Last Friday morning our pug puppy, Mia, managed to gobble up 10mg XL of Methylphenidate – a slow-release ADHD stimulant medication before anyone could stop her.
I was horrified – I knew that it was a potentially lethal dose for a puppy.
As Mia started to drool and foam at the mouth, I felt sick and I asked myself:
“How could I have let this happen?”
What followed was nothing less than a morning of mayhem. I was calling the vet, then The Animal Poison Line, then the vet again.
I took the dog to the vet, left her there to get on the school run, went back to find she had been made to throw up, then had been given activated charcoal and would be under observation all morning, was told she might fit or have a heart attack, then left, awaiting updates on her condition and worrying a lot.
It ended with a bill for £400, but on the up side, I have insurance and Mia is absolutely fine.
Throughout that whole day, I felt super guilty.
I felt bad that I had not properly safeguarded my child’s medication from the puppy. I rebuked myself for not standing over said child and making sure they took their meds (rather than walk around the house with them, and then put them down on the coffee table, which is where Mia got them from.)
The main source of this guilt was, like many feelings, directly related to the story I was telling myself about what happened, and what it suggested about me and how that might damage how other people reacted to and saw me.
Shame & Blame – The Story I Told Myself About What Other People Would Think Of Me
I started to imagine that the person on the Animal Poisons Line was going to scold me for being careless; that our vet was going to think I was a bad dog owner; that other people, if they found out, would think I was irresponsible.
I started internally cringing as I experienced embarrassment & shame under their imaginary gaze, in scenarios that were yet to happen (and actually may not have EVER happen!)
For some reason, my lapse in judgement – a completely normal, accidental event – caused me to think the worst of myself and to expect others to do it too.
Shame – Do You Hide or Do You Try to Atone?
Some people seek to manage their shame by hiding it, so that they can preserve others’ good impression of them. Other folks manage difficult feelings around their mistakes by publicising them, in order to seek out ‘punishment,’ perhaps so that they can feel, having been punished, they will be better able to move on from the guilt.
This time I seemed to go for the latter.
Reaching Out For Condemnation
While I was waiting for Mia to be released from the vets, I posted what had happened to a pug Facebook group. This was also partially so that I could share the Animal Poison line, in case my experience could help someone else.
But I think it’s fair to say that a large part of me wanted to put myself forward for some verbal punishment.
I felt bad and this brought out a rather masochistic part of myself that seemed to want to paint a target on my back and then present it to people I don’t know on social media so they could shoot at me.
Where Does The Instinct to Feel & Expect Shame Come From?
I tend to find that people who respond to their own mistakes with intense feelings of shame do so for a reason.
Often it is closely linked to experiences of parents and carers shaming them for their mistakes as children. And no, this isn’t about blaming parents, because if you did a little exploration with those parents and carers, you would probably find that they employed shame because this is how their own mistakes were met by THEIR parents and carers.
So, like many relational modes, shame can be passed down from generation to generation.
Shame is a Powerful, Effective (& Toxic) Motivator
Parents shame their children, teachers shame their students and employers shame their employees. Why? Because it works. In the short-term. But the time you save by utilising shame now is time you’ll lose later trying to un-do the damage.
And quite apart from that, making someone feel bad for their mistakes is a sh*tty thing to do. Because we ALL make mistakes.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be accountable for our errors, and I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to do better. Just that shame is not useful.
After years of therapy and counselling training, a mistake can still temporarily fling me into a shame state. I wasn’t there long, but it makes you think, huh?
Isn’t that awful?
So I waited for people to criticise and yell at me, and went about my day in the mean time.
Sometimes People Surprise You
Interestingly, my public flogging never happened.
The helpline lady was AMAZING and told me exactly what to do. Our vet was sympathetic and reassured me she would do her best to keep Mia well. And ultimately, aside from some mouth foam and being a little over-excited at first, Mia is none the worse for the experience.
I saw I had a LOT of notifications when I checked back with the group later that evening and braced myself for a barrage of abuse and found that…. I had over 150 supportive comments from total strangers!
Some were telling me a similar thing had happened with their pug, and what had happened as a result.
Others were telling me they were grateful for the information I had posted, and had put the number for the Animal Poison Helpline into their phones just in case.
Many just reached out to me to tell me how gorgeous Mia is and that were glad she was ok.
Mistakes Happen – It’s Not Always Good But It Is Ok
ALL of those people told me not to beat myself up. They ALL told me ‘mistakes happen, it’s ok’. No one shamed me. No one judged me.
Those responses were so lovely – like a big social media hug.
THIS is how people’s mistakes should be met, by ourselves and by others – with love, understanding and support. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say what happened wasn’t my fault. It was. I am the responsible adult in the house and the bucks stops with me.
Connection, Empathy & Support =The Antidote to Shame
What I am saying is that connection, empathy and support create a better environment for facing up to situations, personal responsibilities etc. than shame ever could.
Shame makes people hide, or self-flagellate. It makes people feel unworthy and bad.
Personal growth and accountability is easier to cultivate when we don’t allow anyone – even ourselves – to inflict shame.
What If You’re Surrounded by Shamers?
If you are surrounded by people who are shaming you, (or you can’t seem to stop shaming yourself,) you may need some back-up, so that you can find ways to keep shame at bay and be at peace with yourself, mistakes and all.
Just one person who is on your side can be enough to help you push back the onslaught of shame and start building up a protective, self-compassionate barrier between you and the shaming shamers.
Are You Struggling With Shame?
I’m sure you haven’t allowed your puppy to eat ADHD meds, but that doesn’t mean you haven’t made mistakes and it doesn’t mean you aren’t in the grip of shame, and suffering as a result.
Whether people are scoffing at your anxiety, finding it hard to be patient with your depression, or expecting you to move on faster from a bereavement than you feel able to do, it can feel lonely, and yes, shaming, when others aren’t able to empathise with how you feel.
Shall We Have a Chat? (It’s Free!)
I’d love to offer you an hour to chat with me about any difficult experiences or feelings that are making your life hard to bear. Cos let’s face it – how you feel colours everything.
This chat wouldn’t be a therapy session per se, but rather an opportunity for you to tell me a bit about what’s going on for you; to find out a bit more about how I work, why it helps, and whether or not I’m someone you could really talk to.
If you’d like to book that chat, you can do that by clicking here.
If you’d like to find out more about me first, about why I do what I do (and how I got myself sorted before I started helping others,) you can watch my video about that here.
Or you can sample a bunch of different ways to work with me by clicking here.
But whatever you do next, even if you never read another word I write, I really want to let you know:
Everyone makes mistakes.
You deserve to be cut a bit of slack. By yourself. And by other people.
And if you don’t get that slack, it is NOT an indicator that you don’t deserve it.