“Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: Secrecy, silence, and judgment.”

Brené Brown

I have a quirky morning habit, I must confess. I don’t know if it’s that strange because I haven’t asked anyone else about their morning quirks, either. But it’s a sort of life hack that I started a few years ago that seems to work to get my day started off on the right foot. You see, right after I get out of bed, I post a really lame joke to Facebook. And I mean, a really lame joke. You know the kinds of jokes that your dad used to tell that would embarrass you in front of your friends? Or the ones that you find on Laffy Taffy wrappers and wonder who thinks these are worth publishing? I have a sort of reputation for posting these kinds of jokes.

For some reason, these utterly silly puns make me laugh–especially in the morning. I’m not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination. I tend to wake up on the wrong side of the bed pretty regularly. But a bad pun seems to snap me right out of my annoyance and makes me start the day with a smile.

The other day, I posted a joke that I found especially amusing. It went something like this: Did you hear about the superhero who worked out all the time, and had a lisp? He’s Thor.

I literally laughed out loud as I posted it. For some reason, I find jokes that involve mispronouncing a word especially amusing, so this one was right up my alley. The post got its usual comments of either laughter or groans (which actually is at least 50% of why I find posting terrible jokes amusing) and then I sort of forgot about it for a few days. It was only later that my attention was brought back to it.

Someone commented, “Is this PC?” A three-word question. Nothing particularly offensive about it. Except I found myself feeling a pretty intense reaction. The comment came from one of those people whom you never hear from–someone you forgot that you had added to your friends list until they find something that compels them to comment. And I felt annoyed. So, I replied: No, it’s probably not PC. Which is probably why I posted it. Call the PC Police.

I then again forgot about the post and didn’t think much of it until several hours later. A colleague of mine took a screen shot of a post made by this commenter in another group. The post said something to the effect of their disbelief that a therapist would post such an insensitive joke to people with lisps and harelips, and that they had chosen to unfriend me because of my reckless insensitivity.

My body froze. My face turned red. It was as if my internal thermostat had been turned up by 10 degrees and had no intention of stopping. I. Was. Livid. How dare this person drag me through the mud in front of my peers! An innocent post that I made on my own personal page was being used against me in a professional networking group. When I found out that the commenter was sharing in private whom she was referring to (me) I became even more upset.

As a therapist, I can help people walk through their own reactions very well. It helps them see patterns of behavior that they’d like to interrupt by understanding their reactions. So after I composed myself, I tried to figure out why I was having such a violent response. Then I realized: I was being shamed. I was experiencing the feeling of shame, deeply. And shame is something I know how to work with.

Brené Brown is one of my favorite authors. A professor and social work researcher, she writes a lot about vulnerability and shame. About shame she writes, “Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment.” Knowing these are the ingredients required for shame to survive, I decided I would methodically start taking away some of its fertilizer.

I found some of my most trusted friends and colleagues and told them what happened. I explained that I could see how the joke could be viewed as insensitive, but that I didn’t mean it that way. I found it silly the way a third-grader was. I reached out to the person who was, in my view, shaming me to my colleagues (although I didn’t receive a response). I chose not to delete the joke or my comment because I wasn’t going to feed my shame silence, either. The last ingredient–judgment–was a little more difficult for me to remove.

How am I supposed to remove the judgment of others so that this doesn’t impact me, I wondered? And then I realized something. People will always be judging me. If it’s not for my Laffy Taffy jokes, it will probably be for my hair, or my weight, or my utter obsession with watching old nighttime soaps from the 80s (it’s true, I’m obsessed with Dynasty and Knots Landing). I have no control over whether people judge me, and that’s what’s so. But what I do have control over, I realized, was judging myself.

Although the entire situation was upsetting (and still is to some degree), I decided to practice radical non-judgment and self-acceptance. A lot of thoughts went through my mind about the situation, but I responded to each one with my unyielding determination to weed my mind of judgment. My inner monologue went something like this:

You should have realized that joke was insensitive. I understand, and I accept you completely.

You should not have said “Call the PC Police.” I understand, and I accept you completely.

You were irresponsible and insensitive. I understand, and I accept you completely.

Throughout the day, I had variations of this theme run through my head. And with every negative comment that my Inner Board of Self-snark Specialists (IBSS) came up with, I would thank it for sharing and accept myself completely.

My objective in doing this wasn’t necessarily to let myself off the hook; after all, shame is trying to fulfill a protective duty. The problem with shame, however, is that shame isn’t regret for something that you’ve done. Shame isn’t saying, “you made a mistake.” Shame is saying, “you are a mistake.” There’s a big difference between doing something wrong and being something wrong. By practicing radical self-acceptance, I put myself in a place where I could choose how to respond and how to move forward. And by the end of the day, I was at peace with the situation and had cleaned things up with those whom I needed to.

Was it wrong that I posted such a silly joke? I’d like to think it came from a place of innocent amusement and child-like humor. I don’t think I had any nefarious intent. Nevertheless, standing up to shame allowed me to loosen its grip on me and restore my peace of mind. If I stayed stuck in shame, I would have followed my first instinct–to hide, to delete my Facebook page, to call in sick for the day, and never post another joke online again.

To the chagrin of others, I continued to post my silly jokes the next day. And they’re still terrible, and they still annoy people. And I’m sure I might offend people from time to time. I’ll have to be responsible for that. But being ashamed? I don’t think I’ll ever embrace that as a way to be.

Incidentally, did you hear about the policeman who kept getting in bed? He wanted to be an undercover cop.


3 thoughts on “You Ought To Be Ashamed Of Yourself”

  1. Jeremy! I had no idea that you were blogging! So happy to find your voice here and so very happy to find this post to read first!

    Bravo to you for taking what must have been a horribly uncomfortable scenario with a colleague and being willing to deconstruct your own reactions to the point that you were able to find the “gift in the ugly package!”

    And, a thank you, too, for your vulnerability in being willing to share that journey here . . . in writing . . . online so that we may all see how to get unstuck when shame re-visits us!

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Audrey says:

    I love this, I’ve had similar experiences with Facebook and those people that think they’re an high and mighty expert on how everyone else should act. I know the exact feelings you’re talking about, it’s awful but it’s great to hear how you worked through it and didn’t engage with them. Thanks for sharing this experience and how you used the inner monologue. Remind me to tell you my cornball mushroom joke next time I see you.

  3. Andi says:

    Hi JD! I love your personal voice and self expression! You are real and candid when you write. Writing is very personal. Once you hit the send button, you become vulnerable to the world and the world can be mighty judgmental. From one author to another: You go JD and continue sharing your real self with the world!

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