The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines shame as a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety. Synonyms include humiliation, regret, disgrace, odium and reproach.
I think we are all guilty of feeling shame sometimes. Some of us feel it more than others. I often feel like I live my life in shame. A lack of self-esteem and/or pride in my accomplishments makes me feel unworthy. As a 35-year-old man, I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never really dated or the really shameful truth that I’m a virgin. [Isn’t that crazy? If I were a female, it might be seen as a symbol of purity, but as a guy, it makes me feel like a total loser, incapable of finding any woman to love me.]
Other people might feel shame for their lack of educational attainment, or their debt. Some people are shamed by their friends or family for the choices they’ve made in their life, perhaps especially if their family is religious. People are dis-communicated for having a child out of wedlock or for coming out as lesbian, gay or bisexual.
Popular culture has turned it into a joke, of sorts. The walk of shame is when someone is caught wearing the same clothes the following day after a night of an unplanned sexual encounter. The Urban Dictionary definition describes the walk of shame as “when someone leaves the home of a sexual escapade (quite possibly with someone you met the night before) in the morning; hair sticking out in all directions, lines on your face, and missing at least one article of clothing.”
Shame is also a weapon to be wielded against your detractors. To shame (v) someone can mean to best them in a competition, to disgrace them, or to cause them to feel guilty. Shame is an invisible force, with so much power to strike to the core of a person and make them feel unworthy of even the smallest appreciation from others.
Feeling shame can affect the way we live our lives, and especially how we spend our money. A lot of people would never be caught dead wearing store brand sneakers or workout clothes, so they pay 5x as much for the Nike, Under Armor, Adidas, or Lululemon version of the same thing. A 3-year-old Toyota Camry costs 1/3 of the sticker price of a new BMW (and will definitely be cheaper to maintain and probably will last longer), but there’s nothing sexy about rolling out of the dealership in a 2015 Camry with 45,000 miles on it. People will pay-up for an extra bedroom or for a specific school district (even when they don’t have kids) for the feeling of prestige that owning a 4-bedroom house in THE school district gives to them, meanwhile they pay much higher property taxes on top of the much higher sales price (financed for 30 years).
So, what can we do about these feelings of shame, inadequacy, and self-doubt? How can we fend off the urges to spend more for something showier that will cost more money in the short-term and possibly the long-term? By taking pride in your unique accomplishments and your path that led you to where you are today. Respecting yourself and knowing that there’s no one else like you in the whole wide world. Honoring yourself by following your own journey, not by trying to keep up with the Joneses or meeting the unrealistic expectations of others. Making conscious decisions about your present and your future, then mapping out or reverse-engineering a strategy to get you there. It will be much more fruitful than taking a backseat in your own life and watching in shame as everyone else seems to pass you by.
I think we should feel a modicum of shame when we make rash decisions or act foolishly, but we can take pride and feel honor by putting our best foot forward and making thoughtful, honest decisions in our daily lives.