Sandra Fluke's testimony before Congress was scrutinized & lots of women can relate to this "shame."
The polarization of a nation over Sandra Fluke's testimony before Congress on the rights of every woman to have contraceptive insurance coverage has been more than ratings-grabbing rhetoric. While anyone has the freedom to agree or disagree with Fluke's position, the conversation has devolved into personal attacks, sparking major news articles in the Los Angeles Times, the Huffington Post, and others.
On one level, so what?! One more time, a woman who stood up and advocated for rights for women, especially in the area of sex and money, has been attacked. Isn't that just what happens? Ignore it and move on. On another level, wow! The personal name-calling, public digging into every area of Fluke's past and constant opinions being debated will strike a chord in the wounded hearts of millions of women.
It's all about shame. Every woman who has been raised with put-downs knows what shame feels like. Every woman who has been in an abusive relationship (and even some who wouldn't classify their relationship as "abusive") knows what shame feels like. Sometimes it's the little things: jokes about your weight or body shape, little comments about how your needs are not important, dismissal of your opinions and so on. Sometimes it's big things: name calling and labels ("You're just a slut," "What do you expect with a past like yours?") or public putdowns and attacks like those received by Fluke. Influential Celebrities Speak Out Against Bullying
Guilt says: "I did something against my own values and need to make it right or make a change."
Shame says: "I am something wrong/bad and don't deserve respect or kindness." When Fear Says "Stay"
Whether you grew up with shame as your constant companion or learned it in dysfunctional relationships as an adult, you know the power of shame. Shame leaves you feeling less-than, incompetent, unimportant. It's the feeling of being a mistake, of being unacceptable, of being bad.
The power of shame is that it hangs on long after your mind brings up arguments against the illogic and paints everything in your life with a cloud of darkness. Shame will make you cower when you long to stand tall and ensure your silence when you wish to speak. Shame is why women who are beaten rarely press charges (I was one of those), why women from abusive childhoods often choose romantic partners to repeat old patterns (I was one of those) and why women so often struggle with low self-esteem, anger and depression (I was one of those).
Within the shame message of, "I am something wrong/bad" is the added complication of reality. If you're human, you've made mistakes. If you're an adult, you've had sex—perhaps with someone you wish you hadn't. If you've lived past adolescence, you've struggled with weight and body image. If you're alive, you are imperfect. Somehow we women compound the problem of shame by believing the message. Do All Women Have Body Image Issues?
If you're a woman resonating with the pain Sandra Fluke is experiencing from the very public shaming of who she is and the message she gave, you are not alone! Millions of women are right there with you, sometimes trying desperately to ignore the story because it's too close to home, sometimes raging against the unfairness. Here are some powerful ways to change that message and to help your heart heal.
- Weed Your Garden. The first powerful way you can combat the shame message is to get rid of people in your life who put you down and send you the message that who you are is not okay. You may need to learn healthy boundaries with your own family members, get out of an abusive relationship or get some serious help to address issues if you choose to stay in a relationship that is sending you shame messages. Take a look at the friends in your life. Look at your job and social interactions. Shame is like weeds that take over your garden and choke out good things. Pull them out! When Should I "Break Up" With A Bad Friend?
- Do the Healing Work. Just because you're away from those who send you shame messages doesn't mean your work is done! Those messages can rattle around inside your head and heart, and big deal moments like the Sandra Fluke story can bring them out and make you feel like cowering all over again. Without the work of healing, you're only putting a bandaid over a deep gash without allowing the healing to happen. Grab a coach or counselor and do the work. Sure, it will hurt for a minute...but you can be free!
- Be a Human Being. Embrace the fact that you've lived long enough to make mistakes. Celebrate the reality that you still get to have your voice, even though your past holds something other than perfection. Reject the opinions of the Rush Limbaugh's of the world who thrive on bully behavior; reject it just as if he were saying the moon were made of cheese. It's that wrong! Dear Gals: Why Must You Do These 14 Awful Things? Love, Guys
- Reach Out. Rather than trying to forget about your shame experience, use your past to reach out to another hurting woman. Public shaming and name calling is just another version of bullying behavior. Most folks ignore it when it happens, and that just makes it worse. Whether you stand quietly with another hurting woman or join a cause, step out and reach out!
Sandra Fluke's very public battle to advocate for women while being personally attacked is a sad commentary on how far we haven't come in this society to protect the voice of women. Rather than cowering or raging, use this moment to take a look at your own life. Weed your garden of those who send you shame messages. Grab a coach or counselor and do some healing work. Celebrate your humanness, and reach out to another woman who hasn't yet found her voice. No matter how much shame you feel inside, there is always hope! Faith: A Step Toward Healing
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