Shame and Factory Thirds

I walked into the shop in England with anticipation. What was a Factory Second china shop?

Fanning out before me was a glorious array of tabletops and shelves filled and overflowing with pottery and china dishes, teacups, teapots and coffee pots of all designs and colors. This is my version of heaven! I thought, drinking in the shapes and patterns as I moved from display to display, running my fingers across smooth glazed edges.

The prices were lower than a department store because of`minor flaws. Maybe the glaze on this batch wasn’t even, or the pattern was stenciled slightly to the side. Or maybe there had been far too many serving plates made for a set and they ended up here.

A factory second has only small flaws that won’t affect its use. Coffee or tea can still be poured, the Christmas Tofurky can still be served. Your English Breakfast tea can still be daintily sipped from a factory second teacup. But highest standards have not been met. The object is too flawed and not to be sold in the full-price department store display.

Worse than a second is the object that is too flawed to be of use, of no worth–may as well be dumped in the garbage bin out back.

Shame tells us we are a factory third.

Shame tells us we are too badly broken to be useful, to have friends, to interact at all. Shame says Stay Inside. People should not be forced to deal with you!

Shame has been an automatic response for me over my entire life. I can still feel the horrid, embarrassed flush that came over my whole body on one of my first days in kindergarten. I couldn’t keep the names of two classmates straight. Bad. I was a bad, stupid girl for not knowing.

At age five.

More recently, shame engulfed me like an ocean when I heard someone’s words as “what you want doesn’t matter.” For me that’s an automatic “Stop Drop and Roll–danger’s coming!” Lizzie, my lizard brain, kicks in and says RUN!

Some of us learned early the world was not safe for the Imperfect.

I could talk all day about how that small child got the idea she needed to be perfect, or how that adult was positive she didn’t matter. Early parenting teaches us a lot about the world, and some of us learned the world was not safe for the Imperfect.

The point I want to make here is about the message Shame shouts at us.

Shame tells us we are Too Broken, Too Wrong. We may as well head for the garbage bin and save someone else the trouble.

This deeply entrenched sense of worthlessness traps us, keeps us from having relationships, from growing, from learning.

As Brene Brown, author of The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, and others said on her blog:

I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.

Shame makes us feel like we are too far below the standard to be a part of life. It shuts us down, makes us blind to the beauty of life and friendship and interacting with others in our world.

Shame needs to be taken out to the garbage.

Shame…shuts us down, makes us blind to the beauty of life and friendship and interacting with others in our world.

Guilt is a different animal.

Brene Brown says, (my emphasis)

Based on my research and the research of other shame researchers, I believe that there is a profound difference between shame and guilt. I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.

Who knew? Guilt is good! Guilt allows us room to grow and change, to gives ourselves the chance to function in better ways in our world. Guilt is something like this (example possibly taken from personal experience):

I value kindness to others highly. That comment of mine wasn’t kind and doesn’t fit the person I want to be. How could I handle it differently next time?

Shame would say instead, You’re such an idiot! People don’t want to be around a rude idiot! RUN AND HIDE.

See what I’m saying? Guilt leaves air around us to grow and breathe, shame suffocates us. One allows give and take, ebb and flow, while the other crushes us under its weight.

Shame is a bully. He’ll knock you down and steal your lunch money–and your self-respect.

Here’s the takeaway: Shame is a bully. He’ll knock you down and steal your lunch money–and your self-respect. Guilt is your friend. Sure, sometimes he’ll make you feel uncomfortable when he tells you at lunch that your shirt is buttoned crooked, but ultimately guilt is a friend who just wants to help you be your best self.

You are no factory third! I am no factory third! Sure, my pattern is a little wonky and my glaze has the occasional run, but those just add character. Right?

If you’re tired of Shame knocking you down and stealing your lunch money, find a safe person to talk with about it, like a therapist. Get help. You can learn to live differently.

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