I had intended to write a blog about authenticity today. But I am watching Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday this morning and I can feel my intentions shifting. They’re being hijacked by the topic her guest, Brene’ Brown, author of Daring Greatly, is speaking about.
She is discussing shame. How it limits us. How it corrodes our self-esteem.
Brown has studied shame. She defines it in part as the intense feeling or belief that we are unworthy of love. According to her, we’re all infected with shame. She says it’s lethal.
And the less you talk about it, the more of it you probably have.
Brown believes shame can happen in an instant or can manifest from a lifetime of subtle programming. She also says that shame correlates strongly with addiction and depression.
Her comments got me thinking about the subject. Where does shame come from? What does it look like?
I think shame can come from everywhere. From anyone. Maybe it’s a teacher who humiliates a student in front of the class for not knowing how to solve a math equation. (Me, in the seventh grade.) Maybe it’s a parent who second guesses a child too much under the guise of being helpful…while inadvertently eroding their self esteem in the process. I know this one, too.
Sometimes circumstances like divorce are a source of shame to people.
Shame affects the way we think, the choices we make, how we carry ourselves in the world. I think it affects what we think we deserve.
How does shame present itself? I’ve seen it manifest in perfectionism. I‘ve got to be perfect, be the best employee, be the best mother, the best wife. . . so I can be loved.
I’ve seen it present itself in the opposite way too–by not showing up or doing your best work. Why bother trying if you already know you’re not good enough or smart enough?
I think as a culture, we use shame a lot. And not just in schools. We find it in politics. In religion. In parenting techniques. How many of us have heard (or gulp, even said before, “Shame on you!”) to someone you’re trying to control? I guess, I’ll raise my hand on that one, too.
When I think about it in the context of Brown’s talk now, I feel a little ashamed.
The truth is…sometimes we are the perpetrators of shame. We can be the worst offenders when we shame ourselves for being imperfect. When we beat ourselves up for a host of sins like:being too chubby, making poor financial decisions, being attracted to the wrong relationships, being addicted to drama or drink, or whatever.
And it occurs to me as I write this, that shame keeps us stuck. It’s a dark place where we can hide ourselves from the world. Because maybe, maybe, it feels more normal to us. And if we’re totally honest, maybe it gives us a hall pass to do less, and maybe accept less from ourselves…maybe even from others.
So how do we dissolve the pain? Brown talked about the importance of bringing light to it. Talking about our shame, bringing it out in the open is a first step to healing it. Though she cautions that you must be careful who you share your shame with.
I agree. But I also say, you can start by sharing your shame with yourself. But do it from a place of compassion. Look at yourself through “your soul’s eyes,” and know that you are a divine spirit. As many inspirational leaders have said, “we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” The truth is…there is no shame in being human.
So love yourself though it. Learn from your shame. And move on.
In my book Tao Flashes, I speak about compassion as being an important value and principle in life, and particularly at midlife. Compassion is also one of the basic tenets of Taoism. And Christianity. And Buddhaism. And all credible religions.
So remember, you are lovable. And there is no shame in being human.
Question: What shame do you need to forgive and release in your life?
Affirmation: I am lovable and honorable. I release any old stories that have left me feeling unworthy and ashamed of myself.