During the Christmas holiday, I read Brene Brown’s amazing book, Daring Greatly. In her book, she explains shame and it’s effects well. I’ve gleaned some nuggets on shame and have written about them here. If you haven’t read the book, you can purchase it here.
Shame isn’t powerful. It only becomes powerful when it can keep us silent. It wants us to stay small, and full of regret. Shame wins when it isolates me from others by fooling my heart into thinking that I am “the only one”. It keeps my heart locked up where it is safe, and keeps my secrets buried inside. It may move me to want to overpower others in fear of being discovered for the weakness I hide, or strive to please others to no end in efforts to be found worthy. In the process, I lose myself.
This only leads to the continual torment of, “What’s wrong with me?” determining my every move (which is never forward).
When shame rules my life, I am far from risk. I am safe, hidden from the casualties of progressing towards goals.
It puts me in self protection mode, I can’t listen to others. I am too busy thinking about how I am being perceived in the moment to freely engage in enjoying others company. It can isolate me with such force, that even in a room full of people, I still feel alone. In attempts to belong, it can engage me in negative behaviors such as gossip or exclusion of others.
Shame rules my heart in a sea of fear. It surfs on the waves of all I have failed to be or do. To cope, I become who I never wanted to be. I numb my pain in ways I never wanted such as addictions, violence, depression, and disorders. These send the waves of fear higher, only making the cycle that much harder to break. I am left to feel alone… and deeply flawed.
There is no where to escape it. Culture feeds me shame on a silver platter of everything I don’t measure up to. I can’t measure up to society’s image of effortless perfection. I believe the lie that if I was really worth something, this perfection would come easy.
Shame has me in the corner when my unmasked self is accidentally exposed for the world to judge. I shove myself into a prison of my own walls to protect myself before anyone can throw a stone. Nothing will penetrate. I am left to be alone with my disgusting self. I am full of remorse of who I am.
Shame puts unwanted identities on me. I don’t want to be seen as…. I don’t want people to think I’m…. I fight with all I am against these identities I feel are being forced on me. At this point, I only see my own struggle. I can’t see past myself. Self preservation becomes my only purpose. I will control others opinions of me. I will exhaust myself in this task. The shame only becomes stronger as I start to see myself through the eyes of others.
I don’t remember the wound – I have become the wound.
Can I ever be free?
There is a way, but it will take courage, more courage than I know I have. I need to break the silence and tell my story. When I tell my story, shame has no power. I discover I am not alone.
When I share my story:
I become resilient.
The unwanted identities can’t stick and I find myself again.
I create change for myself and others
I become whole
Shame is indeed released from my life when I tell my story, but it is denied access to come back if my story is received by others in a spirit of love and grace. When others create a place of safety, I go much further than just getting over shame: I flourish.
This, in turn, causes me to ask myself how I can create a safe place for others to tell their story to build resilience to shame. I am reminded again that fighting shame alone only removes it for a time. Fighting together annihilates it.
“This is the shame of the woman whose hand hides her smile because her teeth are so bad, not the grand self-hate that leads some to razors or pills or swan dives off beautiful bridges however tragic that is. This is the shame of seeing yourself, of being ashamed of where you live and what your father’s pay cheque lets you eat and wear. This is the shame of the fat and the bald, the unbearable blush of acne, the shame of having no lunch money and pretending you’re not hungry. This is the shame of concealed sickness – diseases too expensive to afford that offer only their cold one way ticket out. This is the shame of being ashamed, the self disgust of the cheap wine drunk, the lassitude that makes junk accumulate, the shame that tells you there is another way to live but you are too dumb to find it. This is the real shame, the damned shame, the crying shame, the shame that’s criminal, the shame of knowing words like glory are not in your vocabulary through they litter the Bibles you’re still paying for, this the shame of not knowing how to read and pretending you do. This is the shame that makes you afraid to leave your house, the shame of food stamps at the supermarket when the clerk shows impatience as you fumble with the change. This is the shame of dirty underwear, the shame of pretending your father works in an office. This is the shame of asking friends to let you off in front of the one nice house in the neighbourhood and waiting in the shadows until they drive away before walking in the gloom of your house. This is the shame at the end of the mania for owning things, the shame of no heat in winter, the shame of eating cat food, the unholy shame of dreaming of a new house and car and the shame of knowing how cheap such dreams are.” – Vern Rutsala