Shame, Blame, and Tomato Soup Stain

I’m in middle school walking down the halls, lockers slamming. Wearing my favorite navy-blue corduroy overalls with flare bottoms, a purple long-sleeve top, I thought I could endure another day underneath the flickering fluorescent lights on the high ceilings, the classrooms with the godawful green on the walls, an ever-changing, unpredictable emotional landmine of interactions. Mostly, I did my best to be invisible socially, feel miserable internally, and excel academically.

At lunchtime, I sat on the aisle seat with my bagged lunch. I found some friends to sit with and chat about homework, our teachers, the new, very pretty girl who had joined our class, likely to become a cheerleader (she did).

Next thing I knew tomato soup like a red cascading shower poured down on my face and all over the front of me and my lap. What hadn’t soaked my corduroys, splattered onto the floor. The girl, whose tray had been bumped by another student, apologized profusely, then scurried away calling to the student who had jostled her. As my startle wore off, I grabbed napkins from the metal napkin holder on the table to clean myself and the floor as best as I could. Some kids at the table laughed.

A rush of emotions flowed through me including dismay, frustration, embarrassment, and resignation as I realized I would be walking around the rest of the school day wearing part of the girl’s lunch. Slowly soaking into my psyche just like the soup saturating the fabric of my outfit, I knew I’d be uncomfortable both physically, socially, and emotionally. I fought back tears. A few friends showed a bit of compassion, but then quickly walked away lest they be seen with someone in soup-soaked clothing.

As predicted, several kids made fun of me. They assumed I had been clumsy at lunchtime. I didn’t bother to defend or explain. Somehow, I got through the day. When I arrived at my parent’s house after the walk home, I felt an even deeper chill.

My attempts to tell my mother what had happened received a rat-a-tat, anger-filled, accusatory interrogation. “What did you say?” You must have said something to the girl? What did you do to her? You must have done something to her? Where were you sitting? Why were you sitting on the aisle?  If you hadn’t been sitting there, this wouldn’t have happened. Don’t you know any better than to not ever sit on the aisle seat in a cafeteria?!?!” I sat silent in a swirl of shame. How had I not yet learned she was not ever the person to go to for compassion, kindness, or a warm hug?

After so many years of this type of accusatory questioning and shaming, I felt at fault, stupid, blamed for what I also knew was an accident.

The girl got bumped and lost control of her tray. She had apologized. I knew this. In many ways, the “cause” of the entire accident happened to be the student who bumped the girl. And none of this search for blame erases the fact I now had stained corduroy overalls, likely not to ever be the same even with the promises of laundry stain remover.

Yet, I kept looking for all the ways I caused this accident; how I remained the sole one at fault.

As many people would say these days, stuff happens; events happen that you simply don’t ever want to happen when you wake up in the morning. Most people wouldn’t ask for a flat tire, rush hour traffic, a five-car pile-up, their wife to be diagnosed with heart disease or to wear tomato soup on their favorite outfit for an entire afternoon in middle school.

So quick to blame and shame other people, some folks look a lot like my mother, unwilling to dig deeper, to pause, listen, and be curious about what happened, to offer kindness, compassion, to imagine what they might feel like walking around middle school with tomato soup stains down the front of their outfit.

Don’t our responses to the challenges in life become what propels us forward?

Sometimes attempting to answer the “whys” doesn’t bring someone back to life or protect us from uncertain life happenings.

 Shame and blame seem a bit defunct in a multiverse.

In the brain of a growing child blamed for seemingly everything terrifying or uncomfortable happening around them or to them, this child might also begin to think she could become the cure, which is a fallacy, also….one of the many challenges of blame, shame, scapegoating, and gaslighting.

“It’s not personal” means I get to grow up the tiny child ways of thinking and realize I am not the center of the universe, nor am I only dust in the wind. As a fully developing human being, I can become a loving expression of wonder and delight even while wearing my sweaty running gear and smiling as little bird feet prints emerge on my face. I can cultivate self-compassion.

If someone you know is diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, loses their job, finds out their child has cancer, or a house burned down in a fire, rather than blaming, shaming this person, wouldn’t you want to offer kindness, empathy, and support?

There often isn’t one sole cause of much of anything because humans live interconnected to many people, the natural world, a cornucopia of experiences along with thoughts, feelings, sensations, unresolved hurts, and a deep, sometimes untapped, well of love inside of themselves.

Shame and blame interactions and energies distract people from creative, collaborative responses and an ability to transcend beyond the consciousness of the perceived “problem” which may not actually be a “problem” to be solved but could be a mystery to be lived, experienced, and accepted. And radical acceptance allows much inner peace.

Amid this multi-faceted, interconnected web of existence, maybe you and I can be and do our small part from courage, self-awareness, kindness, and compassion.

Maybe you and I can be responsible for our emotional energy vibration and the alchemy we do with the detritus we gathered and created along this human, soul-awakening journey.

Maybe each of us can do our bit of cleaning up, clearing up, waking up, and growing up with much love as our world changes rapidly before our eyes and below our feet.


Laura Staley
Laura Staley
The founder of Cherish Your World, Laura Staley passionately helps people thrive by guiding them to a holistic transformation of space, heart, mind, body, and soul. Laura knows that there’s a relationship between the conditions of our homes or workplaces and the quality of our lives. Trained and certified with the Western School of Feng Shui and seasoned by almost two decades of working with a variety of clients, Laura uses her intuition and expertise to empower her clients to produce remarkable results in their lives. Her trifecta of serving people includes speaking, writing, and compassionate listening. As a columnist, Laura writes personal essays focused on self-discovery, feng shui, emotional health, and transformations from the inside out. Laura is the published author of three books: Live Inspired, Let Go Courageously and Live with Love: Transform Your Life with Feng Shui, and the Cherish Your World Gift Book of 100 Tips to Enhance Your Home and Life. Prior to creating her company, Laura worked as a fulltime parent and an assistant professor at Ohio Wesleyan University. She earned a Ph.D. in political science from The Ohio State University. Her joys in life include laughing with loved ones, dancing, reading, meditating, running, being in nature, and listening to music she loves. She resides in Black Mountain, NC with lovable dog, Layla. Laura is a contributing author to the inspiring book Crappy to Happy: Sacred Stories of Transformational Joy

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  1. I felt you very profoundly within every line Laura! Such a heart wrenching story. It made me want to gather up that young girl in my arms and give her a big hug…and your mother as well.

    It caused me to ponder what may have happened along her journey to evoke such a response from a mother to her child. The energy of shame and blame is such a soul killer.

    It reminds me of the teachings of Dr. Wayne Dyer about forgiveness…In forgiving others we release ourselves from the energies that impede our spiritual progress. A beautiful quote by Mark Twain comes to mind…

    “Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”

    • Oh, Cyndi! I so appreciate your heartfelt thoughts and know my young self would happily receive the hug from you-and do know I have hugged her many times over-all my younger selves continue to be saturated in Adult Laura Love from my soul. I trust my mother is being loved and nurtured in the Big Ball of Love. She passed March of 2020. Know I continue to do the deep work to forgive her and hold deep compassion for the few things i know for certain “happened to her” including my grandmother and happenings during her years at Catholic school with the nuns.

      I agree with you about shame/blame being “soul killers.” for the limiting beliefs trick you into thinking they are true! I would also offer, I have since discovered in doing a daily meditation practice for 7 years that my Inner Quiet Charlotte-what I call my Witness Self nowadays -I used to call it my Inner Fly on the Wall-now knows no thought or deed done by another person during my childhood or later ever touched my soul. My soul is expansive and unlimited-connected to LOVE. This took time, years, new practices to fully experience this awakening.

      And I LOVE Dr. Wayne Dyer!! I read all of his books! I watched him on PBS and got to see him twice in person-he signed two different books of his that I still have! I loved his messages about forgiveness and adore the quote from Mark Twain-which Dr. Dyer often shared in his talks. I grieved when he died, yet, here he shows up in our exchange-ah, divine synchronicities. Oh, my gosh! Thank you! Thank You! Thank You! for your kind, wonderful comments as they obviously resonate Completely with me!! Your reply touched me very deeply and I am so grateful. I wish you a beautiful weekend ahead!

  2. Hi Loree!

    Thank you so much for your reflections and kind, enthusiastic words! There’s much to unpack in this essay. Children can become bucket holders of much unresolved adult angst. Children, even middle schoolers, have not developed the many capacities of a fully developed human being. In the childhood years, wouldn’t it be a delightful shift for humanity- if adults took the time to be curious, to listen, to create psychologically safe (and physically safe) spaces for children to learn, make lots of mistakes, wonder, and become? For children to listen to the still small voice inside themselves? I appreciate knowing the ideas that especially resonated for you! “Someone else’s behavior is never our fault!” a big one…right?!?! especially for all the recovering people pleasers out there-like myself…

    And my joy, humble honor.

    I wish you a wonderful day amid the cornucopia!! 🙂

  3. Totally true Laura! And you are right. If more folks wouldn’t jump the gun and be “curious” as you said we could be better listeners to our children!
    This cornucopia (love that) of experiences is what life’s all about and ultimately, that is also how we learn… experience and mistakes.
    I also couldn’t agree more in the fact that someone else’s behavior is never our fault! You really hit the high note on this one ~ Thx, Loreexx