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Pay Attention to How People Shame You

YouTube video and Soundcloud audio are available.

How we shame others says a lot about what we are ashamed of ourselves. It gives other people a peep into our interior/internal lives. It shows others that things we place value on have been once used to hurt us. Or said differently, how others shame us, has a lot to do what they place value on and perceive as shameful. It’s important to note that what they find shameful might align with what we find shameful. But not always.

This episode asks you to pause the next time someone shames you and ask, 'if someone shamed them in this same way they are shaming me, would they be hurt by this shame," because chances are, they would be hurt by that same shame, which is why they are shaming you in that same way. They hope the shame hurts you like it would hurt them.


When I was doing my PhD research, I used critical discourse analysis and autoethnography as methods, which in a way, is a lot of cultural studies and ethnography. Studying myself in relation to my culture(s) meant I was doing a lot of observation, a lot of watching myself and others. Paying attention to the trends, patterns, cycles. Repetition here is key, which I’m already obsessed with.

A lot of the same findings I found then I’m seeing again. In others and myself.

One trend is that how we shame others says a lot about what we are ashamed of ourselves. Or said differently, how others shame us, has a lot to do what they perceive as shameful. It’s important to note that this may align with what we also perceive and experience as shameful too. But not always.

Whenever someone claps back, hits below the belt, insults, or tries to intentionally hurt someone, what I find is that they will reach for that thing that would hurt them the most. It really is a lot of projection at the end of the day. In attempting to hurt you the most, I have to lean on my own intelligence system, my history, my lived experiences that inform my perception of what I think will hurt you the most, not what will actually hurt you the most, which you think would be the more rational approach.

But when it comes to emotions, because we’re so used to separating them from logic, we don’t always take the most logical approach, we just operate from our emotional body. So, for instance.

What I’ve noticed is that people who place a lot of emphasis on body image in their lives, they will often shame other people’s body’s because if someone shamed their body, that’s what would hurt them the most.

So, someone that shames you for being fat, is usually coming from 2 places. They are either obsessed with not being fat, either because they once were fat and were shamed for being fat, so they have retained that trauma and being called fat was the worst offence for them.

These are usually the gym rats, the diet obsessed people, the count calories, steps on scales daily, pays attention to the latest health trends. None of these activities are bad nor is this a judgement. I’ve been a Varsity Rugby player and gym rat. I’ve had apps to count calories. I’ve been obsessed with the scale. I still push myself on some days to do Insanity or Trap Cardio even when I don’t want to or in pain. There’s nothing wrong with eating clean and mainting a healthy lifestyle.

Where it gets tricky is what happens when that fear of getting fat (fat phobia) gets projected onto others in an attempt to insult them.

These people that are terrified of becoming fat, for them, fatness is the worst thing in their eyes. To call you fat, is them essentially showing you what they perceive as most shameful to them. They are typically mortified if they gain weight. They are disappointed in themselves if they miss workouts and cheat more than they like. They, like me, have negative self-talk when they are bloated or have eaten too much. The projection is more a look into their own internal lives around their perceptions of fatness and how they negotiate what they consider excess weight. It really has nothing to do with anyone outside of themselves.

Even if you don’t care to be called fat, they think they just burned you because if they had been called fat, that would really get to them.

On the other hand, there are people who are actually fat themselves, and for similar reasons, fat shaming has been really painful experience in their lives. So, to them, hitting below the belt means calling you fat because if they were called fat, it would get under their skin. By calling you fat, they feel less fat or less alone in their fat shame. It’s the misery loves company, insecurities tugging on other insecurities game.

Same with people who shame you for being ugly. This is typically because they place a lot of value on body image. They don’t view ugly in the same ways as say, Mia Mingus who asks us to reframe ugly.

These people have either been shamed themselves for being ugly, of have insecurities about what it means to be ugly. To them, being called ugly is the worst offence. So, when they want to insult someone and think they are hitting below the belt, they will automatically call you ugly. Not because you actually are ugly, but to them, being called ugly is the worst thing.

Similar with rich people shaming poor people for not having money. Calling them poor would be the worst offence, not because they are poor, but because they’ve worked hard to not be seen as poor or to never be poor. Wealth, status, and having money is what they place value on. That is what matters to them. That is where they would be offended.

They compete with others to have more than they do because that makes them feel more superior. Someone shaming them for not being as rich, or less rich than another person, or calling them poor would really bother them. Because it would bother them, they assume it is an insult that will bother others, even if they don’t care about status or wealth in the same way. Its not actually about what would hurt the other person the most. It’s about what would hurt them the most.

The same goes with people who value intelligence or book smarts. I am one of these people. If you place value on being smart or well read, or intelligent, that is usually how you will shame others, because being called ableist terms like “stupid,” or ‘dumb,” would really bother you because you try hard to not be seem as that. You might not care for body image insults because that doesn’t matter to you. But if someone were to say you aren’t well read, or shames you for not having read a certain book, that would bring shame to you.

A lot of academic shame in this way. We shame people for not reading certain things. We shame them for not being as smart. This all says a lot about what we would be shamed by. Nothing to do with them per se.

Same thing goes for people who grew up being shamed for being single, unwed, or without children. To them, that shame is tragic. They would be deeply ashamed of being single, unmarried, or without kids. So when they find other people in this position, that becomes their go-to- grenade, their weapon of choice is to shame those people in ways that would crush them.

Same with people who shame people for being lazy. They actually fear being shamed as lazy and work hard to not be perceived as lazy. Being called lazy is offensive to them. Again, when it comes time to hurt someone, or to shame them, laziness becomes the arsenal of choice.

Another example is the spiritual people who shame others for not being as healed, positive, happy, or self-aware. Again, I fall under this category if you pay attention to how I shame people. The girls that were shaming SZA for not being healed, they bothered me because I saw an element of myself in them that I didn’t like in myself. They were only a mirror for me. Because that is how I shame. Because that is what would bring me most shame.

I care about the internal work. I value growth and expansion. I place emphasis on evolving, on introspection. Those things matter to me. If you want to shame me, that would be the best way to shame me. But again, most people shame others based on what they would be most ashamed of. Which is what I do. If you pay attention to how I shame people, it usually is in this category. I’ll shame them for not being as self-aware, not being as emotionally intelligent, not being as healed. Again, this is because I am shaming them based off what I would be most ashamed of. They probably don’t care to be healed, or any of that. But because that is what would shame me the most, that is where my mind will go as how to shame them the most.

See why it’s important to not take things personally.

How people shame us is literally not about us. It’s them reaching for an insult they think will hurt us the most. Which is almost always based off what would shame them the most. Now that I’ve said what shames me the most, more people will fire shots there to shame me. But in sharing what shames me, that means I’m already working on that shame. So, others shaming me for it, takes the power away. Which is what I want more of us to do.

Pay attention to how you shame others. That should be a starting point for where you start your own healing journey. Start there, because when people start to see what really shames you, and start to shame you in that way, it no longer hurts as much. And because it no longer hurts as much, you are less likely to weaponize that shame against others.

Healing shame is a win-win in this way.

You no longer take insults as personally because you’ve worked on the shame, they can no longer use it against you. But it’s also a win because you aren’t shaming people as much. And not reacting to people who try to get under your skin almost always makes them madder. Because the whole reason we shame people is to gain power over them. We want to throw them off. We want them to react back. We want to get them do what we want them to do. We want them to be hurt. It’s all control dynamics. Don’t engage and there is no exchange of power or energetic chord to be tugged at.

As Lalah Deliah says, “stay in your equanimity.”

Next time someone shames you, pause to consider how the very name they are calling you is the very name they fear being called the most. It’s way more fun to psychoanalyze them than to take offense to their shaming.

Until next time, in solidarity.

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