The 3 Big Shames

Ever since he turned about forty, my dad was convinced he was getting too old. When I was a kid, he always used to tell me, “If I get to the point where I’m so senile I’m wetting myself, pull the plug.”

Those happy thoughts aside, I’ve noticed something over the years about shame. There are many times we feel ashamed, but one of the main times is when we feel weak. Many of us can overcome these things: we can overcome ridicule, we can humiliate ourselves on TV for money, we can force ourselves to try and fail at things we’re bad at… But there are some shameful forces that are so powerful that it’s difficult to find anyone who has overcome them.

I notice this overwhelming shame in people who have lost their ability to walk properly. I also notice it with language-learning. And, of course, we all notice it with the notion of adult diapers. What do these three things have in common?

They are all the loss of abilities we’ve had for our entire conscious lives.

Do you remember learning to walk? Do you remember your first word? Do you remember potty training? I sure don’t. These are three of the biggest milestones we reach in our infancy. These are the things our parents look forward to the most (if you think your parents didn’t look forward to you being potty-trained, then I suggest you change a few diapers and see how you feel afterwards).

I remember learning how to swim. I remember learning how to cook. I remember learning how to fight. I remember learning how to write and spell. But our episodic memories don’t start to form until we’re about 3 years old, so I don’t remember learning the three big skills that gave me the independence to communicate, to talk, and to go to the bathroom without assistance.

I don’t have statistics on this. I wish I did. But it seems to me that we feel so frustrated, so ashamed, so nervous, so weak if we can’t speak a foreign language correctly, lose the ability to walk, or become incontinent, because we have practically always been able to do these things. Sure, my parents remember a time when I couldn’t communicate with them. But to my brain, speech has always been there. Walking has always been there.

We have never been without these three things. People tell us we’ve been without them, but deep down we don’t feel that way. These three things are mastered by babies. They are the first lessons we learn in life. I think that is why we feel so humiliated when we say something wrong in a foreign language. Not only is it the first time in our entire lives that we are consciously experiencing muteness, but we feel that we are somehow weaker than the weakest and newest human beings on the planet.

Keep this in mind if your legs are injured, or if you are incontinent, or if you are nervous about speaking to someone in a foreign language. Knowing where the shame comes from will help you fight it. Knowing why you feel ashamed will help you realize why you shouldn’t feel ashamed.

Because there are worse things in life than adult diapers.


Featured image from Pixabay at

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