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Winter retreat in the Netherlands 30.11.-3.12!

How I used to allow shame to rule my life

I don’t remember how it started. It must have come creeping up on me slowly during puberty. At some point, there was no way to ignore it: I was one of those teens who was constantly blushing – usually combined with cold and sweaty hands, racing heartbeat, and feeling paralyzed.

I didn’t only blush in “serious” situations like giving a presentation in front of the class or wanting to talk to a crush of mine. No, I blushed all the time! Somebody talking to me unexpectedly. People laughing about something and I didn’t know why. Having to walk past people. Being asked anything in class. Somebody looking at me. Thinking of something that I judged as embarrassing, especially something potentially blushing. Misunderstanding a question. The list was endless.

And I did everything I could to avoid these situations. I crossed to the other side of the street. I stopped raising my hand in school. I hid my face behind my hair. I spoke with an inaudible voice. I tried not to rub anybody the wrong way. I preferred winter to summer as it was easier for me to hide my body under layers of clothes. I wished for the superpower of turning invisible so I could be around people without them seeing me or having to interact.

I was shaming and blaming myself for blushing and was resisting it with every fiber of by body.

Until one day in class someone made a remark about my redness while I was blushing. My math teacher, Mr. Schneider, said: “Yes, Anna’s face is red. Lets all look at Anna.” And everybody did. I couldn’t believe my burning ears! I wanted to vanish, to die. I truly hated him in that moment. My face was boiling hot. An eternity passed. I didn’t see any way out. Eventually, I surrendered to the situation. Then suddenly I noticed a change. My face cooled down and my breath softened. After a little while, Mr. Schneider said: “Now Anna’s face isn’t red anymore.” He smiled at me and continued class as if nothing had happened.

I cannot say that this incident changed everything right away. Yet it was a first step. I got a glimpse of how it feels like when things get better after they’ve gotten worse. Of what happens when I don’t resist, when I step into the limelight with my shame.

It was the first time I had experienced what I later heard being said in the Radical Honesty context as:
“What you resist, persists.” (C. G. Jung)
“Shame only breeds in the dark”

These are two key takeaways for me and you’ll probably hear me say them more than once if we ever meet at a workshop.

Did I ever stop blushing? No. The blushing did decrease, though, as I grew older and more confident. And then it increased again now that I’m practicing Radical Honesty and am more daring to do and say potentially embarrassing things.

How do I deal with it these days? I just say: “I notice heat in my face. And I imagine it’s red.” And I smile at whomever I’m with and continue doing what I was doing.


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