The Shame Spiral: Why We Make A Big Deal Out Of The Tiniest Things

by Gigi Engle
Guille Faingold

Before I tell you this tragic personal anecdote, let me begin by saying I have major travel anxiety.

I don’t sleep the night before I have to go anywhere. Whether it's by train, plane or boat, I will panic about it and imagine every single, solitary thing that can go wrong.

It was the afternoon after my little sister’s graduation; I was fervently staring at my phone as my dad drove me to the train.

It was 6:15 in the evening, and I needed to be on the 6:45 pm Empire Rail back to NYC.

I had planned this trip down to a T.

I would be at Penn Station by 10:45 pm, take the two and three express trains and be home by 11:45 pm.

I would get seven hours and 45 minutes of sleep and be up and ready for work the next day.

I had everything figured out. I was directing my dad using the GPS on my phone.

The problem with my father and a GPS system is once it goes on, he simply only listens to the directions and doesn’t even bother paying attention to signs.

I saw the sign for Boston South Station. Though I had told my dad it was exit 25B previously, he just soared right by it.

My heart immediately starting racing, and I irrationally lashed out at him for missing the exit.

By the time we turned around on the highway, took some random back roads (Thanks Siri, you assh*le.) and made it to South Station, I had missed my train.

My perfectly timed trip was ruined. Everything I had been irrationally worrying about had just become a reality.

I’m honestly embarrassed to admit this as an (almost, yikes) 25-year-old woman, but I had a f*cking meltdown. Like hyperventilating, crying, ridiculous temper tantrum.

As it turned out, there was another train an hour later. My father really didn’t know what to make of this massive panic attack/psychotic breakdown, paid for my ticket (Thank you, Pop!), kissed me on the forehead and sent me on my way.

As I sat in my own double seat, whisking by the outskirts of Boston, I felt severely ashamed.

Why had I let something so small and easily fixable cause me to freak out like that? Why did it feel like missing my train was the end of the world?

I realized a lot of us do this. We love to blow things out of proportion.

Perhaps not in as over-the-top of a manner as my little sh*t fit, but we definitely tend to make huge deals out of tiny things.

We go down a shame spiral.

No matter how small of a hiccup, it always feels like the world as we know it is going to end.

Once we fix the problem, which we always do, we slip into a shame spiral, suddenly so humiliated by our childish behavior.

It’s like we’ve finally become adults, and then we end up completely pulverizing all of that grown-up street cred we’ve worked so hard to earn.

Suddenly, we’re just gigantic babies again. We can’t take care of ourselves and dissolve into a puddle of pathetic, crying chaos.

How are we ever going to be parents and deal with our kids pulling sh*t like this if we can’t even deal with our own sh*t? Are we ever going to be mature enough to keep our cool?

We don’t see the bigger picture.

It’s like we just can’t see the bigger picture. We can’t look beyond our own selfish needs.

We plan everything so stringently. We expect everything to just work out for us without the slightest of hiccups.

These kinds of expectations are completely unrealistic. The moment one little thread comes loose, we let our sanity unravel.

How are we supposed to deal with real cataclysmic disasters that are bound to occur in the real world if we let missing a train, missing a job opportunity, missing out on a great apartment, completely unhinge us?

When the real sh*t hits the fan, we’re going to spontaneously combust because we don’t know how to deal with stress like real human beings.

We get inside of our heads and overanalyze everything.

“We’re all shipwrecked on this idea that everything has to be explained.” - Shane Koyczan, “Atlantis”

We get inside of our own, silly heads and have to assess every single little detail and extract some meaning from it.

Whether it be not receiving a text back from that guy we like or trying to decode some cryptic message on social media, we have to take every single, tiny thing that happens and blow it up into some huge, ridiculous ordeal.

Social media has made it easy to be passive aggressive. We’re all battling each other and no one at all.

We expect that the whole world is out to get us and everything that happens is somehow about us.

It’s pathetic, really, to have this kind of outlook. In the end, when we get that text back, when we get a different job, when we find out that Instagram quote really wasn’t a jab at our characters, we feel like idiots, and once again, we head down the shame spiral.

The hardest part of all is there is no end in sight. This generation will continue to blow everything out of proportion and never be able to just relax and go with the flow.

We’re all hell-bent on having our cake and eating it too.

We can’t possibly fathom that the world will not completely implode if everything doesn’t go exactly the way we planned.

We cannot even wrap our minds around the fact that everything that happens doesn’t have something to do with us.

If we’re not at the center of it all, do we even matter? If we’re not constantly surrounded by drama, do we even exist?