We all have times when we feel the weight of shame. Sometimes it comes in a fleeting moment when comparison creeps in, and at others it’s a season to be wrestled with and learnt from.
It isn’t common to speak of shame. Often confused with guilt, a more circumstantial emotion, shame is the feeling that we are disgraceful and unworthy. Dr. Brené Brown is a professor, researcher, and author who has focused her career on building a workable understanding of shame and vulnerability. She defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling of being unworthy of love and belonging,” and believes that it is the most primitive human emotion. Yet for being so primitive, Brown was struck during her research by how little we actually speak about our shame. Each of us feels unworthy at times, but it’s a frightening and exposing topic to enter into. We pretend it isn’t there, shoving negative self-talk into the corners of our minds, only to beat it back again when it inevitably resurfaces.
Shame manifests itself differently in everyone. Some of us struggle to fight the beliefs of being stupid, silly, or worthless, while others are troubled by past experiences that haven’t been fully worked through. These hindrances prevent us from moving beyond a mistake or a bump in the road. Suddenly, when we don’t land the dream job or our jeans button a little too tightly, we begin to question if we’re really worth as much as those around us.
The truth is we don’t grant ourselves the same level of grace that we grant to others. While we forgive and forget the imperfections in our friends, we berate ourselves for possessing the same ones. Brown suggests that we begin to deal with our shame by talking to ourselves in the same way that we would talk to those that we love. Be encouraging, say, “I love you,” to yourself and understand that failures are okay and often where most of our growth stems from. By showing yourself a deeper measure of personal grace, the lies that our shame supports can lose control.
Another strategy to deal with reoccurring shame is to talk about it. Share your feelings and be vulnerable with those whom you love and trust. “Shame depends on the belief that ‘I am alone,’” says Brown, making companionship and understanding exactly what we need in a time of struggle. Through her research Brown found that three things foster the growth of shame in our lives: secrecy, judgment, and silence. Empathy is the one thing that can stop it.
It takes a great amount of courage to speak about personal shame, and it’s tempting to want to hide it. However, opening up and exposing these areas in vulnerability can reward us with the most authentic and valuable connections in order to heal. Giving empathy invites empathy to be returned, allowing us to see others and thus, see ourselves, without shame blurring our vision.
Image via Of Hearth and Home