The Walk of Shame

Shame is a painful feeling of disgrace, dishonor or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or unwise behavior.

The following stories represent scenarios from four developmental stages: childhood, young adulthood, young married couple and middle-age.

The Wet Pants

(often seen as a forwarded email)

Come with me to a third grade classroom . . . There is a nine-year-old kid sitting at his desk and all of a sudden, there is a puddle between his feet and the front of his pants are wet. He thinks his heart is going to stop because he cannot possibly imagine how this has happened. It’s never happened before, and he knows that when the boys find out he will never hear the end of it. When the girls find out, they’ll never speak to him again as long as he lives. The boy believes his heart is going to stop; he puts his head down and prays this prayer, ‘Dear God, I need help now! Five minutes from now I’m dead meat when I have to walk out of here.’ He looks up from his prayer and here comes the teacher with a look in her eyes that say he has been discovered. As the teacher is walking toward him, a class mate named Susie is carrying a goldfish bowl that is filled with water. Susie trips in front of the teacher and inexplicably dumps the bowl of water in the boy’s lap. Now all of a sudden, instead of being the object of ridicule, the boy is the object of sympathy. The teacher rushes him downstairs and gives him gym shorts to put on while his pants dry out. The ridicule that should have been his has been transferred to someone. At the end of the day, as they are waiting for the bus, the boy walks over to Susie and whispers, “You did that on purpose, didn’t you?” Susie whispers back, “I wet my pants once too.”

The Morning-After Walk of Shame

At 5:00 AM, she opened her eyes wondering where she was . . . Slowing the events of the previous night dawned on her as she checked the time on her cell phone. Next to her, she felt him move and grunt. She quickly slipped on her jeans and gathered her things. She traveled the walk of shame across the courtyard from one dorm to another aware of the cold, wet bricks underneath her feet. Mascara streamed down her cheeks as she rehearsed his cold response and the possibility of an abortion. The family voices rang out as the strength of her dreams floated on the morning mist. Her room-mate who was worried all night, gave her a hug helped her shower and get into bed.

The Shame of Infertility

She stood at the kitchen sink trying to focus on the task at hand rather than the physical and emotional pain that permeated her personhood. With hot tears rolling down her cheeks, she clung to the glimmer of hope that the grueling IVF treatments offered. Feelings of grief and inadequacy came crashing down like waves that repeatedly tumbled her underwater where there was no air. She could hear her husband’s car coming and dreaded him seeing her like this. She stood frozen in time, holding the plate and glass as if they could not seem to make into the dishwasher. As she wondered if she should dry her face and cheerfully greet him—when he reached up with a kiss on the cheek saying, “We’re in this together Babe; one way or another, it’s going to be alright.”

Bankruptcy Walk of Shame

The wind was cold and bitter as the couple walked from the downtown parking deck to the courthouse. He walked slowly supported by a cane as the sting of the winter chill when through his body. His emotional pain from the loss of his business, physical strength, the family home was more salient that the pain in his spine from a recent back surgery. In court, the couple gave an account of their financial situation, as their creditors questioned their integrity and character. They were quizzed about remaining assets including her wedding ring given 25 years ago as a promise to provide and protect. The reality of their losses dug like a surgeon’s knife. The future of their three teenage children kept them faithful to the process in spite of overwhelming feelings of hopelessness. As she reached over to squeeze his hand, they fought back tears of shame and exchanged a knowing smile.

Empathy is feeling and understanding how it is for another person; it bonds us together.

It would be awesome to live in a world where our family members and friends just “got it!” Often those closest to us are incapable of empathy. We can have compassion for someone without allowing ourselves to know what it is like to walk in their shoes. Empathy demands the courageous commitment of allowing ourselves to be changed by another person’s joyful or sorrowful story. It is best expressed with non-verbal communication rather than attempting to fix something or take on the responsibility of another. The simple act of communicating, “Message received” can bring relief to the devastating feelings of shame. How can we prevent isolation and resentment from damaging our relationships? Recovery from shame requires the difficulty work of self-awareness, vulnerability and expressing our needs. Unconditional love covers and bonds us together. Who has been there for you in your darkest hour?


Author: Beth Holloway, MA, LPCA for Miller Counseling Services, PC

Beth Holloway, MA, LPCA
Beth Holloway, MA, LPCA

Beth Holloway, MA, LPCA is a Licensed Professional Counselor Associate and has more than 12 years’ experience in the mental health field. She has recently joined the Miller Counseling Services team and specializes in counseling individuals and couples who have experienced all types of losses including abuse, domestic strife, and trauma. She enjoys leading group therapy classes in the areas of Divorce Recovery, Spiritual Enrichment, Couples and Parent/Child Relationships, Grief Processing and Depression Recovery. Beth has had the privilege of traveling all over the United States and to more than 10 foreign countries and has been enriched by learning about people from diverse cultures and ethnic groups.

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