The Antidote to Shame

I got rip-roaring mad at my mother in the lobby of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

It’s a beautiful Georgian Revival building. Not designed for fits of rage. But rage there was.

You see, this museum is sleek, lovely. Filled with sharp, elegant exhibits; quiet, serene ambiance; women who wear unwrinkled linens and sit on boards of directors.

I wanted my mother and I to fit into it all. To belong.

But we were rumpled, loud, sweaty. And I was ashamed. About who we were, how we looked.

So, as Modiglianis and Picassos looked on, I lashed out at my mother. I told her how gross it was that she’d already sweat through her shirt, that she looked so stupid with her huge backpack, and could she please keep her voice down.

My mother stood in that beautiful Georgian Revival building. With her sweaty shirt and her huge backpack.

And she did for me what I couldn’t do for myself: she loved me.

She told me she loved every part of me – ashamed and unashamed alike – with this big, fierce love that was bigger, fiercer than my shame.

And she told me she wasn’t always going to be around, so I’d better learn to love myself at times like this. Because compassion – for ourselves, for every part of ourselves – is the antidote to shame.

I felt what she said. Felt the enormity of how horrible I’d been, which was still smaller than the enormity of her love. Felt full of sorrow and regret.

I started to apologize. But my mother wasn’t interested. Let’s not miss the point, she said.

And her point, given to me as Modiglianis and Picassos looked on, was this: shame tells us we don’t belong. But self-compassion, which we may have to claw and grope and reach to find, reminds us that we do.

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