“They say shame controls every aspect of human behavior. It’s about who we believe we are. But in the end, you can’t hide, and the body doesn’t lie. the truth is right there for the world to see. Our shame can choke us, kill us. It can rot us from the inside, if we decide to let it. Don’t let that happen to you.” – Grey’s Anatomy
If we let ourselves be defined, consumed by shame, we are unconsciously colluding with our past to be a victim. But how do we not? How do we move beyond our shame?
My brilliant therapy mentor, teacher, goddess Brené Brown researches vulnerability. She says there are three things shame needs to exist and grow: secrecy, silence and judgement. And it requires one thing to dissolve: empathy.
We hide our shame and often hide from it, we pretend it doesn’t exist, because once we see it and let it be seen, we will feel it and ohhh baby, it hurts. It’s not pain like stubbing your toe–quick and brutal–it lingers and pops up every time you need it least. But in secret, we avoid.
I remember one thing from geometry class: the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Avoiding may still allow us to reach our destination but it’s going to take a whole lot longer.
My girl, Brené, says “the less we talk about it, the more we have it” (about shame). If secrecy is Batman, silence is Robin. Because of that throbbing ever-present pain and because we have convinced ourselves that somehow we are the only ones who feel this way, we don’t want to talk about it. We don’t want people to know we have it, as if its a contagious disease.
When we do give these hidden parts of ourselves a voice, they have a chance to be met with the sweetest remedy: “me too.”
Whether we judge ourselves or receive judgement from others (likely both happen–for me at least), we are being reminded that we are not perfect and that life isn’t perfect.
If, for just a moment, we can breathe in compassion instead of judgement, we will exhale some of our shame. Breathe in compassion, breathe out shame.
Nicholas de Castella talks about the cost of shame, including the energy lost through hiding and cutting off from our feelings, which in turn cuts us off from others. “In the splitting off process we lose our sense of aliveness and our sense of connection to our essential being” he claims. This may leave us feeling like we are “being reduced in size or diminished”, and also leads to feelings of “being separate and distant from others”.
Unfortunately, we live in a world that runs on shame so it can sometimes feel like working on reducing it involves running on a hamster wheel. It’s something I work on with clients every single day. And, honestly, shame is often a topic that enters sessions with my own therapist. We all have it, and we get to decide what we will do with it–hide, run away, kick it in the face, or bring it into the room for a cup of tea–and we can change our minds as many times we want.
If shame is a struggle for you, you don’t have to move through it alone. Remember, secrecy helps it grow…let someone in.
Want to learn more? Watch Brene’s TED talk about here: