How to respond to shame-based language

by Penny Fruth
Claremore, OK

Sometimes an innocent sounding question like “Are you two together?” can be a prelude to shame-based language. Most of us would recognize the potential judgment that comes along with that question, but some questions or statements blindside us and leave us with the deer in the headlights moment, wondering “What just happened?”

I invited a woman I met online to visit me at my home in the country. It was a pretty day, and everything seemed right with the world. The woman saw a rainbow sticker on my car and felt that she needed to tell me her views, saying “I would never bake a cake for a marriage of a same-sex couple because I believe what the Bible says.”

I was surprised and responded that there was only one scripture in the entire Bible that refers to homosexuality directly. The rest of the scriptures used to justify this belief are only inferred by others. Of course, she didn’t believe me and felt obliged to continue with her views.

If I hadn’t responded to her first statement, the conversation would have died there. But I mistakenly assumed we had some common ground on which to have a conversation, so my response just opened the door to more of her righteous judgment, believing she had been given the last word on the subject by god.

How can anyone judge what god and the Bible said?

I’ve come to believe that our body’s visceral instinct will give us a clue when any conversation veers off into shame-based judgment. With that body recognition, comes a quicker response. So, while our brains are still processing, our body instinct knows. If we develop a physical reaction, like tapping on our wrist, our bodies can keep us from being blindsided.

I was surprised by the woman’s initial statement because it seemed to come out of nowhere. We were not even talking about cakes. If I could have given myself more time to react, I would have had these choices:

  1.  No response
  2. A neutral response, “Oh.”
  3. An ambiguous response, “I can’t believe you said that.”
  4. Asking for clarification response, “How did you come to this conclusion?”
  5. A bumbling response, “My mother used to wear two slips so no one could see through her clothes.”
  6. An angry (you’ve crossed my boundaries response) “Get out of my effin house.”

In everyday situations, if someone accuses you directly of doing something they don’t approve of, responses one, four, and five are best because it puts you in control of the narrative. The bumbling response five is deceptively benign. Like the old Columbo TV series, these innocent and seemingly off-topic questions, lead to the heart of the problem.

The clarification also puts the focus on the accuser, not the accused.  It is very important initially to not deny the accusation. The accuser is likely angry [or insecure], and it is important not to buy into that anger, and don’t make yourself a victim. If, in the end, you admit guilt and say you’re sorry, don’t take on the shame and wear it like a hair shirt that bedevils you to the end of your life.

Shame is a temporary situation, not a permanent one.

Copyright The Gayly. 7/27/2019 @ 4:44 p.m. CST.