Shame Go Away, Please Don't Come Back Another Day
November 29, 2012 1:02 PM   Subscribe

I behaved in a similarly disturbing way as the type of person disclosed in this this post, the only difference was that I was desperate for friendship and was not and never thought of this person in a romantic way. I still feel so ashamed for over disclosing and acting in an insecure way with a coworker despite a couple of years passing by. How can I truly move past this and forgive myself?

A couple of years ago, I was truly a mess, was going through a lot in my life, and didn’t have people that I felt like I could confide in. So, I turned to a colleague instead. We worked in different departments, but saw each other on a regular/weekly basis. I was so incredibly insecure and desperate to have friends to the point where my anxiety was at extremes. I expressed what can be described as warning signs in this post, and understandably so:

-There was an odd presumed intimacy that looking back on it, felt way too early and inappropriate/unexpected
-I shared many tales of how others had mistreated me
-i made it awkward for them and in the end and incredibly awkward for me too by coming across as needy, insecure, and over-disclosing far too much
-I made little comments that suggested I expected more from certain people than they expected from me
-I sought consolation/attention/reassurance because of my overbearing anxiety and fear that I did the wrong thing due to my anxiety
-I made this coworker feel suffocated because of my overbearing insecurities and over disclosure

I felt like quickly, the acquaintance relationship turned sour because of my behaviour. I was such a basket case at this point in my life. In the end, I sent an email asking why we hadn't talked for a certain period of time and then freaked out on the person. I truly feel disgusted with this behavior since it was all so incredibly out of character for me and I have never forgiven myself for treating my coworker this way. We live in a small town and still work at the same workplace although thankfully we pretty much never run into each other. Yet, I always fear running into this person because I hang my head with shame after expressing this behavior. Now, that I’m in a much better mental state and a couple years have passed by, I can see what happened here through a better perspective. But, I can’t seem to forgive myself and I fear that the shamefulness and guilt will not go away for acting like such a basketcase.

How can I truly move past this?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Ages ago, when I was in my early '20s, I had a walloping case of limerence, the subject of which spurned my advances. I really made a stalkerly ass of myself.

A decade or so later, I was in her geographic area, asked if I could by coffee, and said "look, I want to thank you for handling who I was and how I behaved so graciously", and we parted ways.

A decade or so after that, we occasionally trade comments on Twitter.

I think the best you can do is a heartfelt written apology. "I'm sorry that I freaked out on you, I was in a rough spot in my life and I realize now that it was totally inappropriate of me to share those things with you, and to try to drag you in to my anxieties. I feel horribly ashamed about this, and needed to apologize to help come to grips with my conscience".

In your own words, but be careful to make it entirely about you, without any judgement of their behavior in the past or expectations for their behavior in the future.

You might look to 12 step literature for this. Step 9 is "Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others". Lots of people have done thinking on this.
posted by straw at 1:15 PM on November 29, 2012

As you clearly understand, this sort of unpleasant friendship behavior is caused by a certain kind of self-involvement caused by stress, anxiety, lack of emotional support, etc, NOT by being a bad person. You fixed the causes, you've fixed the problem. Excellent!


This overwhelming guilt and embarrassment is ALSO an outcome of self-involvement. You're not talking or thinking about the other person, their needs or desires, or their desire (or lack thereof) for contact with you. This also does not make you a bad person; it makes you a person with some unhelpful patterns of thought.

Reframing it that way is probably not fun, but it may help you to break some of these habits. Think about it in this way: does this other person need or want something from you? Would an apology and acknowledgement that your behavior was out of line make them feel safer or more comfortable around you? Have they expressed any specific requests to you? (i.e. "Don't contact me any more" or "keep it professional at work"?) If the answer to any of that is yes, then you know what you need to do.

If not, then you do not need to do anything. This incident is in the past; it is over. Chewing over it in your own head is not helping anyone else and it's certainly not helping you. Many people recommend therapy, specifically CBT, for breaking out of this sort of self-talk, and that is definitely an option if you find you can't just reframe it on your own, or move past it after taking some concrete option to improve the current situation for the other person.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:21 PM on November 29, 2012 [16 favorites]

Somewhere Samuel Delany, the great, great writer and literary theorist, remarks that everyone is doomed to make a noisy, scary emotional spectacle of themselves in public about three times in their lives - he's talking sobbing, flailing bizarre behavior, not about crying at a funeral. One way to forgive yourself is to remind yourself that lots of people do this kind of thing a couple of times. I was hell on wheels to a college friend myself back when I was sorting out a lot of stuff about sexuality and gender expression. When you think about it and flinch, get in the habit of reminding yourself that many people make this type of fool out of themselves from time to time and that it's ordinary.

I will lay a thought on you, here: in progressive internet advice culture (Mefi, Captain Awkward, etc) there's a tendency to write only from the perspective of the Right Acting Person - we all write and talk about how to set appropriate boundaries so that others won't trample us, how to discourage entitled people from appropriating our culture and experiences, how to be safe around stalkers or mean people. But we very, very seldom talk about what it is to be the Wrong Acting Person - and we often talk about the Wrong Acting Person as if the WAP is just a monster of privilege-y or dangerous entitlement. We never write from the standpoint of sinners, so to speak. There are a lot of reasons for this - many of them good - but the end result is a bright line between us and "them", the harassers, the noisy, the demanding, the boundary-crossers.

But really, we are them. We do that shit. We fail to respect boundaries. We call too much. We demand more than our families can reasonably give. We fail to read other people's signals that they are tired, sad, hurting and need to be left alone. We all do that stuff. It would be very useful to have an internet culture where we could figure ourselves out as Wrong Acting People without needing to hate and denounce ourselves, without needing to postulate a "normal" mass of Right Acting People and a sick minority of Wrong Actors like us.

You know what? You had a bad time in your life. That's okay. Someday someone else will have a bad time in their life and you can use your experience as the Bad Actor to treat them with compassion.

You might not want to write an email - never leave a paper trail in a work situation! Would it be possible for you to stop in to their office/catch them in a quiet hall and say something like, "Hey person, I was thinking about this and wanted to apologize for being so demanding and such a bad colleague a couple of years ago. I was going through a lot in my life back then and took it out on you. Things are much better for me now, but I wanted you to know that I'm sorry for any stress I caused you." Keep it very short, keep the language professional. Don't make a big production out of it or treat it as an intense emotional thing. By this time, your colleague probably rarely thinks about the matter.

The way you frame your question makes me wonder if you have trouble with shame generally or anxiety generally or intrusive thoughts generally.

One of the best things you can do for yourself is to have compassion for yourself. You are not generally some kind of moral monster freak who needs to be ashamed; you're just a person, with one individual's limited capacity to do harm.

I often reflect that there's a certain disconnect between how we as an internet culture react with horror to sad, messed-up people behaving moderately inappropriately (as if those people had tremendous capacity to harm - and leaving aside violent stalkers or people who make threats) and react with relative equanimity to, like, Walmart destroying the lives of its employees or some politician cold-bloodedly gutting social programs to make money for his banker cronies. The politician is perfectly socially acceptable as long as he acts normal, while the friend who is going through a nervous breakdown and whines a lot is some kind of social monster.

The other thing to bear in mind: people forget. They forget genuinely terrible behavior (provided that it's not repeated); they forget merely awkward and embarrassing behavior. Most of the time, people really just want things not to be awkward, and many people are happy being able to say "Yeah, Anonymous was a little bit dramatic and needy a couple of years ago but everything has been just fine since then."

I have observed, for example, that a friend of mine who really did behave in all kinds of accidentally-too-intense-and-Say-Anythingish-stalky ways five years ago is now generally beloved, and even the people who had doubts about that friend at the time get on with them just fine. Even back when it happened, people could tell the difference between a needy person going through a tough time and a mean, creepy jerk - my friend was obviously the former and so really no one worries about past behavior any more.
posted by Frowner at 1:44 PM on November 29, 2012 [152 favorites]

Yeah, I think we all have a list of deeply embarrasing and unfortunate things that will haunt us and cause us to blush for the rest of our lives.

All you can say to yourself was, "Wow, that was a rough time for me and BOY did I handle it badly." When you're doing something random and a thought comes to you and you just cringe, keep saying, "Wow, that was a rough time for me and BOY did I handle it badly."

After awhile, you'll accept it, you might even be able to chuckle at yourself about it.

All you can do is not be crazy anymore and to learn from the experience. If you're lucky, that other person moved on and all is forgotten/forgiven. Now you're the only one who knows. If not, just be who you are today, and if anyone says anything, like, "Sue in Finance sure has some interesting things to say about you." You can respond, "I'll bet. Wow, that was a rough time for me and BOY did I handle it badly." You can even smile a bit and add, "I'm surprised she didn't take out a restraining order. So, sushi or burritos for lunch today?"

Can you make it a funny story you can tell others? That's how I usually handle my deeply embarrasing episodes. The more you tell it to others, the funnier it gets and the better you feel about it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:00 PM on November 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

Frowner, that was a great comment. OP, you may appreciate some of the material at, also Brene Brown's work on shame.

Shame is such a powerful inhibitor and corrosive. Brown says it has so much power because we hide it, hide away from it. I am reading her latest book, Daring Greatly, and it has tactics for becoming resilient to the destructive diminishing feelings of shame.
posted by Kerasia at 2:42 PM on November 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

But, I can’t seem to forgive myself and I fear that the shamefulness and guilt will not go away for acting like such a basketcase.

You're being really hard on yourself. People make mistakes, it happens. If you'd like to memail me, I have a story for you something I did and learning to move on from it and get over the guilt.

You weren't acting maliciously; you were doing the best you could with the emotions you had and the state you were in. What you did was not necessarily okay - I'm not saying it was - but try to have some compassion for yourself.

Sometimes it helps me to pretend it was a friend, not me, who did what I did. What if a friend had acted how you did, realized it was wrong now, and was in a better place? Would you think she should continue to beat herself up and feel guilty? Or would you think she could forgive herself & move on? You deserve to treat yourself the way you would treat your loved ones.
posted by insectosaurus at 4:40 PM on November 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just because you're not in a twelve-step program doesn't mean you can't make amends. Do so, and then move on.
posted by davejay at 4:56 PM on November 29, 2012

"Making amends" makes it sounds like a bigger thing than a simple apology, when a simple apology will do nicely. And in fact, anything more than a simple apology runs the risk of mimicing the same overblown behaviour that is being apologised for, so...

I was in a rough spot in my life and realise I behaved inappropriately and entangled you in my anxieties. I would like to offer you my apology: I'm sorry.

Yes. This asks nothing of the co-worker, is brief and is sincere.

I truly feel disgusted with this behavior since it was all so incredibly out of character for me and I have never forgiven myself for treating my coworker this way

No, because this is all about the OP, drama-festy, and once again asking the co-worker to be a therapist.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:32 PM on November 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

The truth is, all of us have probably at some points behaved in ways that were inappropriate, shameful, embarrassing, etc. Honestly, that's life. The good thing is that you recognize this behavior now. That means that you have changed or are in the process of changing. Honestly, nothing more can be of asked of a person. We all make mistakes and as long as we learn from them, it's all good in the end.
posted by bearette at 5:46 PM on November 29, 2012

Or, what Frowner said.

Anyone else want to buy Frowner's self help book?
posted by bearette at 5:48 PM on November 29, 2012 [14 favorites]

Consider not apologizing at all and just letting yourself get over it. If you think about it, what you did wrong then (feeling like you needed something from them to shore up your self-esteem... or however you'd sum it up in 8 words) isn't soooo different from what you're doing to yourself now (feeling like your behavior toward them and their evaluation of you has bearing on your worth as a person walking down the hall). And, what they probably wanted then (for you to be able to give yourself reassurance and not put too much pressure on the relationship with them) is probably still what they'd want now.

I mean, you could apologize if there's some specific actions that you regret, so maybe that time you freaked out does merit a simple "you know, I've long felt bad about that -- I'm sorry. It was completely unprofessional of me, and it must've been terribly awkward for you." But if you were just annoyingly insecure and whiny for awhile, two years ago? If you just made some passive aggressive, snarky comments like the examples in that post you linked? Nah. It's water under the bridge.

And from personal experience as a huge apologizer, forgiving myself and assuming that they've already gotten over whatever minor gaffe I'm stewing over has often worked well for me. I've ended up feeling and being treated more like an equal and thereby ended up as closer colleagues or friends than when I was always seeking their forgiveness. Even if you did act weirdly, people often don't really want a big apology. They just don't want to have to go through that again. So if your current behavior is enough to demonstrate you've changed, then not apologizing may be the lowest stress for you both. (But if you think they'll be constantly worried that one day you'll throw another plate at them, then yeah, an apology would give them useful information.)
posted by salvia at 6:00 PM on November 29, 2012

If the coworker hasn't asked you to not talk to her, you could say something like "I realize I may have made things uncomfortable for you and I want you to know I'm sorry and that I still appreciate [fill in blank here]." I'd be very ... muted in describing it. If you've already been rather intense with this person, and the intensity is part of your problem with her, using intense hyperbolic words or delivery might create more discomfort.

We all have some embarrassing things in our past. Most of us aren't born fully understanding all the intricacies of how to best handle ourselves in all situations, how to set boundaries, or of how we impact those around us. The important thing is having the ability to realize that you might be making people uncomfortable and correcting your behavior.

Everyone has to do this. Don't be so hard on yourself.

Imagine what you would say to a friend who was embarrassed about a difficult episode in her life.
posted by bunderful at 6:19 PM on November 29, 2012

So, what you're saying is that you were human and you got through this. I suggest starting by congratulating yourself. Don't take something we all go through as a mark of a problem. We are supposed to go through these things.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:48 PM on November 29, 2012

If it helps any, I have gotten several apology letters from people who really hurt me -- in a few cases, from people who were now in 12-step programs. I let them know that they were already forgiven, years ago, because there was no point in me remaining angry about something that was in the past, because that anger didn't do anybody any good. And, in one case, it was somebody I couldn't forgive until the apology came, and didn't think even then I would forgive, and when the apology came the forgiveness was instant, unexpected, and absolute -- it was as much a relief for me as I imagine it was for the person asking forgiveness. People often want to forgive as much as they want to be forgiven, because there is a lot of effort used in staying angry, or having any sort of negative emotion about somebody else.

I have also asked forgiveness, in some cases for things that were years old, or decades. I hurt my brother once in anger when I was a boy, and felt horrible about that for years, and finally brought it up. He had, and has, no memory of it, and actually was amused by the story.

There are some things that sting even after I have made amends. They sting still. I think we all carry some of that around with us. A memory will come into my head, of something I have done that I am not proud of, and I will stop and just feel terrible. I now think of these moments as little, useful, if genuinely unpleasant reminders not to do that sort of thing again. I have, for instance, never struck somebody in anger since I was a boy, and I think the awfulness of how I felt after having done so was a large part of that.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:27 PM on November 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

I agree that a lot of people have done this and gone through times where they behaved in a way that was out of character and makes them cringe when they think about it. I certainly have lots of them. The fact that you went through a tough time doesn't make you a bad person.

That said, I actually think a small acknowledgement/apology may not be a bad thing. As I said in that other post, I had a friend like that. She was so exhausting and draining and I was forever feeling stressed out over her. She was forever wrapped up in some drama or really negative situation, and she had really unrealistic expectations of what a friend was. My decision to once and for all friendship divorce her came when she lashed out at me. She would sometimes go on these out of the blue radio-silent stints and my role as her "friend" was to keep trying to contact her and to express concern and worry and basically give her a lot of attention until she decided to communicate again. It was like she was making me prove my friendship by being concerned and by chasing her. It was very much a power thing and about attention seeking. That last time when she went radio silent I decided this whole thing was idiotic so I just let it go. I didn't attempt to coax her in to communicating again, I didn't express concern over why she wasn't replying. I just decided to let decide to reply when she wanted to. Well, a couple of weeks later she sent me this insanely long, ranting email about how I never talk to her any more, how I clearly don't care about her or else I would have been messaging her, etc. She went on and on about how her frequent stints of not communicating were my fault. I said how it was not okay to just up and ignore me for days/weeks at a time, but she felt as her "best friend" I should just understand and accept it and play my role (though she didn't use those words exactly, that was the message). She then ended the discussion by saying she would be WILLING to continue the friendship if I apologized.

I haven't spoken to her since all that went down.

I actually would totally appreciate an apology from her. A short email saying, "Look, I'm sorry. I really wasn't a good friend to you back then, and it wasn't okay for me to lash out at you like I did. I was going through a tough time and it wasn't okay that I took it out on you." would be very welcomed.

So I say sending a short, clear, and to-the-point message or having a short, clear to the point conversation to just apologize may not be a bad idea.

Just don't do it through a work network.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 4:45 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

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