The Shame Trap: Don’t Get Caught


shameI spoke with a woman recently who was had reached her breaking point. She had misplaced her mailbox key in her cluttered apartment. When her mailbox was full the post office simply stopped delivering her mail. Cards went un-received and bills went unpaid. This was the tipping point to a downward spiral of shame.

All of us have special talents and giftings in our lives. Some people are naturally blessed with the gift of organization. Most of us, however, are not. This isn’t something to be ashamed of.

I own a car. When it needs a tune up or breaks down somewhere, I can’t fix it myself. I have no idea how. I need to enlist help from someone who is talented and trained in the automotive field to fix it for me. There is no shame in that, right? Why should enlisting the help of someone gifted in organizing to help you clear the clutter from your life be any different? IT ISN’T!

Needing help is not a shameful thing.

Shame brings with it withdrawal, isolation, loneliness, stress, anxiety, self-blame, self-contempt, low self esteem, low self worth, and depression. How can you function in the midst of all that?

Don’t be afraid to reach out – to a trusted friend, family member, or a trained professional (don’t worry – they have seen it all!) for the help that you need to get your life back in order. It’s the hardest step, but it’s where your life begins again.


3 thoughts on “The Shame Trap: Don’t Get Caught

  • June 6, 2011 at 7:01 am

    I can totally understand why this woman ended up in the situation she did. Can you imagine calling a company to explain the unpaid bills and saying “I lost my mailbox keys, and didn’t manage to get my act together to do anything about getting access to my mailbox” – how stupid would you feel! “Normal” people can’t even begin to understand how one gets to a point when you can’t get into your mailbox for an extended period of time, and don’t manage to do something to resolve the problem (like call the landlord for a spare key, or call a locksmith to break into it for you). It all seems so simple from an “outsiders” point of view – just have a really good look for the keys, and if they don’t turn up soon make the call to get the problem sorted. But it is bound to have involved a series of events that only make sense to an ADD-type or otherwise severely disorganised person, and that just sound ridiculous to anyone else. When the causes of your behaviour are totally impossible to explain to other people without them just thinking you are stupid or lying, it’s not going to be easy to admit what went wrong.

  • June 6, 2011 at 7:17 am

    I wanted to add my own perspective on this to my previous comment. I’m 99% sure I have ADHD but can’t get past my GP to get a diagnosis (I’m in the UK where recognition of ADHD is pretty low compared to the US, especially in adults, and the GPs I’ve spoken to literally don’t seem to have a clue about it. The last one I saw was outright dismissive & tried to imply I was depressed despite me making it very clear this was a cognitive problem going back to my childhood, not an emotional one, as well as telling me “everyone has things they don’t like about themselves and you just have to learn to live with it”, and the other two just seemed confused by the whole suggestion that I could have ADHD) so I just have to muddle through as best as I can, but I’m constantly making stupid mistakes which rapidly spiral into huge problems because it’s impossible to explain my behaviour to others and I just feel embarrassed by their perception of my behaviour. Nobody understands that my forgetting to do something wasn’t due to a willful act of omission or a lack of trying, I can’t find a way to explain how I managed to REPEATEDLY forget something, even sometimes in spite of reminders, me being late to things is interpreted as me not caring enough to try to be on time, me forgetting to pay back money I owe is seen as deliberately avoiding paying up, etc. It is not me being paranoid thinking that other people judge me harshly on these behaviours, I know for a fact that it is true (I’m not a paranoid person at all, and I’ve had enough negative feedback about these things to know how other people interpret the behaviour). I don’t go and admit my mistakes before they spiral out of control because I know I can’t explain them properly and the person I’m talking to will think I’m just making excuses, and then once they’ve got out of control I feel even more embarrassed to seek help. Not being taken seriously by my GPs has obviously made the whole situation much worse, as the one person I should be able to go to to get help with my problems has responded to me in exactly the way that I fear.

    It seems obvious to me that this cycle of shame goes back to childhood, where I would get told off for things and not have a clue what I was supposed to have done differently because I couldn’t see how I could have had any control over the situation. Like being told all the time in school that I should try harder, but I honestly had no idea HOW to try harder – motivation was a mystery to me, and still is; it’s always been something that happened to me rather than anything I felt I had control over. I still can’t work out how other people manage to just decide to do something and then do it! Likewise for distraction – I was told to concentrate but nobody ever helped me learn HOW to concentrate, it was just assumed that if I really wanted to I could magically just pay attention. When you are constantly made to feel guilty for behaviours that you don’t feel you can control it is inevitably going to lead to problems with guilt & shame. As an adult I still find myself trying to cover up my mistakes, making excuses (paradoxically I find that the fear of being perceived to be “making excuses” actually leads to me really making excuses as nobody accepts my honest answers as legitimate), sometimes even telling outright lies to people I really shouldn’t be lying to.

    It’s horrible and I wish I could just get over it, but without even being able to get a diagnosis, or being able to afford the services of a coach or therapist or private psychiatrist or whatever I can’t really see how I can. It’s easy for you to say I have nothing to be ashamed of, but it isn’t you I have to deal with in everyday life, it’s lots of people who have no concept of how hard ordinary things are for me and who I know for a fact will judge me harshly.

  • June 6, 2011 at 8:31 am

    Thank you, Miss D, for your comments – I know there are a LOT of people who can identify with you! If you are on Facebook, please check out ADD Mavericks:
    Jennifer Koretsky is an AD/HD coach and has written a few blog posts for Clutter Control Freak. She also has a website with a wealth of resources:
    Hope this helps!!

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