When I was growing up my family often went on road trips. During those seemingly endless hours in the car we would often join in and sing the catalog of songs that filled out our family’s songbook. None of us were graced with a particularly good singing voice, but what we lacked in aesthetics we made up for in enthusiasm. The pleasure was in the singing along.
Unfortunately, that pleasure was not reproduced in a music class I took in 7th grade. I thought the class would be one of my favorites because I so enjoyed singing. It turns out I am a bit tone deaf. Nobody had pointed it out in the car, but I soon learned that what I heard and what I sang were not often in harmony. I had this issue in my language classes as well. The teacher would say something to me that sounded one way and when I tried to speak it back we both could tell that what I was saying wasn’t what they were saying. As much as we tried, we rarely got my voice to echo theirs. I could tell that my teachers were not pleased with my pronunciation, but they seemed to understand I was trying to say ithings the way they did, but despite out best efforts it was hit and a lot of miss.
In music class I had a different experience. When he heard me sing our teacher would often ask me to step forward and sing the verse "correctly." Sometimes he might sing it the "correct" way and then he would demonstrate how I did it the wrong way. Occasionally he would exaggerate it and try to get the class to laugh. I didn't like that. I also didn't like it when he would make faces at me.
I left that class ashamed of my singing voice. Whenever an occasion arose to sing-along I would mouth the words softly for fear of someone noticing and commenting on my voice. This went on for some years until one day it occurred to me that I really missed singing along without hesitation. Fortunately I had not given up singing to myself, but I had lost the camaraderie that comes along when everyone sings along. I was sad about that loss and also mad at that teacher for how I learned shame in his class along with a fear to sing out loud.
I decided I would rather sing out loud and run the risk of someone’s raised eyebrow or critical comments than to shut myself up. I did not want to do that to me. Others could react in whatever way they did, but I did not want to empower my fear of their reaction over my joy in singing.
So, bit by bit I have allowed myself to sing out loud. I have challenged myself to sing in front of my classes, clients, friends and assorted others. I still have nagging remnants of doubt, that pull me to silence myself, but the value of asserting myself most often weighs out.
Shame can be debilitating. Something happens – you did not perform ideally. Sometimes others notice and comment. Sometimes only you know. Either way the weight of your displeasing actions shapes your subsequent behavior. Sometimes you are driven to new heights and sometimes new lows. Sometimes you forgive you, move on and sometimes others can as well. Sometimes neither happens.
If you happen to be living with some shame, you might want to read more about it. Here is a link to a classic and recently revised book on Shame which I believe you will find of value.