Recently writing about “Bully Types” resurrected an emotion I have grappled with much of my life: a) being part of a family, especially as a child and teen, riddled with mental illness and shrouded in family secrets, b) as a child and young teen, threatened and emotionally bullied by peers for too many years, c) as an oft underachieving student and, finally, d) as a financially vulnerable speaker/word artist. The emotion is “SHAME!” And the crown with the cross: The ability to harness shame for uncommon empathy as well as creative and inspiring performance. Perhaps you may relate and/or resonate with this piece. Peace!


I just showed the latest version of "The Silent Wall of Shame" to a thoughtful high school female who works at Mad City Coffeehouse. And she immediately said her English teacher could turn this into a class lesson/discussion; "the poem sends a great message." I sent her the poem and encouraged her to share.

The Silent Wall of Shame

Why is it so hard to talk about “shame”?
What makes it the feeling we all fear to name?
How has our “shame” become a straitjacket?
“Shame” must break from that ghost-ridden closet!

"Why can’t you focus; make a decision?"
The shame-brain “iGnaws” mindful attention:
High noon to full moon text-video dumb
Still can’t quite get that frontal cortex numb.

Low scores at school, you're so far from cool:
“How can someone ‘so smart’ be a damn fool?”
Some veil their shame by being too good
Others act out...won't be understood.

When the shamed person gets flame-throwing red
To lose at anything…better to be dead!
Some will crawl under…others will throw rocks
Never try putting “the leper” in a box.

Admitting to shame, you’d wave a white flag.
Keep dragging that black-hole memory bag!
Sins of the family your DNA pulse…still
Why can’t you be like everyone else?

The “Shame Game,” The “Shame Game”
Others blame you; you do the same.
The “Shame Game”; deceptive frame
It’s time to change a view that is lame.

When the culture is “win at all cost”
Then anything less means everything’s lost.
Meek against mighty, there’s no more high road
All know who’s right when there’s no moral code.

Where is shame’s trailhead, and where will it roam?
How does this virus make the mind its home?
An unwanted touch, a whiplash tongue
"Don't embarrass us": You’re always wrong!

Though not an assault or stinging curse
Haunting family secrets may be the worst.
Like smoking those butts…puff, puff, puff toxin
Slowly…deadly…five senses corrosion.

The “Shame Game,” The “Shame Game”
It’s not all your fault; some can’t say the same.
The “Shame game”; devious frame
It’s time to change; know what’s insane.

Each day one fails to secure safe haven
One more soul tremor if not spirit cave-in.
Whether for months or forty desert years
The shame cactus thrives on a trickle of tears.

Like the small lizard ever sensing danger
Changing colors for both friend and stranger.
More than noxious words or violent deeds
Inside our head, shadowy seeds.

Day after day betraying themselves
Souls lost in sealed jars alone on dark shelves.
Some shatter glass; others dwell in “sin”
Most learn to hide to save their own skin.

When drugs or drinking keep all on egg shells…
Will this be the night of family from hell?
An iceberg of torment, trapped base of rage…
Cracks in the ozone melting your courage.

An unknowing transfer of adult shame
An unconscious part of the psychic game:
“Damned if I’ll be like mom…the old man”
Tells me you’re scarred deep, deep from within.

The “Shame Game,” The “Shame Game”
Don’t close your eyes; look at the stain!
The “shame Game”; fictitious refrain
It’s time to change; wake up your brain.

Sometimes a “Rap” needs a true story
One that reveals a soul’s grief or glory:
A failed rite of passage, when but a tyke
My dad could not teach me to ride a bike.

Was the bike too big, his patience too short?
Was I so afraid? Why did we abort?
Nothing was mentioned; for now, trust broken
In this cycle of life…hope went unspoken.

For so many years, I watched my friends ride
It’s “No big deal”…but, in truth, was sick inside.
And saddest of all when wearing a mask
You vanish so well…people no longer ask.

The “Shame Game,” The “Shame Game”
Please open up…despite the pain
The “shame game”; counterfeit frame
It’s time to change; fiercely complain!

The shame around failure breeds over time
Becomes a monster – no reason or rhyme.
You are possessed by the “Intimate FOE”:
Fear of Exposure chokes the will to grow.

Why should one try with peril so high?
Better set goals that are pie-in-the-sky.
No risk of failing when caught in a breach…
Simply avoid or just short-arm your reach.

The “Shame Game,” The “Shame Game”
Life involves risk; don’t buy chronic drain
The “s-game”; a corrupt frame
It’s time to change; explore your range.

Why pour out my words in this tale of pain?
Now recall never fails to fire my brain.
To no longer run, to no longer hide
Unlimited source of affirming pride.

A fount of purpose, raging river passion
Ride out those waves of humiliation.
Your storm tossed quest…only two life jackets:
Reach out for help…do your best to hack it.

Build muscle memory, steady those nerves
Nothing can replace a true learning curve.
Oh yes, a final thought you might like:
I did teach myself to ride that darn bike.

The “Shame Game,” The “Shame Game”
One step at a time; forge your own lane
The s-game; big bogus frame
It’s time to change; so what’s wrong with strange?

To break through that blocked head of shame
First bore a hole – a self-aware frame.
Sure you have that complex family tree…still
Shakespeare rings true: To be or not to be?

Next, challenge a sense of dishonor
Not all alone…with trusted advisor.
Learn when to hold on, accept that things end…
Know when a hug is your most precious friend.

There is no disgrace in losing a race
When mind-body-spirit fused time and space.
Now discontent spurs determination
Or allows for “incubation vacation”…

Brood with kindred souls; lick wounds, let go…grieve.
Learn from past your reprieve:
Hatch new perspective – hopeful days and morrows
For having the courage to embrace all sorrows.

The “Shame Game,” The “Shame Game”
Burn that old frame with your inner flame
“Strive High, Embrace Failure” your new middle name
You’re ready to change the rules of the game.

Aha! An answer to Shakespeare’s query
It’s not existential; just start “to bee” –
Circle your egos, unravel the guilt
Weave “brainbow”-colored threads as a group quilt. **

There’s limited juice squeezed from self-abuse
Harness pain and rage; tie a well-oiled noose.
Pull on the reins; guide your human-horse brain…
Now cry out and leap that “Silent Wall of Shame!”

** “brainbow” – from Douglas Hofstadter & Emmanuel Sander, Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking, Basic Books, 2013

© Mark Gorkin 2015
Shrink Rap ™ Productions

Author's Bio: 

Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is a national keynote and webinar speaker and "Motivational Humorist & Team Communication Catalyst" known for his interactive, inspiring and FUN programs for both government agencies and major corporations. The Doc is a training and Stress Resilience Consultant for The Hays Companies, an international corporate insurance and wellness brokerage group. He has also led “Resilience, Team Building and Humor” programs for various branches of the Armed Services. Mark, a former Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service, is the author of Resiliency Rap, Practice Safe Stress, and of The Four Faces of Anger. See his award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" – – called a "workplace resource" by National Public Radio (NPR). For more info on the Doc's "Practice Safe Stress" programs or to receive his free e-newsletter, email or call 301-875-2567.