Sprawled on the hallway floor, skirt flying, hitting and kicking, I wrestled with Tina before a crowd of junior high school schoolmates, including a dozen boys from my class. Tina was a gang member who had recently transferred from another school. She and her cohorts had taunted and insulted me all week. She started in again, shoving me at our adjacent lockers. I’d finally had enough, I pushed her back, and we ended up fighting on the floor.
Before actually harming one another, the girls’ V.P. escorted us to her office. Tina was expelled. I felt relieved that only my modesty was tarnished . . . until I returned home. Then I was mortified to discover a small rip in my panties! My defectiveness, symbolized by that imperfection, had been exposed. This is the essence of shame.
It can feel like wearing dirty underwear – which everyone can see. Probably no one saw the tear in my panties. Still, I imagined everyone was mocking me even though no one mentioned the incident. I wanted to hide. How could I face those boys in class day after day? “Saving face” or “losing face” means to protect one’s honor or to suffer disgrace. It’s shame that torments us for hours or years following humiliation, rejection, or feeling defective.