Let’s talk about shame – that dirty five letter word.

“Tell me – did I go on a tangent? Did I lie through my teeth? Did I cause you to stumble on your feet? Did I bring shame on my family? Did it show when I was weak? Whatever you see, that wasn’t me. That wasn’t me, that wasn’t me.  -That Wasn’t Me (Brandi Carlile)

I recently read Brene Brown’s book “The Gift of Imperfections”. I spoke about perfection in an earlier blog, but I had never thought about it in relation to shame – until I read this book. (Ironically (or not), Brene used the exact same quote in her book when talking about perfectionism as I did in my blog on it.)

Brene defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” She expands on this by saying: “Shame keeps worthiness away by convincing us that owning our stories will lead to people thinking less of us. Shame is all about fear. We’re afraid that people won’t like us if they know the truth about who we are, where we come from, what we believe, how much we’re struggling, or, believe it or not, how wonderful we are when soaring (sometimes it’s just as hard to own our strengths as our struggles). This is why shame loves perfectionists – it’s so easy to keep us quiet.”

“For women, shame is: do it all, do it perfectly, and never let them see you sweat. It’s this web of unattainable, conflicting, competing expectations about who we’re supposed to be. For men, shame is one thing: do not be perceived as weak.” ~Brene Brown~

I felt shame a lot of the time earlier in my life. I was ashamed when I felt like I was fat and/or lazy. I was ashamed when I didn’t speak up for myself. I was ashamed when I did speak up for myself. I was ashamed that I couldn’t tell people what I felt when I was sad and instead lashed out in anger. I was ashamed when I lacked courage. I was ashamed when I put up walls. I was ashamed when I hurt the people I cared about. I was ashamed that I didn’t study as much as I could have in university. I was ashamed when I wasn’t in love with my ex-husband anymore. I was ashamed when I felt like a failure. I was ashamed that I didn’t love myself enough. I was ashamed when I wasn’t kind to myself. I was ashamed when I felt selfish. I was ashamed when my brother died because I hadn’t talked to him in a while. I was ashamed for belittling people in order to make myself feel better. I was ashamed for all the times I didn’t ask for help when I needed it.  I was ashamed when I told myself I couldn’t do something and therefore didn’t even try. I was ashamed when I won academic awards in high school. I was ashamed when I believed that I didn’t deserve to be happy and successful. I was ashamed when I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted. I was ashamed when I didn’t allow myself to shine. I was ashamed when I was afraid to show my vulnerability.

Brene’s research revealed that shame drives 2 big thoughts in our internal dialogue: “never good enough” and “who do you think you are”. As you can see from my (partial) shame list above, I lived with both of these thoughts for a long time. When I look back on my life to the times when I was in pain and too scared to ask for help (too scared to be vulnerable), I know it all stems from feeling shame. As I started letting go of the things I was ashamed of and began forgiving myself for being imperfect, I started feeling better about myself. I cut the shackles of blame, shame, regret and guilt. I no longer have the belief that I am a bad person. I have nothing to protect, hide, defend or prove. I am able to just be me, and I feel so free!

Image courtesy of www.sayingimages.com

So, what did facing my shame allow me to do? It allowed me to move past my hurdles, to go beyond my limiting beliefs, to drop my agendas and my expectations, to step into myself, to be open, honest and transparent, to be kinder to myself, to love my imperfections, to truly love myself, to tap into the strengths of my character and to develop them, to see possibility, to be more present, to share my gifts, to stop worrying about failing, to feel at ease doing things “my way” in order to live big, live bold and be more “me” on purpose – ultimately, to live life with no regrets.

“Don’t hold your future hostage to your past.” ~Lisa Nichols~

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