Deconstructing a Shame Sandwich – A Healthy Choice
My oldest Teen is learning to play the piano. Last night I heard a crash upstairs. I found him cradling an injured hand. His keyboard was on the floor, the stand collapsed. Here’s what I heard-
“I’m so stupid. I tried to adjust the stand without removing the keyboard. I can’t believe I’m so stupid!”
I got him an icepack for the squished hand, and tried to think of an empathic way to address the shame message he’d expressed.
Shame is the painful feeling of being unworthy of love and belonging. It starts small, and externally, but grows exponentially, and becomes internal when accommodated. Shame is different from guilt. Guilt sounds like, “I did something wrong.” Shame sounds like, “I am wrong.” Can you feel the shift between these two messages?
I’m so stupid. -Shame
I tried to adjust the stand without removing the keyboard. -Guilt
I’m so stupid! -Shame
Teen had expressed a shame sandwich. While the middle was a delicious learning opportunity- a chance to try again, to grow- it was slipped between two damning shame statements- words meant to punish and wound.
Once his hand felt better, I asked him to deconstruct his sandwich, but not in a “gross! You’re gonna eat that?!” way. I simply asked, “would you be willing to drop the name-calling, and focus on the choice you made? What might you do differently next time?”
Teen rephrased the story without shame messages. Then I shared one of my own crappy experiences, with guilt language, rather than shame language. We connected and we laughed. We set the keyboard back up and tentatively tested each key.
Keyboard- fully functional. Teen- perfectly imperfect, wired for struggle, capable of learning, and worthy of love and belonging. Me too. And you, too. We’re all in this together.
The next time something falls apart, listen to your stories. Do you call yourself names? Belittle your intelligence? I know I do. My sandwiches often don’t have a guilty middle, just slice after slice of shame.
When we’re stuck in a shame sandwich, let’s look for the tasty guilt message, and add one in if it’s missing. Let’s use words that hold potential for growth, words that aren’t attached to our worth. Let’s shift from shame language to guilt language, so we can heal. We can do this! Rock on!