Befriending Shame

spiral orangeDid you ever think you knew the way to live your life, then you realized that you didn’t?  Have you ever felt like you were caught in quick sand, and, with intention and help, you emerged free?
One of the most transformative things in my life has been getting to know “shame”.
For years, a hidden, secret veneer of shame, simply for being me, spread beneath the surface of my pretty solid and normal appearing life. It said “not good enough”.  I feel sad that it stayed hidden for so long, and, that it is so pervasive in our society. 
In time, I grew and became more aligned with more of me. Then another, deeper layer identified itself and began to scream to get out. 
My intention to unearth and bring to light what was stashed away in a vault, a layer of self-imposed “fault”, became very clear. With help, a beautiful, vulnerable soul genie was liberated, and a hidden inner wasteland became abundant.
But that’s only the first part of this story of transformation. I next noticed that there were still very occasional times when shame about a mistake became overpowering. The dark shame gremlin would rear her head and devour everything in sight. 
Brene Brown, a successful author, researcher, TED speaker, and ordinary guru on shame and vulnerability, came into my life. I learned about being open and vulnerable and being honest about shame. I began to watch the way shame maneuvered and gained power.
 I’ve learned that:
  • Making a mistake or failing at something is not synonymous with shame. Perfection never happens, and all successful people have made many mistakes and failures.
  • There’s a big difference between apologizing for a mistake and for using a mistake to define “who we are”. Shame need not own our souls and personhood.
  • I can be curious about shame, learning it’s signs and tactics. 
  • I can talk to a friend who will listen and empathize, rather than sympathize. It’s not about the “story”. As Brene would advise, simply admit human vulnerability and the mistake (if any), and know that the wave of feelings will pass over. 
Shame and I are learning to be friends. I see her as a rare, but very clever power vampire. With awareness, honesty and vulnerability, her power wanes.
This brings me to the question of children and shame. Shame is an apology for our very existance. Guilt is feeling remorseful for something one did. It’s important to:
  • Help children tell the difference between shame and guilt, the gift of who they are and wrong choices.
  • Be aware of signs of a child interpreting what was said as shameful.

My prayer is that no child will feel apologetic for simply being themselves.

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