Shame and Embarrassment

One thing I experience periodically is seemingly unfounded feelings of shame and/or embarrassment. Now I’m not sure if these are even the right words to use. I’m pretty sure it comes from my growing up in a Fundamentalist religion. I want to explore this a bit here today.

To better get a grasp on what I’m talking about I often like to look at the definition of the words I’m using.

Google Dictionary defines shame as “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.”

It defines embarrassment as “a feeling of self-consciousness, shame, or awkwardness.

As I sit here at my desk I’m analyzing if these are the right words to use. I think what I experience might be better expressed as uncertainty about whether or not I should feel shame or embarrassment. It’s like I can’t tell if I’m uncertain or if I’m feeling ashamed. I experience some blend of the two. Often times this uncanny feeling will cause me to stop doing whatever it is that I’m doing and I will feel defeated.

Now I suspect this comes from my history of being born into the Jehovah’s Witness religion. Often times as a Witness you are told what you feel. You will be told what your motivations are. And you’re trained to accept what you’re told as true. It’s a sort of psychological rape that happens. You doubt even the most basic feelings.

When I feel sick I am often plagued by feelings of uncertainty and shame but not so much embarrassment. When I start feeling sick I will typically also feel depressed. “Am I really sick?” I ask myself doubtfully. “Am I sick enough to call out of work?”

It’s like I need an external source to validate my feelings. My feelings and experiences have been so chronically invalidated. It feels like I am not an authority on my own feelings and experience. What am I experiencing? Can someone else tell me?

This is similar to topics of morality. Witnesses are told what is right and what is wrong. You don’t get to make decisions about what you think is right or wrong. In the World of Jehovah’s Witnesses, morality is absolute, it’s not at all subjective.

Even if I don’t express them explicitly in my mind the feeling will be there. Is it ok if I do this? Should I do this? Is it ok to be me? Am I ok? I’m not used to guiding my own life and make my own decisions.

Back to this feeling of shame, embarrassment, and uncertainty that I experience and that I am experiencing today. Last week I made this blog. I made a bunch of posts. I started this gargantuan Glossary of Jehovah’s Witness Terminology. I felt good. It felt like maybe something I could do or write might help someone else. Like I might be able to help someone feel like someone out there understands.

But then last night it hit me. The uncertainty. The shame. The embarrassment. Why am I writing this blog? What a stupid idea why was I even thinking this was a good idea. Will this help someone? Why would I think this would help someone? Is it a reasonable thing to do? What a waste of time. I start thinking these things and it makes we want to give up.

I’m going to wait it out. I know the feelings will pass.


Published by Ryan David Tuttle

PhD Graduate student studying Behavioral Neuroscience, Addiction, Stress, Behavioral Economics, and Individual Differences. Former member Ministerial Servant and Pioneer in a Spanish speaking congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses.

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