Shame: A Deadly Hot Potato




It’s a killer. Of self-confidence. Of self-love. Of creativity. Of life. Of young women. And, ultimately of us all.

It’s not even ours. Not the kind of shame I’m talking about. At least not to begin with.

Shame is passed around like a hot potato. For many of us, when we are young we’re shamed repeatedly until we become to believe we are shame itself. Our parents probably didn’t even know they were passing it on. I know I didn’t know I was passing it on to my children.

It’s an epidemic. Shaming. We do it in many, many small ways, in many small moments. And, some of us do it in big ways, in big life-altering moments. We pass it on because it is too hot to hold and too much to bear. For the most part, this isn’t done consciously. But it’s done. All the time.

Shame is one of the stickiest tools of the Patriarchy. Shame the woman to quiet her. Shame her to get her to keep her beautiful sexual sacred self down. Shame her so she continues to hold Eve’s shame as her own. Shame her so she won’t remember how powerful she really is.

In the last few days, two stories of the deepest shame and humiliation have come to light. Shame so strong it caused two young women to take their lives. Of course, there are many more, but for now most of those are unknown to us. Shame keeps things quiet. When we feel shame, we keep secrets because the last thing a person who’s been shamed wants if for others to see them.

Just a few days ago in Northern California, three teenage boys were arrested and accused of sexually assaulting Audrie Pott. The accusations also include taking pictures as they assaulted Audrie, then sharing them around with classmates and others. Audrie hanged herself eight days after the assault. According to those who knew her, Audrie was shamed, bullied, propositioned, embarrassed, and humiliated.

Rehtaeh Parsons died on April 7th in Nova Scotia. She was 17 years old. She attempted to take her own life, many many months after struggling to live with shame. Her parents had to take her off of life support. Rehtaeh had been gang raped. As her father wrote, “They took photos of it. They posted it on their Facebook walls. They emailed it to God knows who. They shared it with the world as if it was a funny animation.”

Rehtaeh and Audrie had so much shame and humiliation poured on them they gave up on life. They aren’t the only girls, or women, to know this shame and humiliation.

How could we turn around and shame and blame these young women when they were the ones abused so savagely? I say we, because it is we. Rehtaeh and Audrie are our children. The boys accussed of these crimes are our children. The boys and girls who passed around these pictures, thereby heaping on the pain and suffering, are our children.

As a culture, our shame is deep and thick. It is toxic. It runs underground through us all, deep in the dark recesses of our shadow. And when the hot potato gets too hot to hold, we pass it on to others so we don’t have to know it within our own psyches.

But, this shame stops here. Now.

It is time for each of us to look within at our own internalized shame. It is time to stop passing it around because we don’t want to feel it. It is time to begin to look at how we the adults are raising children who do these things to each other.

Our internalized shame began as somebody else’s shame. And once we’ve internalized it, it is ours to deal with. It is ours to feel. It is ours to heal.

We live in a rape culture. We live in a shame culture. We live in a culture that pretends all is well, that our culture is the best, that we have no demons. The longer we pretend the problem is not ours the more vicious the acts will become.

When we are willing to stand tall to our darkest demons, we find that the dark holds our most sacred and beautiful jewels…sacred because we come to see our own humanity. And, this takes a willingness to step out of denial, and to stop believing in the illusion of some perfect self that is incapable of hurting and destroying others.

Shame. It can take your breath away. Literally. It can try to steal your life. It can keep you holed up like a monastic, far away from eyes that might see that shame and equate it with you.

Shame is handed down, generation to generation. It is passed around man to woman, woman to man, adult to child. I don’t know anyone who’s never been touched by shame.


It is time for us to see the rape and shame culture we live in.


It is time for men to begin to speak out against rape and rape culture, too.


For so long women have carried this shame.

Shame is the darkest weapon that patriarchy uses against women…against the feminine.

Shame is the darkest weapon I use against myself. Ugh.

And, ultimately it is a weapon killing us all, women and men, and the children we love so dearly. 



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14 Replies to “Shame: A Deadly Hot Potato”

  1. I am sorry these events happened when I heard of them, my heart wept.

    When I was 19 and stranger raped, I was in a turtle neck and long skirt…I wondered why did he choose me and the shame from that event, along with the ensuing silence, requested by my family and friends, ricocheted around my life, creating more havoc and chaos and pain than the event itself. Decades later, centered with practices of presence, I share to inspire others to do the same…Thank you for this message…thank you for sharing your powerful voice. Thank you.

    1. Bless you, Joy. I am sorry that you went through that. Your heart is so big. You inspire so many. As Ram Daas said, “We are all just walking each other home.” Thank you.

  2. I am sorry these events happened when I heard of them, my heart wept.

    When I was 19 and stranger raped, I was in a turtle neck and long skirt…I wondered why did he choose me and the shame from that event, along with the ensuing silence, requested by my family and friends, ricocheted around my life, creating more havoc and chaos and pain than the event itself. Decades later, centered with practices of presence, I share to inspire others to do the same…Thank you for this message…thank you for sharing your powerful voice. Thank you.

  3. Julie, you touch the heart and soul of this human issue, with passion and with heart. You enter the core of the issue and give it room to move, breathe and open.
    You touch my heart and soul. You touch those dark places that I want to hide but won’t. You touch the knowing that as woman, we hold the same torch, shining light in the dank cellar of the psyche so we may claim the gifts to reveal the gold.
    I speak so we may all awaken, remove the blinkers of judgment and denial, claim the shame and celebrate the truth of our magnificence.
    thank you for sharing your powerful voice!

    1. Thank you, Cassandra, for sharing your heart here, for speaking, and for celebrating the truth of our magnificence. We know these things. With love, Julie

  4. Julie, beautiful piece, love that you take this important issue on and share it with such passion and wisdom. I agree it is time Shame came out of the closet and we started sharing about our shame with others so that we all can stop the passage through generations.

    Thank you for your words of wisdom.

    Love, Shekinah

  5. This makes me wonder if it is to cover up their own guilt and shame, rapists make fun of and spread their vicious acts. Is it perhaps an initial feeling of shame that prompts them to commit the act too? If it is one thing in life I want people to understand, it is how they treat others and just once, just once, I would like to experience retribution for all the things I have been thru myself.

    1. Alexandra, I don’t know. I do know shame is at the root of so much of our violences. Many times, I don’t think we even know that is what is working within us…it’s buried so deep.
      I am sorry you’ve been thru so much.
      With love, Julie

  6. thanks for this post – Creative rituals could help us address the legacy of ‘shame’; it seems theater and other arts could help where the old “scapegoat’ routine left off (although scapegoating hasn’t really left – person’s in vulnerable positions now act as scapegoats for individuals and groups projected shame. I love the “Claim the Shame” idea perhaps we need a holiday 🙂 …to expose and discuss shame through cathartic theater, literature, performance arts, interactive altars, ritual and education seems valuable. To pull out the roots of shame it feels like society would need to ditch the glorification and rewards of power (as in power over others), control and ‘looking good according to standards)’ to actualize in our bones as individuals and culture the rewards of diversity, kindness and goodness.

  7. So well said, Julie. Powerful and compassionate, as always. Thank you.
    And Thank You to those who have shared their experiences here. Removing the secrecy is a first step and shines a light for others to do the same.

    I also really like Charlotte’s idea and will consider how I can do my part via my work.

    Love, Emma

  8. Namaste Julie,

    These are exacts words I want to yell and tell my feelings about this.
    Thank you for sharing this.
    In India, “shame” is present or drilled into a girl’s / women’s life purposely daily with everything and anything she does.
    I am girl. I am suppose to be good at house holds, if not its shame for myself and my parents.
    I am a girl. I am suppose to have no voice.
    I cant represent my ideas out of the box. My character is sacrificed.
    I am a girl. I am not suppose to go late at nights. Else I will get raped/ gang raped and it will be my fault.
    I am a girl. I cant drink or smoke. The very men who drinks and smokes will leach me down. Only sl*ts do that. (Pardon my language)
    I am a girl. I cant wear short and tight clothes. That means inviting troubles.
    I am a girl. I am 29 years old singleton. Something is wrong with me. Maybe I am mentally handicapped or physical handicapped or worse I am suffering from any dreadful diseases.
    I am a girl. I cant have any expectations from my life or from would be husband. I have to leave my house, shift to this guy’s house, forget my family and friends. And disappear into his life with his long list of expectations.
    This list is endless list……

  9. I can’t say how much shame has influenced my life. It’s not living to stay in the lines, too afraid to step out of it, because in America people can also turn it around on you if you follow the rules too closely, a goody goody, miss perfect, uptight, square, average, unremarkable, a follower, nothing special. I live in a culture telling me different things every two seconds.

    As a kid I tried my best to follow the rules after I was publicly shamed for reading and thinking about wicca and paganism on my spiritual journey. I got so scared that people thought I was wrong and dark and maybe even worse, that I threw anything unremarkable about me into the closet. My stepmother heaped shame on me at home and I public I just wanted to be recognized as good, as capable and maybe a touch special.

    But the only true happiness is when I went through the shame not away. My journeys have inspired me to write about the things that sometimes bring me shame but that changed my life. My journey to whole ness included a foray into the Philly bdsm scene, not as a female submitting to men, but as a woman that strove to stretch herself to dominate them. I’d hoped to be find a world where I could be accepted as a goddess, but even that landscape was barren and disrespectful. Our world is implanted, that I feel shame to admit my path to people or worry what they might think. Women are on the edge of power, and men on the verge of accepting being taken care of as Huntington post says women will outpace men in bread winning in my lifetime. The key is to move through the shame not away.

  10. As I read your piece it caused me to think about my relationship with my mother. As a child and teenager, even as an adult, I could never live up to the ideal image she had of who a daughter and young woman should be. I experienced shame for not being all of those “things” she told me and alluded to me were “right” or “correct”. I think the hardest thing for any individual to do is to break the cycle of the shame that has been embedded from all the previous generations. And for every woman, or man, that breaks that cycle I celebrate, as I celebrate my own learning and growing, becoming the “right” and “correct” person that I know I am for me.

    As always, your words inspire.

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