What is Shame?
Shame is the intensely painful feeling of being unworthy of love and not having a sense of belonging. It is one of the most common human emotions that many of us often experience.
We all have specific memories that can bring us shame but other recollections of prior incidents leave us with subtle messages that fester over time scarring us further
It’s interesting how people are able to ignore the situation that brought about the shame yet they continue to carry around the burden of shame throughout their lives which over time damages them!!!!
Shame is lethal & deadly. And sadly enough we are all swimming in it. And, unfortunately, most people don’t even realize it.
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The bottom line and painful fact regarding shame is:
The less you talk about, the more you get.
Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives:
Secrecy, silence and judgement.
If you put shame in a petri-dish and add a little bit of secrecy, silence and judgment, it will grow exponentially. This is how it will find it's way into your life, silently and growing over time. It will creep into every corner and crevice of your life and shape the way you think, the way you view the world, the way you think about other people, the way you interact with other people, what you do and the choices you make. It can even set the course for who you date or marry.
If instead, you put the same amount of shame into the same petri-dish and mix it with empathy you will create a different environment, one that combats shame. Shame cannot survive if challenged. It cannot survive empathy.
Based on this analogy, if something happens to you and you feel ashamed, call a friend and talk about it. Explain your feelings and accept the empathy and understanding you receive in return. Shame cannot survive because it depends on you buying into the belief that you are alone.
It is true that we need to look before we leap by choosing our friends carefully and before opening up and making ourselves vulnerable. If we open up to the wrong person, we could become a piece of gossip fueling the growth of our shame.
We need a solid connection with an individual we can trust, someone who stands firmly planted on the ground like a large mature tree.
Here are some personalities to avoid sharing your feelings with:
Someone who feels shame for you. An individual who gasps and confirms how horrified you should be, followed by an awkward silence. This leaves you in a position of having to make him/her feel better with you no further ahead. You are left in shame with doubts about where your friendship now stands.
The individual who expresses sympathy by saying things like, "I feel so sorry for you, I get it, I feel for you and I've been there", but nothing further, no empathy. Worse, the passive aggressive version of sympathy, “Bless your heart” or "Oh you poor thing". These phrases do not make you feel better and are not helpful.
The friend who needs you to be the pillar of worthiness and authenticity. He/she cannot help because this person is disappointed in your imperfection. “Because you let her down”.
The friend who is so uncomfortable with vulnerability and asks: “How did you let it happen?”.
The person who is all about making things better to alleviate his/her own discomfort and refuses to acknowledge your feelings or point out the poor choices you made that got you to where you are. In their mind you are exaggerating and you are told that “It wasn’t that bad”.
And finally, the friend who confuses the connection with the opportunity to getting one leg up on you by outlining a situation of their own that is much worse than yours. “Oh! that’s nothing, listen to what happen to me”.
When I open myself up and I am vulnerable enough, to share something that is shameful to me, what am I really looking for?
1. I am looking for a person who loves me, not despite my vulnerability & imperfection but because of it.
2. I am looking for the folks who show up and are not afraid to interact with me on a deep emotional level.
And, "I think we should all have one or two of those”, says Brene Brown in “Daring Greatly”
On TV shows, we see scenes with friends who are laughing and having fun doing all kinds of stuff. This is not the kind of friendship I am referring to. I am speaking of that ONE friend who you can call for help. Someone who won't judge you when you say “I just told a bold face lie to someone I care about and I have no way to get out of it, and I’m in a shame storm of epic proportions”. This is the ONE person who will say” Alright! Let’s talk it through together.” I’m here for you!
And if you have more than one of these people in your life I would say that you truly have won the LOTTERY!
There is something that we all do, myself included. We often ignore or bypass the reliable individual as we seek attention and appreciation in our daily lives. Often from individuals who will never show up for us like our loyal friend(s). Isn’t this crazy?
Why do we worry about being liked or accepted by strangers? For example, is it that important for me to be liked by the woman I don't know at the hairdresser?
Of course we are all capable of having different faces that could represent the examples of friends I spoke of earlier, particularly if we are told a story we can relate to that aligns with our own shame. That is when it hits a nerve and reminds us that we are human, imperfect and vulnerable. It is difficult to practice compassion when we are struggling with our own authenticity or unworthiness and when we are off-balance.
My mantra is to only share a shame story with someone who has earned the right to hear it. To support me is a right to be earned.
It is easy to mess up because your emotions are running a muck. But remember, you are opening yourself up and you don't want to bestow this honor upon anyone who is not deserving. Think long and hard about who has earned to right hear your story. Choose carefully and pick someone who you respect and have a positive give-and-take relationship with.
Last but not least, even your closest friends have off-days, so don't brush him/her off if you get a response that's not helpful. You might be surprised to receive a call an hour, a day or a week later with the empathetic response that you were looking for.
Remember, we are not going to have the right response every time.