I woke up this morning with lots of energy and in an unusually good mood. To be honest, that I’m sitting here clear headed, motivated, and writing at 9:00 a.m. is mind-boggling. My heart tells me this is because I finally shined the light on the shame that was holding me back from community. Just the simple act of writing down the experiences that cause me to feel shame yesterday has lightened me. I feel stronger, bolder, more willing to be vulnerable.
Shame and vulnerability expert Brene Brown says the following in her book Daring Greatly:
“There are a couple of very helpful ways to think about shame. First, shame is the fear of disconnection. We are psychologically, emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually hardwired for connection, love, and belonging. Connection, along with love and belonging (two expressions of connection), is why we are here, and it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. Shame is the fear of disconnection – it’s the fear that something we’ve done or failed to do, an ideal we’ve not lived up to, or a goal that we’ve not accomplished makes us unworthy of connection…
Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”
Shame is the number one factor in keeping us isolated and unable to experience the connection that surrounds us. I’ve seen shame in action – in my mother, my ex-husband, and other loved ones. I’ve seen how shame causes us to withdraw, hide, make ourselves small, and isolate ourselves from connection. Being disconnected makes the shame stronger as we become lonely, depressed, addicted, etc. Our behaviors in response to our shame make us more ashamed. It’s an endless cycle until we’re willing to drag our shame into the light and say, “I did this thing or have this behavior that is wrong, foolish, inappropriate, or harmful to myself and/or others. I am sorry I hurt myself and/or others with this and ask forgiveness. I am showing my vulnerability now in order to experience that I am still a human worthy of love and acceptance. I did something wrong, but I am not wrong and know that I can do better.”
Being able to face our shame is a significant aspect of resilience, a quality that defines our ability to pick ourselves up after trauma and/or failure. Before we can recognize someone else loving and accepting us despite our flaws, we have to be able to love and accept ourselves enough to look our shame in the eye. To name what we are ashamed of and be able to continue perceiving ourselves as a good and lovable human.
Facing shame is facing our humanity. We are such complicated systems of nerves, hormones, neurons, thoughts, and emotions. Learning how and why we behave the way we do empowers us with awareness, compassion, and an opportunity to change something we don’t like about ourselves.
I’ve often said that I believe my mother died of her pain, but really, I think she died of her shame. She died completely alone, having driven away everyone that ever loved her. In the months previous to her death, she manifested her shame physically as a skin condition in which she said “fibers” were growing out of her body. She picked at herself mercilessly. Initially it was only on her scalp and she choose to shave her head and wear a wig. Then she began creating sores visible on her hands, arms, and face, so that the school where she taught first graders was planning to let her go because she looked too sick.
I can see now that it was her shame, her belief that her flaws made her unlovable, that prevented her from healing and building connection with others. I know she was ashamed of traumas that happened in her childhood and she was ashamed of being a less than perfect mother. I know that she was ashamed she was in poverty most of her life and received more help than she thought she deserved. I imagine that she was ashamed of being mentally ill, an addict, and being a co-dependent partner with an addict for years. I imagine she was ashamed for being unable to find a secure job that didn’t make her miserable until she was 50 years old.
I will not live or die like my mother.
So here I am, making myself vulnerable by illuminating some of my shame.
What I am ashamed of:
1) I am ashamed of having a relationship with a man who later became a community joke for foolish and immature behavior. I am ashamed that he rejected partnership with me because of my emotional and hormone challenges. I felt I must be too crazy to be lovable.
2) I am ashamed of a relationship with a couple who compared me to a feral cat and gave me a two page of list of things I did wrong on our last date. This time I was too rough around the edges to be lovable.
3) I am ashamed of a power exchange relationship with a man who objectified me in every possible way, including emotionally (which was non-consensual). I still don’t know why I wasn’t worth anymore than a fling to him. I am ashamed that I chose that relationship over Eros for a couple months. I am ashamed of how that relationship literally brought me to my knees as I hit rock bottom with my addiction to emotional masochism.
4) I am ashamed of being publicly humiliated by multiple community members who put my flaws out into the world in unkind ways.
5) I am ashamed because I was judged and put down by friends and lovers as too emotional, too loud, too woo-woo, and too irrational. I am ashamed of every time my emotions have led to violent communication, even if I was provoked. And I am ashamed of backing down when I should have stood up for myself and/or others.
6) I am ashamed of compromising my integrity and self respect by having sex, or certain kinds of sex, when I really didn’t want to on several occasions.
7) I am ashamed of the number of rejections I experienced in my relationship explorations and the circumstances around some of them.
8) I am ashamed of my last time on stage in front of the Imps community, as well as leaving the event early. I was exhausted and couldn’t find my joy or mojo (I didn’t know I was having such a hard time because I was pregnant). I am ashamed I couldn’t finish the job. Then when nobody contacted me after to see if I was ok or say they missed me, I felt more ashamed because it seemed like no one noticed or cared that I wasn’t there.
9) I am ashamed of letting my partners down (I actually have bad dreams because of this one).
10) I am ashamed of having Fibromyalgia and how it limits me and what I have to give to the people I love. I am ashamed that my life mirrors my mother’s in this regard, that pain plays a role in my experience of life every single day.
11) And most recently, I am ashamed that I haven’t found a job after 8 months of applications and interviews.
Writing these things down is hard, but it’s not so big and scary as my lizard brain told me it would be. With all of these situations I can see where to have compassion for myself because of factors that were/are out of my control. I can see that I am so much more than any person’s perception of me, or any of the judgments people make about my emotional and flawed nature. With all that’s evolved in me the last couple years, I am reaching a place of less reaction and more compassion, both for myself and others. Each of those experiences and relationships was a building block to the amazing life I have now that only promises to keep blowing my mind and take me into deeper experiences of love. But that can only happen, I can only deepen these connections, if I shift my shame to resilience and my failures to opportunities.
What about you? Consider where shame may be preventing you from connection. Take the risk of pointing a light in that direction. While whatever you are ashamed of may appear to be a lonely black hole you’ll get lost in, it’s actually an opportunity bring connection and love into your life.
Thank you for listening.