“Why didn’t you come over to me?” she asked. I playfully responded with, “Girl! Because you were a little slow with your customer.”
Her colleague, who was waiting on me, and the colleague beside him both let out this loud and scary, “Whoa! You didn’t just say that to her!” It felt like the whole Post Office heard their comments. I literally stopped breathing.
Months ago I met this amazing woman, full of life, and always engaging, she works at the Post Office here in Honolulu. She is super helpful, very funny and I love my connection with her.
Last Thursday my husband and I completed the first six lessons of Brene Brown’s ‘Living Brave Semester’. It is based on Brene’s book called ‘Daring Greatly’.
One of the assignments from Lesson Six was to create a manifesto.
A manifesto is a written statement declaring publicly your intentions, motives, or views. In essence it’s declaring to the world what you’re all about.
After I regained my breath, from the “Whoa!” comment declared by her co-workers I instantly recognized I was in deep shame. All I wanted to do was sprint out of the Post Office.
The gentleman helping me slid my package my way and said, “Here you go, she can help you.” I felt some relief. He instantly drew it back stating, “She’ll never help you again.” Terror was now layered over shame. How mean of him I thought.
As I turned toward her I could see the impact of my “… you were a little slow with your customer” comment and I felt deeply saddened, pained and confused. I had no idea that could be one of the worst things I could say to her as she performed her job. Especially as her colleagues continued to rib me for what I said. Her hand went up and I heard her say, “I’m not talking to you.”
Brene’s work teaches about shame. The devastation of it and how to become resilient to its toxic impact. I’ve read all her books. Now I needed the wisdom to apply it.
As I stood waiting for my transaction to be completed I could feel the energetic weight of the elephant that had sauntered into the Post Office. The man helping me was silent, as was the colleague beside him, as was my best helper, she like me had disappeared.
I began to draw on what Brene taught about shame and what I learned. After all, I just completed Lesson Six – Daring Greatly – the night before.
In those moments, which seemed like they would never end, I recognized the deep shame I was in. In previous shame episodes in my life I could never recognize the symptoms.
I remembered Brene stating, “Shame hates to be spoken.” That inspired a quiet whisper to myself, “You’re in shame. I love you. Just breathe. And get out of here.”
Fear, confusion, frustration, nervousness and deep sense of desperation coursed through my body as I exited the Post Office.
In a panicked attempt to connect with her by using a bit of levity I said, “Good-bye.” She threw up her hand and repeated, “Not talking to you.” My heart sunk.
As I walked home I suddenly remembered a line from my Manifesto, “With each fall I rise.”
“Shame derives its power from being unspeakable. Shame hates words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to wither.” Thank God I remembered that quote from Daring Greatly.
It was time to share my story of this incident with my husband. He’s the foundation of my ‘shame resilience’ support group. The withering of shame needed to begin.
He listened. He never uttered a word. He reached out to hold my hand. I knew he knew what I had just gone through. I felt exhausted.
The two predominant values that I move through life with are courage and clarity, both of which I was able to declare because of my work with Daring Greatly.
It is taking an enormous volume of courage to share this shame story and even more to be 100% responsible for what unfolded because of my inappropriate, unfeeling, and careless comment.
I’ll draw on clarity, knowing the importance of empathically reaching out to her, to inspire me to take a copy of this blog, along with a card and a bottle of wine as a way to apologize for my comment.
Of this I know for sure; even though I felt stripped naked by shame, using language and this story has brought light to it and destroyed it.