistibly readable because I’ve lived in a veritable marinade of shame for decades.
    You’re so fortunate to have a partner who cares for you in that way.

    1. Thank you, I am very fortunate. (I should probably qualify that by saying it’s been a long hard road for us to get to this point.)

      “Marinade of shame” is disturbingly vivid. I can totally relate.

  8. I disagree with the comment that ‘shame goes away when you bring it out in the open’. Mostly people use it against you, or at best offer a sickening sort of pity which confirms their being powerful, socially accepted and you are one of the pitied and unwanted.

    1. That’s because most things that allistic people are ashamed of are things that are still within the parameters for normal. Literally. Not being able to keep your house clean is normal, just look at all the resources available online to help people overcome their procrastination. Wanting to strangle your kids on occasion is normal, as long as you channel it into Samuel L. Jackson reading “Go the F*** to Sleep”. But rocking in the supermarket because you can’t handle the fluorescent lights? You can get arrested for that. Not showering? Being ashamed of not showering is a very rational response. I should know, I got fired from a temp job for that.

      1. They are lying when they say tha,t you know. I just got this recently. They don’t mean ‘be yourself’ they mean it’s okay to act a bit more free and creative than perhaps you have been doing up to now, but only to a certain extent because if you take it too far you’re heading into the realm of weird, and that is just not acceptable.
        Be yourself can also mean, please shut up talking about yourself now because I want to talk about myself. Be yourself is an end of the line statement.

  9. This is amazing and vulnerable and courageous. People hold you – autistic people and women – doubly blessed – to unrealistic standards – that of perfection. Perfect appearance, perfect housekeeping, perfect at a career, perfect writing. We all begin to think that’s the way it’s supposed to be. And it’s not. We don’t need to be in a competition with each other because we aren’t each other. You can only be authentically you. And I can only be authentically me. IF, and it’s a big IF, we can be courageous enough to be who we are – not perfect, but us.

    1. Ack – please delete above. Reading over it, I meant if I have the courage, not you. And if I have the courage to raise my child to be authentically him. I did not mean to imply that you lack courage or that anyone else lacks courage. Because I know it’s not that. It’s social pressure, ableism, sexism, all that. Do-over please.

      1. Deleted it, though it read okay to me. Which should not necessarily be the barometer of okayness because I’m forever confusing the usage of I/you in these situations. πŸ™‚ Thank you for all the nice stuff you said at the start of it though. That was hard to delete!

        1. Brenda, it read ok to me too! I had some trouble figuring it out at first but it didn’t take long. I’m sad you didn’t want to leave it up because it was very affirmative. But you’re very conscious of the words you use so that’s a good thing too.

  10. Shame? Hmmm… From what I can remember, I was never easily shamed or made to feel guilty, unless I earned that designation… which was probably often enough when I was younger. For me, shame comes from personal failure or preventable shortcomings.
    ((Trying to put a finger on it))
    We all make errors/poor decisions, it’s how we deal with it when it’s brought to our attention. Something magical happened to me when I was 19… I was having a mindless argument with my mother over some nonsense, but she said something that rang true to me. I stopped, and then said something like, “You know, that’s a good point”. Instantly she too stopped. It was as if all the wind in her sails was gone. I learned something during that exchange that I’ve made part of my personal constitution: When wrong, freely admit it, and do it at the first opportunity.

    Several years ago, I had done the old drunk emailing trick (yikes)! I was part of a men’s baseball league and the president of the league was a very inefficient administrator (no permanent schedules even with more than half the season over). I fired off an email that was rather childish, but had forgotten all about it. When I showed up to the game the next morning, the manager of the team had a funny grin on his face as he told me about the email that I had little memory of. When the game was over, I checked my messages and the president of the league wanted me to call him. I felt very ashamed. How could a person not? As much as I hate phone calls, I immediately called him and gave a sincere mea culpa and apologized profusely without qualification. Though it was a shameful episode, by dealing with it squarely from the start, I was able to regain much of the face that I’d lost.

    In short, if you are willing and eager to accept responsibility for your actions, then no one can truly shame you, try though they may. If you happen to have a relationship with a mean spirited person, that tries to pin unearned shame on you, that’s a different issue altogether.

      1. Perhaps my eagerness to participate on this topic led me to choose a poor example. My apologies.
        As far as “peeing yourself in public” goes, I can imagine that I’d feel profound consternation at such an event, but I don’t know if I’d register it as something shameful. In my world, shame stems from something you know is bad. Stealing or lying for example. “Peeing oneself” in public could be compared to dropping a plate of food in a restaurant. Something that causes unwanted attention for something we’d like to get back.

        When my wife was 19, she had a lobe and a half of one lung removed. I married her when she was 30. She was actually ashamed of her scar. Yet, I barely could see it. I think “shame” is something that comes naturally for her. She was raised in traditional Sicilian Catholic home, and shame was a big part of it, right up there with blame and fault finding.

          1. This is your space. So yes, if you think it adds something important, not takes away focus from your post, then please leave it as is. And thank you for reassuring me.

            I’ve looked at posts I might be able to submit to We Are Like Your Child, I hadn’t thought of this one fitting the theme but you’re right. Submitting to the Facebook page though? I only have a personal FB account and I’m not ready yet to post under my own name. So if you know another way to submit stories?

            1. Okay, thank you for letting it stay.

              Would you be willing to submit via private message on the FB page with the condition that we use whatever alias you choose to publish under? (assuming it’s accepted – the group votes on submissions) We’ve had a few people submit that way and are very sensitive to privacy issues. 2 of the editors don’t use their full names on their writing so they understand the importance of this.

              If not, I’m supposed to be making a gmail account for submissions (ahem) so I could go ahead and do that. Just let me know which is more comfortable for you.

              1. OK, me and my silly brain, hadn’t even thought of private message. Could only see wall posts. So that’s what I immediately assumed a submission ought to be: public wall post. Thanks for pointing out the alternatives! πŸ˜‰

    1. I’m going to preface this by saying that I completely respect your experiences around shame and how you’ve processed them. The examples you give are of doing things that are regrettable and I get that. I think that what you’re getting at is that there are times when we make mistakes or embarrassing things happen and the best thing to do is just own up to them and get on with life.

      But I think we have to be careful about not blaming people for feeling shamed, too. There are a lot of those mean spirited people you mention out there who shame people as a means of control or out of jealousy or fear or other negative emotions. Quite often the shame we feel as adults is rooted in childhood, a time when people can be shamed quite easily and often wrongly due to both inherently imbalanced power dynamics and an understanding of the world that isn’t fully formed yet. If we carry that shame forward, unresolved, it can cause all sorts of havoc in our adult lives and that’s not because we’re allowing other people to shame us but because we just don’t know how to respond in a different way to situations that provoke those long held feelings.

      1. I see your points, and it looks like I need to be thankful that, despite my odd childhood (born to teenagers that had no idea how to raise a kid – much less three of us, went to more than a dozen schools and places of residences before reaching adulthood) I don’t remember any family member ever trying to shame me, even after an event that might have caused a bit of shame (shoplifting gum as a kindergartner – once it was over it was never mentioned again). If anything, I actually seemed to get praise even when I didn’t really earn it.

        As far as “blaming people for feeling shame” I couldn’t do that, I just feel for them. It must be a terrible prison, of sorts, to be in. To me, shame is just a concept that I barely understand. Perhaps my first hand ignorance of its perniciousness has actually shielded me from its grip.

        1. It sounds like your parents did a good job, at least in the area of helping you build confidence and navigating the complicated world of mistakes and embarrassments. Maybe having no idea how to raise a kid is the best strategy. πŸ™‚

          I didn’t mean to imply that you were blaming people, just that in general it would be a bad idea. So many people read the comments here without feeling brave enough to comment, so I wanted to propose an alternative view.

          1. That’s a really good idea actually. How some people only read the comments and don’t comment themselves, so as a blog owner I am kind of responsible for what they read both in my post and in the comments. It’s good practice to not let comments that could be misinterpreted just slide because it’s too much effort to police everything. Because in the end it is my responsibility what words go onto the page, whether I’ve written them or allowed someone else to write them.

            Doesn’t mean I have to do all the policing myself, thank god there are other commenters willing to ask for clarification or explain things or sometimes call people out on mistakes or hurtful behaviour. But it’s still good practice. Thanks for making me think of that!

            1. I think my approach is more lax than that, but you’re welcome. πŸ™‚

              When I post a differing opinion, I think of it as rounding out the conversation a little. The only thing I truly feel responsible for keeping off my blog is hate speech (I think I’ve deleted a total of three comments ever), because I want this to be a safe space. Beyond that I try to keep in mind that we each have our own pain, our own experiences, our own opinions and to meet people where they are.

              Curiously, I never thought about this until just now, but I think reading and responding to comments here over the past year has taught me a lot about compassion, which was a lesson I very much needed. Whoa.

          2. I can see where my original comment didn’t quite fit to the topic.
            Shame comes from various sources, in the example of my ill mannered email, I was experiencing real shame… just brought upon myself. The kind of shame where you want to go home, close all the curtains, turn off the phone and watch TV until you become one with the couch. πŸ™‚
            As painful as it was for me, the quickest way for me to diffuse it was to look that monster in the face at take whatever was coming to me. Though I don’t have too many issues with shame (the way I understand it), I more than make up for it with other irrational thoughts. If I haven’t heard from my adult kids (20, 24, 26) in awhile, I start to think they don’t like me. Then I start wondering if I did something to offend them, and the spiral continues until I hear from them, and realize I was “doing it again”.
            It’s nice to have found your blog… thanks for letting me participate.

            1. I’m glad you found the blog too! I think your examples were fine. As you said, shame comes from many different sources and we each experience it in our own way. The email example feels like a very classic sort of shame, which I think everyone has encountered at times.

              That other thing you’re talking about is often called catastrophizing. I started writing a post on it this morning because I’ve been doing it more than is healthy lately. πŸ™‚

            2. Joseph, I think each of us knows shame about something we did, and rue we have done. The way to go then is to face it and apologise, even if it takes courage, and it does, the more so the more ashamed we are of what we did.
              But there is this other kind of shame, the shame about what we did not do, did not manage, should have done, failed or just about what and how we are.
              If I did something stupid inadvertently, I might feel shame, or just be embarrassed and feel sorry for what it might have caused. I apologise, if possible.
              But this other shame, mortification, whatever you might call it, goes deeper. It is not about a single stupid action done while drunk and not really myself, it is about everything I am or fail to be.
              Let me give you an example: I am not overtidy, but when I had an appointment with a customer in my studio (I worked as a tailor, with a studio in our flat because I had a baby daughter to look after) I always cleaned up expecially careful and thorough.
              One day when I had just returned from a business trip, with the whole flat littered with personal and professional luggage, I was rudely roused from bed at 10am (I had returned late and was still tired) by a customer come for measuring. I had totally forgotten about the appointment because of the business trip, the flat was pure chaos, I was neither dressed nor washed or combed, and when I gritted my teeth and told him to wait a few seconds, and then when I asked him in and made lots of excuses for the mess and myself, never did I feel more ashamed for myself, for my untidyness, for my forgetfullness, for sleeping into the day, for BEING THE WAY I WAS and not being able to be any different, no matter how hard I tried to appear normal.
              And this is what hurts so much. Because we feel the shame for how and what we are and aren’t, not for something embarrassing we wouldn’t do in full consciousness but that has happened anyway by loss of control or oversight or whatever.
              Society teaches to react that way. You broke the rules? Did not conform to standards of “normal”? Shame on you! You should be ashamed! Even if parents do not teach us this, life does every year again and again.

              1. LS,
                Through the various posts on this topic, I can see that I’ve just been using the word ‘shame’ differently – or not at all… for I can see that I have similar situations [as to what you’ve described] that probably would be labeled as “shame” by others. Not trying to be too cheeky here, I think there is a chance that I’m ashamed that I might have shame over some things. So I downplay them and term them as ’embarrassments’, or some other minimizing word. Though I’m not religious, I’ve usually used the word ‘shame’ in connection with moral failings, especially where a regretful option was chosen over something more conventional. I appreciate your input on this, it’s made me think. πŸ™‚

      1. Agreed. It’s not sadness. It’s emotion. Which can be ugly and messy sometimes but even in tears there is also laughter and being alive. That being said, I’m all in favour of happy stuff though! It’s why I took some pretty pictures today after all the heavy stuff of yesterday. Rainbows!

  11. I think, perhaps, you were meant to delay sharing this. And I was meant to read it. I recently shared some of my story on your executive function vs. procrastination post. It startled me how much I recognized myself in what you were saying. And, you have done it to me again. I am reading along, and I felt that eerie sensation crawl up my neck…someone is writing about my secret life…the stuff that is so internal and personal that I have never shared it…ever. But, clearly, you feel the same thing…and OH. MY. GOD. Could it be that I am not a total failure as a wife, as a mother, as a human being? That shower thing…I used to be able to hold it together when I was younger and single. I could “fake it.” I was showered and hair fixed and dressed nicely. I had the rigid routines. Every thing was under my control, and everything had a place. And then I got married (we didn’t know then that he was an Aspie) and merged two adult households. Then we had three children (two are formally diagnosed) and the inherent chaos that arrives with the first child, and increases exponentially with each additional child. The demands and unpredictability, and the challenges of multiple people in one home with the “same, but different” challenges…but no name for it. And we moved, two times, across country, inside of 18 months. And I have never fully recovered. The rapid change was more that I could take. That is when I lost control. That is when I stopped being able to function well. That is when the shame rolled up over me like a tsunami and changed the landscape of my life. Thank you for the courage to post this. Thank you for sharing. Reading your writing gives me an opportunity for recognition. It gives me permission to release the shame. There is a reason…a real, tangible reason…that I have been struggling so desperately. I am not a failure. I am a survivor.

    1. I like your Karmic reasoning about why I held off so long on posting this. πŸ™‚

      Knowing that there are reasons for the seemingly inexplicable things we do is a huge relief, isn’t it? Your comment about being so thrown by moving really resonates with me. When we moved cross country ten years ago, I spent about 6 months in a funk (probably a depressive episode). I remember my husband asking me why I was wearing the same pair of shorts for weeks and realizing that I hadn’t even noticed. I’d gained weight, they were the only thing that fit comfortably so I just kept wearing them. But I remember the concern in his voice and the way he starting insisting that I shower every day and making sure that the shorts were getting into the laundry occasionally and how awful that all felt. So yeah, I get it. Things seem to fall apart when we’re not looking.

      I’m not sure how old you are, but I’ve also found that the older I get, the less easy it becomes to hold everything together. I’m making my peace with that because it doesn’t feel reversible.

  12. terrific post…for me, shame is a wall i run into over and over again. i tried to avoid my social deficits for years by just isolating…then isolating some more. but the shame of failing to meet milestones that others have established, it hurt and was embarrassing in a big way. so, it’s something i’ve struggled with…and i also have no answer…but i agree that discussing it, bringing it all out into the open for self-examination is…more than a great start, it’s essential, it can make a world of difference.

    1. “the shame of failing to meet milestones that others have established”
      This is so recognisable. I’m so glad we are all here supporting each other and admitting how much this has hurt us.

    2. Thank you. I think isolation and withdrawal are all too common reactions to shame. It feels easier to try to ignore than to confront it, even though the ignoring eventually becomes a full time job. I’m glad you joined in the conversation here and shared your thoughts.

      An earlier draft of this post was heavily focused on developmental milestones and how people rarely achieve them in a magical predetermined order. I picked out a few on the 5 year old milestones checklist that I still don’t regularly meet. πŸ™‚

  13. All you can do is peel away the layers a little at a time, just enough that in a year’s time you’ll see the big difference in your life. Be gentle and kind with yourself, there is no shame in that. You are brave indeed to be so open in your blog. I too have decided to be a lot more open and honest and talk about my deepest darkest secrets, but I had to begin a new blog before I felt ok to do that. Some of my regular followers and good friends jumped straight across with me, but I’m still keeping the link to my new blog a secret. If people find me, then they do and that’s fine. I understand shame like it’s my middle name, but it need not be something that weighs you down. Turn it to your advantage, writing about is good, and others will always benefit, as will you.
    You are an amazing individual, worthy of your salt πŸ™‚

    Maria xo

    1. Thank you for the kind words and the vote of confidence. Each step forward makes me feel a little stronger and a little more myself, like I’m reassembling something one piece at a time.

      I understand your trepidation about sharing your new blog with people who know you. This blog was entirely anonymous until recently. I guess when I go “all in” it’s really all in! So, is the blog that’s linked from your comment here the new one or the old one? Because you have me curious.

      1. Yes this is my new blog. My others are linked in my About page. Usually I’m the model of positivity on my other blogs, and it is of course genuine and from the heart, when it comes to others I have love in abundance. But I do have a lot of secrets that I’ve kept very close to my chest, and only really share with closely trusted friends and family. I am now trying to change that by facing it head on. I attempted it a while back when I started up my second blog (I have a few now), but I felt far too self-conscious. Since then I’ve sort of found my ground here on WP and with blogging in general, also I have a good following and friendships that I’m beginning to treasure, so I thought it was time to stop hiding. But even now with the few posts I’ve written for this new blog, I find myself backsliding a little. I haven’t even touched on the mental health, and that for me is enough of a trigger to send me running for the hills. But as you say each step forward is good, and makes you strong, and the same is true for me too. Reassembling is a good way to put it.

        1. I followed your blog but haven’t had a chance to read in detail yet. I’m looking forward to it.

          Some subjects are so hard to write about. Starting a whole new blog says a lot about the strength of your intention. Just keep taking it one step at a time until you’re ready.

  14. I have good news and bad news, and since I didn’t read any of the previous comments I’m sure it’s been said before but…Oh my do we all have shame. And where our shame falls, showering vs letting our kid not shower vs drinking too much vs eating too much vs not eating enough vs (and on it goes) is all part of the shame process as well. I’m not try to belittle your feelings, btw, I’m saying that I get it. Shame is hard to talk about and open up and even acknowledge. Best to ignore. But then, maybe not. Blogging world is weird. We blog because we think it’s important for people to know something, to learn something that we, like it or not, have experience with. Blogging is for, at best, raising understanding and empathy, but it means we have to talk about things we don’t want to talk about and share things that a strong editor voice says…maybe shouldn’t share that. SIgh. But then what’s the point?
    Oh my, I think your ramble is catching!
    Anyway – the point is thank you for sharing your truth.

    1. it is very important, because nearly all of us on the spectrum have been told at one point or another that being ourselves is something to be ashamed of. That it’s rude to flap our hands. That we shouldn’t draw attention to ourselves by spinning in the canned goods aisle. That we’re not allowed to complain about loud noises and bright lights but we’re also not allowed to go somewhere else and we’re most certainly not allowed to melt down. That we’re an embarrassment to our parents. That we should try harder to act normal. That people pick on us and bully us because we’re different and that we should try harder to act normal. Act normal. And that when we ask what normal is, we have big mouths or we ask rude questions.

      So it’s important that we can confide in each other that yes, we feel shame. And it’s not something that everyone feels now and again. It’s part of who we are and how we were raised. We were all shamed. And it’s not silly or irrational to still feel that shame in everything that we are and do.

      I have been lucky because I was raised by parents who were very obviously “different” too. In the 70s and 80s, that was called artistic and open minded. With the knowledge I have now, I’m fairly sure they’re both on the spectrum. And I’ve STILL had my fair share of “please don’t draw attention to yourself so much”. I can’t imagine what it was like for people whose parents were more conformist and afraid of being outcasts than mine.

      1. Hmmm… I think we have different definitions of “Shame” going on here. From the way I read your comment, it almost sounds as if you think children shouldn’t be taught the societal norms. I have three grown kids, and there is no way that I’d allow them to “melt down”, not at home and certainly not in public. I don’t see how “straightening them out”/teaching them right from wrong is connected to shame. I guess it could be connected to shame if the parent then brow beat the child over it.

        I also don’t understand the incongruity with your two competing statements. On the one hand you say, “I have been lucky because I was raised by parents who were very obviously β€œdifferent” too…. I can’t imagine what it was like for people whose parents were more conformist and afraid of being outcasts than mine”, and on the other you say, “So it’s important that we can confide in each other that yes, we feel shame. And it’s not something that everyone feels now and again. It’s part of who we are and how we were raised. We were all shamed.”

        Sorry for being a pain about this, but I really have a difficult time identifying with the shame you describe. I only have my own experience to draw from. Both as a child and as a parent, and I sure hope that the statement: “nearly all of us on the spectrum have been told at one point or another that being ourselves is something to be ashamed of” is an exaggeration. I can’t imagine the kinds of monsterish parents it would take to be that way, though I know some exist… I just can’t believe it’s most, or “nearly all” as you suggest.

        1. Joseph, before I try formulating an answer for you, because you do deserve an answer to your questions, I need to know if you have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder or have suspicions that you might be autistic. Not to put up a division between autistic and non-autistic, but to know how to phrase my response so that we can find a place where we can meet in understanding.

            1. Over the last few days I’ve tried really hard to formulate a response to you. Two of the things that have made this really hard for me are:

              1) I think you have a different image in your head when you say meltdown. I did not refer to a temper tantrum, a child not getting what he wants. A meltdown, especially in an autistic child, is something different. The final straw can be anything, not just hearing “no” when they want an ice cream. It is overload upon overload upon overload. And almost every parent of an autistic person, and almost every autistic person themselves, knows that meltdowns, although they can sometimes be prevented, are impossible to stop once they’re underway. My meltdowns make me go completely quiet – non-verbal – catatonic, which would in your view of meltdowns probably be preferable to lashing out or running away, because my parents taught me societal norms?

              2) It was very hard for me to see you refer to unaware parents, MY parents even, as monsterish. I have checked this with a very good friend of mine whose teenage son has autistic traits, and he says that there are so many things that he simply didn’t realise were part of his child’s neurology that he unintentionally shamed him for. Simply because HE DIDN’T KNOW. Not because he was a monster. Like his son not being able to tie his shoelaces under pressure, in a loud and stressful environment. Which requires a lot of fine motor skills at the best of times. Another father might have said “You’re a teenager and you can’t even tie your own shoelaces? Oh for chrissakes, I’ll do it then. Stop holding up the line and drawing attention to us.” This wonderful father said to his son, “Here, I’ll help you. It’s OK.”

              I have the feeling that you can’t tell the difference between those two responses. And that’s why I’m not going to try and explain any further.

              1. Perhaps not ‘taking it any further’ is the better course here. Because in my mind, a parent doesn’t seek to shame their kids because they aren’t able to grasp concepts or accomplish tasks at the same rate that the majority do… their being “aware” of an issue (with AS) notwithstanding. I can’t imagine a father of a teenager that would belittle their child like that… though, as I stated earlier, I imagine there are plenty out there. That is a monster/ogre in my book. By the time a child even got to 7 or 8 years old, much less the teenage years, an attentive/good/non ogre parent would have figured out that their child has such peculiarities and wouldn’t rub it in their face, especially in a public situation.

                A clarification. I didn’t say anything about your parents. I’m sorry that you inferred that I did. It was a generalized statement about parents that would do the things in your examples.

                I’m going to go with that we are using two different definitions of the word “shame”. I have a son (26) that, in retrospect, has exhibited signs of AS his whole life, and though he has certain abilities that I marvel at (music) he is/was completely bereft in other areas (common sense). One time when he was 11 I was having him help me make our dinner salad. We use a few pinches of dry basil in ours. The container was 80% empty. Though he could read before kindergarten, and had learned his multiplication tables more than a year ahead of his peers, he could not figure out how to get the basil out of the plastic container (about 6 inches tall, with the basil at the bottom inch and a half). After about a minute where he couldn’t solve the problem, I asked his 9 year old sister to come in and get some basil out of the jar. She tilted the jar sideways and promptly got the basil out. My son couldn’t believe how easy the solution was, and that he hadn’t been able to figure it out on his own. There have been other episodes since, with similar “common sense” answers that confounded him. At those times, I’d tell him “this is one of those ‘basil in the jar’ moments. I wonder if you consider such to be shaming him, where I consider it a way to communicate with him, telling him he’s ‘over thinking’ and therefore overlooking a very obvious answer.

                In any event, I’d rather be your friend than someone you dread seeing having posted here. I can see that my words have rubbed you the wrong way, and I apologize for that… it seems to be something I’m regrettably very adept at. πŸ™‚

    2. I’m glad you took the time to ramble! πŸ™‚ Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

      Blogging is a very strange thing indeed. Most of what I write here, I would never say to you if we met in person. In fact, there are a whole lot of things that my husband had no idea about until I gave him a draft of a post I was preparing to post. πŸ™‚ But, you’re right, what would the point of blogging be if we weren’t sharing things that are thought provoking and hard to write. For one thing, it would be boring.

  15. Part of why shame is so incredibly hurtful and I strongly agree with Liberatedape, “What a f******* bastard.” is that I get lost in it. It is a catalyst sending my brain onto a track which seems familiar for me, because I am used to the things I find there; but is more negative, dark, paralyzing. One of shame’s signs or symptoms ( for me ) – of being caught up on that track – is extra hyper sensitivity, another is higher anxiety, also more time spent spacing out and an inability to start &/or complete work. I am glad you posted this, it’s been on my mind in a constructive way and might make my place of strength a bit bigger.
    So it while it seems weird to say thanks for talking about sad stuff, “thanks”.

    1. I’m glad you found it helpful. I’ve been writing about catastrophizing and in thinking about why I do it, I’ve run into that same thing you talk about here: the familiarity and how it’s weirdly comforting, even though it’s very dark and negative. I don’t understand how something so unpleasant can also be in a strange way soothing or at least attractive.

      I hope that your place of strength continues to grow. That’s a very nice image.

  16. πŸ™‚ just picked up my 5 years old NT son from Kindergarten and noticed some NT looks. Guess it has been some time since I combed my hair. Brushed teeth. Shame comes creeping. My boy deserves a cool Mom. Also the thought that the others must wonder how I hold on to my cool job. The NT cultural linearity between shampoing frequency and intelligence / status is just nonsense. Like how can you truely believe that people with complete makeup and clean, tidy homes have anything interesting on their mind? Talk about repetitive behaviour …..
    To me the shame is more like the sadness of knowing you are an outsider looking over the fence knowing that the insiders are neither that cool or that funny. It’s lonelines

    1. There is definitely a cultural link between looks and success potential. I fell into that trap and I’m just starting to let it go.

      Your son has a cool mom and I bet he’s way more aware of that than of when you last brushed your hair. πŸ™‚

  17. I’m nearly immune to guilt-tripping because it was done so extensively on me by a relative when I was growing up and just made me sneakier. I guess that was a mixed blessing. Sure wasn’t pleasant going through it. =/

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