Despite all the news about cyber-bullying, shaming is not only a social media phenomenon. I can trace it back to my childhood, when my kindergarten teacher, Miss Vandezandee, shamed me in front of the whole class. I told her that I’d squashed a worm on my way to school, and she pretty much labeled me a worm-killer in front of the whole class. I felt humiliated but at the same time, I can honestly say I’ve never murdered another defenseless worm.
When Miss Vandezandee told me that killing the worm was wrong, she was both criticizing me and teaching me. When she ratted me out to my fellow classmates, she was shaming me. My point here is that not all criticism is shaming. Criticism, when done in private, can and should be constructive. Shaming, on the other hand, is a humiliating public embarrassment.
Most often, people shame others about their looks, their bodies, or their reputations. It’s obvious that when we’ve been shamed, we feel terrible. But if you think it just happens to kids (i.e., cyber-bullying), think again. If you ever watched “Fashion Police” after an awards show, you might remember how Joan Rivers (may she rest in peace) shamed anyone who was overweight, or flat-chested, or wore a badly tailored gown.
If you find yourself in an ill-fitting gown on the red carpet, or in any other situation where you’ve been shamed, here are a few ideas about how to respond.
- Escape. Get yourself out of the situation immediately, whether you slam your laptop closed, or directly tell the person who’s doing the shaming that you need some time to consider the comments.
- Think. Once you’ve gotten some distance, try to understand the intent of the other person. Did Joan Rivers really despise Kim Kardashian, or was she just trying to get a laugh? Most likely your “shamer” has a bunch of other stuff going on, not the least of which is her own self-esteem issues. Although you’re hurt and angry, try to sandwich in a little empathy at the same time.
- Retaliate. Now don’t get excited here. What I mean is, vent your anger in an email (make sure you address it to your mom or your sister, and not to the person you really want to throttle). Get hostile, be profane, and let it all out. Then SAVE IT IN DRAFTS. (That’s why I suggest addressing it to somebody who already has your back, just in case you hit “send” by accident.) Reread it in an hour or two, or in a day or two, then delete it.
- Empathize. Remember you’re not alone. We all have our own Miss Vandezandee or Joan Rivers to handle. Sometimes, the best way to get past a shaming experience is to recognize that you were a victim to someone else’s pettiness. It’s obviously her problem, and not yours.
Choosing not to let that person continue to humiliate you is your best form of revenge. And while you’re at it, treat yourself gently.