This is a new spin on an old topic.
Welcome to Day 12 of 30 Days of Brené Brown.
Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.
― Brené Brown
I dig it. This I can get into.
I was going to throat punch someone if I had to write about courage or vulnerability again.
Shame and corrosion.
I have to back up a bit to get us all on the same page. I think that most people have a good sense of what “courage” and “vulnerability” mean. “Shame” is harder for me; it’s like a distant cousin to embarrassment, but stays on much longer. Embarrassment is easy to recover from and ephemeral. What some people do though, is use “embarrassment” when they really mean “shame” which is to me, the mother of all super-deep regrets and emotions. Shame, is like a scourge on our souls.
My jury is still out on whether shame is cast upon us by someone or something else or if its an internal reaction or mechanism to something outside us. Embarrassment to me, is an internal reaction. I feel as though shame is foisted upon us, as if we need any help to feel bad about ourselves, we have Aunt Mabel reminding us that we should’ve waited our turn … I feel like shame we “learn” from outside influences. It’s judge-y.
When we’re embarrassed, we blush. When we feel shame, we curl up and feel miserable humiliation. It’s much deeper. I think kids these days have the two confused.
Brown defines shame as: “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” That’s a long-term sensation that becomes a part of our cellular make-up.
Benedict Arnold: shame.
Mel Gibson: shame.
Janet Jackson and the wardrobe malfunction: embarrassment.
Paul Rudd for his performance on Saturday Night Live last weekend: embarrassment.
My cat not coming home for a week: just weird.
Shame. Everyone has been there and the way that Brown defines it, ‘believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy’ — you can stop right there: it’s enough. It doesn’t matter what comes up next.
I have written of myself that I am flawed. I can’t remember the post, but someone took me to task and she really drove into me that being flawed is NOT a … flaw. It’s the myth of perfection which engenders the concepts of flaw and flawless. I can’t find the post and I’ll not do her rebuke justice, but she was right. “You make ‘flawed’ sound like it’s a disease or a curse…” or something like that. She was right. It’s not a big deal to be flawed. We all are.
We are who we are and we all have work to do to feel better about who we are so that we don’t feel shame because once the shame is gone, then we can change.
I believe that if we do a better job of feeling better about who we are then we will BE better. It’s not possible to feel good about yourself and be “bad.” Well, maybe it is, I’ve seen some pretty crazy Montel and Maury talk show episodes. So… it’s out there.
To me, feeling good about yourself can be quiet. It needn’t be gaudy and loud. Goodness needn’t be like a tractor beam and pull in people or energy by force. It generates and therefore it just is. Sometimes gaudy goodness can lead to embarrassment. That’s ok.
So that whole thing about shame and its corrosion on the mechanism that believes we are capable (and deserving!) of change… it’s heavy. Can you honestly look at ANYONE … take a few deep breaths and close your eyes to think about it … that does not deserve to be free of shame? (I’m not talking about releasing dangerous criminals, but I am talking about releasing their feelings of shame.) Is redemption only for the “good” people? Is change reserved for some people and prohibited from others? Who are we to say so?
Are you worthy of redemption and change? Of course you are!
The more we bury shame, pretend we don’t feel it, cast it off as someone else’s problem, the more it isolates us. The more we steel ourselves to it, the more we talk about it (with safe people) the less powerful it is. When we share (with safe people) we build empathy.
Empathy is relation and communion; the sense that the other person can pull from within themselves the feeling that the other person is expressing. Empathy is quiet and observant. Empathy does not diminish or compete. Empathy says, only “I get it,” and nothing else. It’s like those giant blue humanoids in “Avatar,” when they said “I see you.” That’s empathy. Empathy can stop shame. Why? because it takes two people and both of them are showing themselves. (I’m not gonna say it… I’m not gonna write about ‘showing up.’)
Brown just shared this brilliant video which does a great job explaining empathy and sympathy. I used to get very confused between them, but no more!
For me, shame has many iterations.
For women, shame says, “I’m not enough.” Most of my primitive shame revolves around not being what I perceived as “enough” for my mother. The task I was given was impossible. I see that now, but it took years to not only acknowledge it (because I did see it as an absurd detail) but to also accept it. You can see a car and believe it is safe. But until you drive it or survive an accident in it, you don’t know how safe it is.
For men, shame says, “don’t let them see you weak.” I see that all over the place. In my family, I work hard to let my sons feel safe expressing their emotions. I don’t like the kicking and near drownings in the hot tub, and I can do with out the wrestling for the milk when we sit down to eat, but I know that’s part of their male expressiveness. It’s in their DNA. Do they worry about being perceived as weak? I don’t know; I believe that ‘weakness avoidance’ is ingrained in their male identity: study hard, have a pretty girl, be funny, be good at sports, play an instrument well… Other than the grades, I see these goals as endeavors, chances they’ll take to fit in. And that’s part of the shame thing too — we all want to fit in.
I hate being excluded. I’d rather quit than be fired. Rejection and exclusion hurts. One of the best things that has happened to me this year, happened when I let down my guard. A gal I’d become estranged from due to ego and fear (on my part, I can’t and won’t speak for her) changed course and we’re good friends again. She’s had a rough year and so have I. We knew, at our cores, that the other person was good and true; we just needed to be ready to believe it.
I have met some of the best people in the world via their blogs or on the Internet. One I met just last month, because I replied to her post on Elephant Journal has become a very important and empathetic pen pal to me. She recently lost her mom and I wrote to her because I was touched by her post about her mom’s upcoming death from cancer. When I wrote to her, I told her she’d opened my heart and I wanted her to know. She wrote back the next day and told me her mother had passed two days before. She was touched by my note and asked me to be a pen pal. And we are.
We email every day now because we know, as much as we love our husbands and they love us, there is NO way for them to understand our pain of loss, grief, isolation and anger. She has a similar backstory to mine, which makes it even more amazing. That wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t feel that empathy and tell her how I felt. I have been blessed with wonderful commenters here on this blog who help me because I open up. I have no shame in my story. It doesn’t define me anymore.
So I invite you… if you feel shame, tell a safe someone about it. Hell, I’m safe. You know just about everything there is to know about me. (No, I’ve saved some things…)
My point is that everyone has been there. That’s the part we need to work on: sharing that stuff. That creates the empathy. Opening ourselves … nope. She almost got me. I’m not doing it.
To see shame for what it is: smallness, we need to become bigger to beat it. Big enough to trust someone else.
ps – i seem to be on an “Animal House” kick this week … aren’t you glad?!