When I was in middle school our building was situated on the same campus as the high school. We shared the same cafeteria, which meant that during the lunch hour we got to eat with the high schoolers! How cool was that? Way cool! Unless you did something way embarrassing, and guess who did. If you guessed me, you would be correct!!!
After eating lunch we would go outside and stand, and talk, and flirt with the boys, and vice versa. One day I stayed out in the school yard too long and when I heard the class bell ring, my friends and I began to run back over to the middle school. Just as I was approaching the building, I fell down. It was a very ugly fall too. I fell all over myself. I fell so hard there was no jumping up and acting like it didn’t happen. It was so bad that teachers ran over to help me up. Thankfully, I was not hurt except for my pride.
I decided that it would be less embarrassing if I told my teachers and friends that I had merely fainted while running. I mean, sympathies for a health scare are MUCH better than laughter at my clumsiness, right???
Our feelings about our embarrassing moments are more about what we believe others think of us. Don’t you agree?
The real kicker with guilt, shame and embarrassment, the potency of their punch, is not what they make us think about ourselves, but what they make us believe others think about us. Note that I did not say that the kicker is what others believe about us. I said the potency of guilt, shame and embarrassment is what they make us believe others think about us. We have the uncanny ability to magnify what we think others believe about us whether it is true or not.
Like it or not, we care about what others think. Did you know that women do not dress to appeal to men? Well, I should probably say, that the majority of women do not dress for men; they dress for other women. Women care about what other women think of them when it comes to personal style. Just go to any women’s event and you will see the looks of women sizing each other up, complimenting each other on their outfits and hairstyles. I look forward to attending conventions just so I know what everyone is wearing these days. Some say you can now use Pinterest for this, but I find it easier looking at other women in their snappy-cute clothing in person.
Often we are mistaken in our belief that guilt, shame and embarrassment is only about what we privately think of ourselves. If it were a totally private matter in our minds then we might be able to get it under control and limp along in life, suffering in silence. But when we are associating these moral emotions with other living, breathing human beings who are our neighbors, coworkers or church members it can become so overwhelming that we are prone to think what’s the use? It can seem so overwhelming that we don’t even know what to do.
Years ago when I was going through a divorce, I was standing in a Walmart checkout line. Without any warning, a woman standing in another line beside me, loudly says to me, “Gina, I heard you were getting a divorce.” Needless to say that all eyes shifted to me. I did not know what to do other than to affirm it with a quick nod and turn away. I was so embarrassed! I wondered what was going through the minds of those who had just witnessed this ill-mannered invasion of my privacy during a very sensitive time. What if I had busted into tears? What if I had followed suit and aired out all of my dirty laundry right there in front of my unsuspecting audience? What if I had responded badly, and told this woman to mind her own business while using some colorful language? I have to admit that the thought of doing all three crossed my mind, but what good would that have done other than embarrass me further. And I didn’t want that!
The attention or perceived attention of others can possibly make us act and react differently than we normally would. It can bring out the worst in us, bringing on more guilt, shame and embarrassment. It’s a vicious cycle!
The good news is that people are fickle – they can easily change their minds about issues, situations and other people. A political figure who once had lost the trust of his constituents can become a beloved politician years later. An actor who was caught doing something illegal can make a major comeback eventually. This is how public relations professionals make their money. They get paid to make us forget our negative thoughts about people, companies and products, and, in turn, make us love them again. Just ask Martha Stewart.
We can recover from past mistakes; it can be done. Ordinary people can recover just like faulty products and unpopular politicians can. And instead of the public relations firm getting the credit for it, all glory will go to God. This, my friend, is the redeeming quality of guilt, shame and embarrassment.
Can we resolve that what we believe others think about us is not always as bad as we make it out to be, and that those thoughts, whatever they are, can be redeemed?
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Award-winning author Gina Duke is a wife, mother and Director of Women’s Ministry at her local church. Gina is also a speaker with a B.S. in Organizational Leadership. She is able to bring a clear word for authentic Christian living. Through her book, “Organizing Your Prayer Closet: A New and Life-Changing Way to Pray” (Abingdon Press), she imparts 1 Peter 4:7 with the gift of structured prayer journaling. Gina also blogs and offers numerous videos and resources at GinaDuke.com. You may also follow her on Twitter and Instagram @TheGinaDuke.
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