Photo of Sunset with text - Moving Beyond the Shame

This is dedicated to Natasha, Ben, and Larry for seeing beyond my limitations while enabling me to focus on my strengths. For this, I thank you.

Strengths, Guilt, and Shame

There has been a lot of talk about the inherent strengths related to dyslexia, the spatial ability, creative and artistic talents, out of the box thinking, and entrepreneurial skills. This is all very empowering and wonderful to see. However, there seems to be less conversation about the shame associated with dyslexia and this concerns me. Shame isn’t something we generally want to discuss, but until we confront our shame by revealing ourselves and sharing our fears with others, it will be very difficult to move forward. The shame associated with dyslexia will rear its ugly head at times throughout our lifespan even when we feel we are at the “top of our game”. Some individuals experience more feelings of shame than others, based on their individual experiences. Shame is toxic, and it affects how we relate to ourselves, to others around us, and how we approach situations daily. As an adult, the events of the past come to visit me on occasion as painful memories, and they can affect my perspective, beat me down, and wreak havoc with my self-confidence. What goes on in between my ears can be very powerful, and at certain times, won’t be easily silenced.

Shame is not guilt. Guilt is an emotion that you may feel when you do something morally or ethically wrong. When a young child takes a toy from a friend, and stuffs it in his pocket because he wants it for his own, he knows that his actions are wrong, and he may feel guilt as a result. Guilt is linked to an inappropriate action or behavior. Shame, on the other hand, is an emotion stemming from the behavior or action of a person that is often judged negatively by another. This emotion is one of deep humiliation. As the behavior often cannot be changed, the person feels wrong to his core, for something that he may not have any control over. He feels powerless. Shame occurs when you personalize an action or behavior and attribute it to who you are inside, in your soul, your heart, the fiber of your being. You give yourself permission to become “IT”. "IT" may be translated into stupid, incapable, or a failure. “I have failed a test, therefore I am failure”.

Some Experiences with Shame:

Reading - Were you made fun of when you read aloud in class? Did you dread this activity? Did you count the number of seats ahead of yours to figure out which paragraph would be assigned to so you could attempt to practice it before it was your turn? Then, when you fumbled through it, did your ears turn beet red and you couldn’t feel your feet on the floor? Did you re-read passages over and over again and still not understand what you read? Did most of your peers seem to have an easier time of it in the classroom? Did you find homework looming on forever? Did you feel alone in this?

Shame – I am wrong. Something is wrong with me. I am stupid.

Writing – Did you feel like you wanted to form the letters neater but that your hand wouldn’t cooperate? Did you secretly envy others with neat handwriting? Did you make so many erasures that you made holes in the paper? Did the thought of answering a prompt or short essay send you into a panic? Were you at a loss on how to start? Did you have a lot of ideas in your head but couldn’t get the right words to move from your brain, down your arm, and onto the paper? Did your teacher’s frowns and the big red “D” or "F" on this paper make you feel worthless?

Shame – I am worthless, I am deficient. I'm no good.

Spelling – Did spelling words make you crazy? Did you practice over and over and still get them wrong for the Friday test? Or if you got them right on Friday, did you forget them by Monday? Did your flash card pile get bigger and bigger? Did you do some of your best writing and still get marked down because of poor spelling or punctuation?

Shame – My brain does not work, I’ll never get this, I want to give up.

Directions and organization – Do you get lost easily, even with the GPS? Do you lose your place, do you fight with your computer and can’t find files? Is your left the “other left” and your right your “other right”? Do you struggle to read a map, figure out which way to turn the key in the lock, figure out where you stored the file, which way to open the faucet, and so on. Do you move in circles? Do you spin your wheels?

Shame – I am so incapable, so frazzled. Why can’t I get this?

How many self-defeating statements continue to be part of your repertoire, the tape that continues to play in your head? Do you find that this negative “self-talk” continues to limit you? In an attempt to move beyond it, do you also engage in self-defeating behaviors, like retreating, stuffing emotions inside, overeating, or other quick, self-soothing, yet destructive actions that serve to keep you down? Do you blame others or play the victim?

Have you had the desire to apply for a particular job, but feel fear at the thought of completing certain aspects of the job due to your challenges with dyslexia/LD? Have you passed over these types of jobs because the thought of disclosing your weaknesses to your employer in an interview petrifies you? Do you find yourself “quitting” before you even accept the job? I have engaged in this thinking numerous times and it has cost me many missed opportunities and limited my potential. However, I know that my situation won’t change unless I make the decision to change from the inside. It starts with me... letting go of my shame.

Picture of a sky

So how can you begin to move beyond the shame? As I can only speak from my own experience, I’ll tell you what I'm determined to do, one day at a time, to work through the complex emotions that occur as a result of dealing with the shame that rears its head in my life: It's time to re-write my script, to reinvent myself. One step at a time.

What Helps Me:

I share. I talk about my dyslexia/LD with friends and family I know and trust (My dyslexia/LD community). I am upfront about what works and doesn't work for me and I keep no secrets about this. I let my guard down and let myself be vulnerable, and open to feedback.

I listen. I listen to others’ stories of how they’ve risen above the paralyzing effects of shame related to their dyslexia/LD. I ear-read or eye read articles and books that inspire and encourage.

I watch and Learn, viewing webinars, talks, and videos from experts in the field on topics like letting go of shame, and letting myself become vulnerable. I explore ways to tap into my strengths and to increase my self-confidence. I also learn much from my son, who is way less serious and intense about life and his dyslexia. His youthful wisdom helps to keep me in check!

I engage with and help others in any way that I can. It’s in our relationships where we can truly flourish, learn and grow, through our shared experiences. In a supportive community, of others who “get me”, I know I am not alone, and this is very empowering.

I redirect myself in healthier ways. I work daily on avoiding ineffective coping methods. I reach out and talk to trusted friends who know how hard I can be on myself. This is much better than keeping it all inside, over eating, or engaging in other self-defeating behaviors.

Letting go of shame isn't easy, but it is possible. Accepting yourself, confronting fears, finding a supportive community, and changing your negative self-talk and behaviors, are all positive steps in the right direction. Releasing the shame in your life will leave you open to embrace your strengths so you may begin to live your life to the fullest!


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