Shame

Oh, whoops! / Perfectionism, my nemesis

I completely forgot to post yesterday. Whoops!

I spent a portion of today preparing for what I’m going to talk about at church next week. And perfectionism is rearing it’s ugly head. I’ve been agonizing over this for weeks. I want to get it ‘just right’. But I’m getting the impression I need to trust God and be myself. The topic I’m speaking on is shame and grace so it’s not like I haven’t spent some time with the content. And when I get together with a group of people and start talking about this stuff, it flows out of me – unscripted – because I’m passionate about it and have thought about it a lot. That’s what happened this evening over supper with a group of friends and they seemed to be encouraged by it.

So…down with perfectionism! Onward to trust and surrender…

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Combating Shame

Everyone experiences shame and there is no way we can eliminate it from our lives. As Brown puts it, “As long as we care about connection, the fear of disconnection will always be a powerful force in our lives, and the pain caused by shame will always be real.” (Daring Greatly, p.74)

The answer is shame resilience. This is “the ability to practice authenticity when we experience shame, to move through the experience without sacrificing our values, and to come out on the other side of the shame experience with more courage, compassion, and connection than we have going into it.” (Daring Greatly, p.74).

The four elements of shame resilience (as listed in Daring Greatly) are:

  1. Recognizing Shame and Understanding its Triggers
  2. Practicing Critical Awareness
  3. Reaching Out
  4. Speaking Shame

It takes a certain amount of emotional intelligence to work through this process. Can we recognize when we are experiencing shame and are we able to learn what triggers it? This takes practice and a degree of curiosity. There are times when I have reacted (in shame) to something and I think to myself afterwards, “What was that about? Why did I react like that?” If I ask the questions long enough, I can begin to see patterns (in some areas of my life, at least) and learn to recognize the shame triggers. This also involves critical awareness, asking ourselves what messages we’re telling ourselves when we’re in shame and testing those messages. Are they true? Realistic? Would I talk like this to others?

Reaching Out is so very important in developing shame resilience. It is by sharing our stories with those we trust, with those who care for us, that we can experience empathy (the antidote to shame); it’s how we can experience connection and healing. Just as shame happens between people, it also heals best between people (Daring Greatly, p.75).

Speaking Shame can be very, very difficult to do, but it’s amazing what happens when you can actually do it. Shame wants to stay hidden so when I can actually say (out loud), “I feel shame” it actually cuts shame off at the knees. It loses its power over me.

I know this from personal experience. My husband and I were having a group of friends over for potluck supper one evening. In our home, we have the housecleaning duties down to a science: my husband has one area of the house, I have another area…we can get the house cleaned within an hour. But on this particular day, I had been out for the afternoon and got home late. Company was arriving in less than 45 minutes. My husband had already finished his part of the housecleaning and I was frantically trying to get my part done.

The more the clocked ticked, the more shame I felt – “why did I stay out so late? This is all my fault. I’m a terrible person. What are people going to think of me?”. But even then, I couldn’t actually say out loud, “I feel shame.” My husband sensed my growing tension and asked me, “Are you feeling shame?” Even to get the word “Yes” out of my mouth was difficult. But I took a deep breath and said, “Yes…I feel shame.” It was amazing. Just saying those words seemed to deflate the balloon of tension within me. I started feeling calmer and things didn’t feel like “the end of the world” anymore.

I wouldn’t have believed speaking shame could have that kind of effect until I experienced it myself. The problem is shame is not something we talk about in our society, so speaking it is countercultural. It’s not impossible; it just requires a different way of thinking about it.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk more about empathy – the antidote to shame.

Source: Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York, New York: Gotham Books.

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How we protect ourselves – the Vulnerability Armor

I’m taking the information I list in this post from Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly and I’ll list source information at the bottom of this post.

Here’s a great quote from the start of her chapter on the Vulnerability Armory:

“As children we found ways to protect ourselves from vulnerability, from being hurt, diminished, and disappointed. We put on armor; we used our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors as weapons; and we learned how to make ourselves scarce, even to disappear. Now as adults we realize that to live with courage, purpose, and connection – to be the person whom we long to be – we must again be vulnerable. We must take off the armor, put down the weapons, show up, and let ourselves be seen.” (p.112)

The armor Brene Brown talks about acts as a shield against vulnerability. The major shields (used by just about everyone at some point) are:

Foreboding joy

This is the experience of feeling the intense emotion of joy and as soon as we feel that, our thoughts immediately go to catastrophe. Here’s an example: my life was looking pretty good – I had a decent job, good friends, my children were healthy…and in that moment my thoughts went to “something bad is going to happen, I’ve got it too good.” I’m very good a rehearsing tragedy and less good at accepting (and enjoying) the moments of joy when they come to me.

Perfectionism

If I can make myself ‘perfect’, then I’ll feel accepted, and I can avoid the feelings of shame, judgement, and blame. There are a few problems with this – I can’t attain perfection, it sets me up to feel more shame because I’m never ‘good enough’, and it becomes a vicious cycle of striving and self-loathing. This was (and is to a lesser extent) my modus operandi.

Numbing

Numbing can come in the form of addictions and eating disorders. But…it also comes in making ourselves super busy, eating chocolate when we feel crappy, playing video games/watching TV/surfing the internet for hours, having that glass of wine to ‘take the edge off’ our day. The research shows the main drivers for numbing are shame, anxiety, and disconnection. These are very uncomfortable feelings and when we don’t have strategies for sitting in them, we numb the emotion (which means we actually numb all emotions – we can’t ‘selectively’ numb).

Some less common shields are:

  • “Viking or Victim” – these people have no use for vulnerability and possess a worldview that sees all of mankind categorized either into “Victims” (those who can’t hold their own and are being taken advantage of) and “Vikings” (those who are constantly on guard against being the victim, who dominate and try to stay in control)
  • “Letting it all hang out” – this is oversharing when there isn’t the level of connection in the relationship to bear that level of vulnerability (floodlighting) as well as oversharing with the intent to shock and get attention (the smash and grab)
  • “Serpentining” – the immense efforts used to avoid vulnerability; it might mean “trying to control a situation, backing out of it, pretending it’s not happening, or maybe even pretending that you don’t care.” (p.165)
  • “Cynicism, criticism, cool, and cruelty” – these are pretty self-explanatory and do a good job at shutting down vulnerability in the person and in others

In the Vulnerability Armory chapter in Daring Greatly Brene Brown talks about the things we can do in each category to help us take down our shields. I don’t have time or space to go into them but here’s the source information for the book:

Source: Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York, New York: Gotham Books.

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Why Grace is a big deal to me

For any of you who have followed my blog for a while, you’ll know that grace is a big deal to me. It’s a very big deal to me. And here’s why: for someone who grew up in an environment underscored by shame, who deep down felt was never good enough no matter how hard I tried…GRACE is the lifeline.

It’s the lifeline to experiencing connection and love. It’s the lifeline to learning to have compassion for myself (when all along I learned to hate myself – I would say terrible things to myself, things I would never say to anyone else). Grace is the lifeline to learning to be vulnerable (when all along is wasn’t ‘safe’ to be vulnerable – I learned very well how to ‘hide’, how to not let people see me because that would have been far too risky – my sense of self-worth was already being hammered…no way I would give anyone the chance to hammer it more).

Without grace I would be dead inside. I need to know, I need to hear, I need to experience over and over and over again that I AM worthy of love and belonging. Because God says so. I have His unmerited favor…that no matter what I do, no matter how broken, He loves and accepts me unconditionally. I have always had His love. I have always belonged to Him. Nothing in all creation can separate me from His love.

The messages I learned to tell myself are still in my mind, lurking under the surface. When I get struck by the warm wash of shame, they kick into full force, telling me I am the mistake, that I am stupid, that I am worthless. When I am experiencing these strong feelings in the darkness of my soul, I can look up and see the Light and it reminds me that grace is holding me and it will not let me go. Even though I feel like crap, I can tell myself that God loves and accepts me, that I am enough, that I am worthy of love and belonging. I may not feel that at the moment, but leaning into these truths helps lift me out of my hole of shame.

Because of grace and my growing ability to receive it in the midst of my brokenness, shame does not ‘knock me out’ for as long as it did before. Before I would be living in a shame storm for weeks, months, years. Now, I might be knocked out for a couple of hours, days, or if it’s really bad, a week at the most.

So I will keep talking about grace; I don’t think we talk about it nearly enough. I will make it a big deal until the day I die. It is Life to me. Or as Glennon Doyle Melton says: “Grace is the only buzz I have left and they will take it from my cold, dead hands.”

Here’s the video where she says this – it’s worth watching the whole thing.


My “aha” moment

I’ve written about watching Brene Brown’s TEDx talk on “The Power of Vulnerability”. This is the part that blew my mind:

Wait what?!?!?

They just believe???? Isn’t there something they DO??

WHAT?!?!?

And it struck me: it’s GRACE.

The wholehearted know grace: “the freely given, unmerited favor and love of God”. They believe they are worthy of love and belonging because they know grace. I truly believe that.

More on this tomorrow…


Light and Darkness (and how they fit with vulnerability and shame)

I love the concepts of “light” and “darkness” and they are strewn all over the Bible. John in particular uses these metaphors. Here’s a few passages:

“God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed.” [emphasis mine] (John 3:19-20, NLT)

“Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, ‘I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.’” [emphasis mine] (John 8:12, NLT)

“I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.” [emphasis mine] (John 12:46, NLT)

“…God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other…” [emphasis mine] (1 John 1:5-7, NLT)

To me it seems that what John is talking about is linked with vulnerability and shame. The idea of light brings to mind thoughts of being seen, truly seen, without the masks and facades I may put up to protect myself. It has to do with vulnerability. Darkness brings to mind hiding and I’ve already talked about how shame drives us to hide. We don’t want to be seen so we withdraw, we put on masks, we do whatever we can to not be exposed.

In the first passage I quoted, the people who “do evil” hate the light precisely because they are afraid their sins (actions) will be exposed. I think these people are living in shame, and they hate vulnerability. They would rather live in darkness than be seen in the light.

I’ve mentioned this before: I think one of the reasons Jesus came to this Earth was so that we wouldn’t have to walk in shame. Look at the John 8:12 and 12:46 passages. Jesus is saying we won’t have to walk in the darkness (in our own shame).

And the 1 John 1:5-7 passage tells us one of the results of living in the light: we will have fellowship with each other. I haven’t talked a lot about vulnerability yet (I will later on this month) but vulnerability is a vital part of our sense of connection with each other. The strength and depth of our relationships is linked to our capacity to be vulnerable with each other. Walking in the light, which I believe vulnerability is a part, means we have fellowship and connection with each other. And the research confirms this.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about grace and my “aha” moment.

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Shame enters the world

Take a look at this:

“Now the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame.” [emphasis mine] (Genesis 2:25, NLT)

“At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness.” [emphasis mine] (Genesis 3:7, NLT)

What happened in between? The Fall. This is the story of Adam and Eve and how sin entered the world.

So here’s what I think: the Bible says that sin entered the world when Adam and Eve chose the forbidden fruit (Romans 5:12). I don’t know all of what that means, but I do believe that when sin entered the world, shame entered along with it.

According to the research, everyone experiences shame so this fits with me. It is universal to the human experience. And what did Adam and Eve do? They hid from God. Just like the shame research says: shame thrives in secrecy. In hiding. In covering ourselves so we won’t be “seen” (i.e., vulnerable).

So there you have it: our initial disconnection from God as a result of our own sense of shame. And what do I see God doing throughout history? Doing what He could to reconnect with his people, with all people, in the way at the time that they could grasp it. I believe that is why Jesus came to Earth. To make a way for us to have connection with God and not hide in our shame. We needed to be absolved of our shame. So Jesus died to say that we don’t have to carry that shame anymore. Grace is the way back to God.

And here’s another thing I’ve been thinking about: Paul talks a lot about our “sinful nature” (Romans 7 & 8, 1 Corinthians 3:3, Galatians 5, Galatians 6:8, Ephesians 4:22, Colossians 2). What if when he talks about the “sinful nature”, he’s talking about our unhealthy, harmful, hurtful ways of dealing with our shame? Puts a different perspective on things, doesn’t it?

Growing up in an evangelical church, I had the impression that the “sinful nature” was my flawed – almost evil – self. Something to feel…shame about. But as I mentioned in other posts, shame does not bring about positive change, rather it is correlated with destructive behaviours. So this attitude seems counterproductive. How can I stop doing the things I hate about myself when I feel deeply flawed?

But…if we view the “sinful nature” from the perspective of shame as the driving force behind it, then accepting grace – that we are loved and accepted by God even in the midst of our brokenness – is what rescues us from our “sinful nature”.

I’ll admit I haven’t done a theological study on this, but I don’t think what I’m proposing as a perspective is counter to what the New Testament authors wrote about. For me, it’s a more liberating perspective. It’s no longer about trying to somehow contort myself into being a “better” person. It’s about resting and receiving the love and grace of God. When I live my life from that place, being a “Christian” (i.e., little Christ) becomes more like breathing and less like striving.

Tomorrow, I’m writing about my thoughts on the concepts of light and darkness and how they fit with this whole topic.

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Shame Triggers

While the felt experience of shame is the same for men and women (Brene Brown calls it the “warm wash of shame”), what triggers shame is different for men and women. Let’s break it down:

Women

The number one trigger is around our appearance and body image: we’re not thin enough, young enough, beautiful enough. It doesn’t matter that I’ve given birth to three children, I should still be able to get rid of that bulge around my tummy. Why should I care? Because I’ll look “better” and right now I don’t look quite good “enough”. It’s crazy and I’m as susceptible to it as any other woman.

Coming in at a close 2nd is motherhood. And it isn’t just mothers who get hammered on this one. How many times has a single woman been asked when she’s going to get married and for the married woman, “when are you going to start having children”? So much of our identity as women is wrapped up in this. And it sucks. How many times have I compared myself to other mothers and felt I didn’t measure up? How many times have I felt like a crappy mother because of what my children did? And in the midst of those crappy feelings I’ve snapped at my children instead of offering understanding and empathy, which is what they really needed.

According to Brene Brown in Daring Greatly, there are 12 shame categories: appearance & body image, money & work, motherhood/fatherhood, family, parenting, mental & physical health, addiction, sex, aging, religion, surviving trauma, and being stereotyped or labeled. But undergirding them all for women is the expectation to be perfect and on top of that, it should be effortless. Our culture has handed us a list of conflicting, competing expectations of who / what / how we “should” be. And we can’t possibly meet all those expectations so we’re inundated with messages of shame.

Men

For men, there is only one trigger: do not be perceived as weak. It happens in all the shame categories but the message is still the same – don’t be weak. I think this is a tragedy. It puts men in a straight-jacket and makes it extremely difficult for them to work their way out from under shame. Because most of the time, being vulnerable and showing empathy are considered “weak” in our culture. These are the very things that help people process their shame and develop resiliency to it.

I’m only scratching the surface on this topic. Brene Brown talks about it in her TED Talk: “Listening to Shame”. She also writes about it in chapter 3 of her book Daring Greatly (Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York, New York: Gotham Books.)

Emma Watson gave a speech to the United Nations launching the “HeForShe” campaign in September 2014. In it she highlights the ways in which our gender stereotypes harm men as well as women. I believe it does a good job illustrating what I’ve been talking about in this post. It’s well worth taking the 12 minutes to watch.


Shame & Pride – Two Sides of the Same Coin

There’s another comment I’ve heard as I’ve been talking about shame with others – pride is the opposite of shame. And along with that comment comes the argument that we should use shame to deal with pride in people.

In my opinion, pride is born of shame. It is shame, the feeling of not being good enough, that drives many people to pride and arrogance. According to Dictionary.com, pride is “a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc.” People who are proud feel the need to prove that they are better than others. They consider themselves superior to others and treat people (or certain types of people) as inferior.

To me, this reeks of shame. Why do they have to be better than everyone else? Because they don’t accept themselves. They have something to prove, whether it is to others, to the people closest to them, or to themselves. Deep down inside, they don’t feel good enough, so they need to bolster themselves to a place where they can feel a sense of worthiness but this is at the expense of others. If they truly believed they are “enough” there would be no need to try to grab that worth from other people. They would find that worth within themselves.

Unfortunately, in my experience, the people who are most proud are the ones who would say they don’t experience shame at all. I believe it is incredibly difficult for them to admit their shame because that very act begins to dismantle what they have spent so much energy propping up – they are better than others. But if they admit to feeling unworthy that would mean they aren’t actually “better”. And their whole worldview could come crashing down. There’s too much at stake to go to that place so they stoically proclaim they have no shame and any attempts to uncover that Truth are often met with a harsh response.

I wish I knew how to help these people. Dumping shame on a prideful person certainly won’t help. Chances are they will dig in their heels and feel completely justified in their arrogant behaviour due to the attempt to “shame” them. Because “they don’t experience shame”. The shame tactics will only serve to reinforce their pride.

I believe that in order to be set free from the chains of pride, a person needs to face their own internal sense of unworthiness. But how do they come to that place? My guess is coming to an understanding of grace and being able to actually receive it would certainly help in this process. But I think there are a lot of people out there who “think” they understand what grace is and yet haven’t really been able to embrace it. Because embracing it acknowledges our need for grace and thus, our own brokenness. I’m sure doses of love, gentleness, and empathy can help to break down the armour of the proud person. But I don’t have any easy answers for this one.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about shame triggers and how they are different for men and women.

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Debunking the myth that a little shame is good

Some people may argue that a little shame is good for modifying behaviour. I’ve certainly run into that attitude before. And I felt plenty of it growing up. “How could you be so stupid?!” “Don’t be such an idiot!” Here’s the thing: shame did modify my behaviour. Or more like fear modified my behaviour – the fear of being berated (i.e., the fear of feeling shame). From the outside it looked like using shame worked. But what it did to me on the inside produced self-hatred and anxiety. It wasn’t a good thing.

I think this is why significant portions of our society still believe that using shame is perfectly acceptable. On the outside, it looks like we’re getting the results we desire, but at what cost? The research is abundantly clear: “there are no data [emphasis mine] to support that shame is a helpful compass for good behavior.” (Daring Greatly, p. 73). As I mentioned yesterday, “shame is highly correlated with addiction, violence, aggression, depression, eating disorders, and bullying.” (Daring Greatly, p. 73).

Remember that there is a difference between shame and guilt according to the research. I am not advocating to not hold people accountable to their actions. But it is just that: holding them to their actions. I know that for my own children, if I address the behaviour and affirm my child’s worth as being intact and not linked to their behaviour, I have much greater success in motivating positive lasting change.

Tomorrow: I’ll be talking about shame and pride – two sides of the same coin.

Source: Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York, New York: Gotham Books.

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What is Shame?

I’m taking a lot of what I write in this post from Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. I’ll list source information at the bottom of this post.

According to Brene Brown’s research, shame is:

“…the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” (p.69, Daring Greatly) It is real, felt pain. I can attest to that. I know that sinking, gut-wrenching feeling at the pit of my stomach when I feel incredibly worthless.

Brown elaborates further:

“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 that we’ve not lived up to, or a goal that we’ve not accomplished makes us unworthy of connection. I’m not worthy or good enough for love, belonging, and connection. I’m unlovable. I don’t belong.” (p. 68, Daring Greatly)

Everyone experiences shame. I’m sure there are some of you that are thinking that you don’t “do” shame. That’s actually not true…unless you’re a sociopath, because according to the research the only people who don’t feel shame are the ones who are unable to feel any empathy. But I can understand why you might think this. Let me give you an example. Years before I learned about shame through Brene Brown’s work, I would not have admitted I had shame. Yet I grew up immersed in an environment of shame. At a subconscious level, I felt incredibly unworthy and so there was no way I would talk about this because it would mean allowing someone else to reinforce what I already felt – utterly worthless. It’s bad enough to feel worthless yourself, but to run the risk that someone else is going to say, “you’re right, you are worthless”, is just too painful.

So it kept me hiding. This is the power of shame. “Shame derives its power from being unspeakable.” (p. 66, Daring Greatly). We’re all afraid to talk about it and the less we talk about it, the more control it has over our lives. (p. 68, Daring Greatly). There have been people who have spoken things to me and about me that made me feel worthless and I believed those things. But because I felt so much shame, I was terrified to open myself up to someone else, for fear they would further feed my shame. But it is precisely through opening myself up to people who could speak Truth to me that I could begin to stop believing the lies and come out from under shame.

When we’re in shame, there are a couple of ways people tend to deal with it. “…in order to deal with shame, some of us move away by withdrawing, hiding, silencing ourselves, and keeping secrets. Some of us move toward by seeking to appease and please. And some of us move against by trying to gain power over others, by being aggressive, and by using shame to fight shame…” (p. 77, Daring Greatly). I fall into the “appease and please” camp. The way I dealt with shame was to try to make everyone happy, to try to be perfect so people would accept me, so I could have the connection I desperately longed for. Although I am more aware of the motivator behind my actions, I still very often find myself trying to appease and please. It takes time to unlearn these things and I will probably be in the process of unlearning this for the rest of my life.

Before I go any further, I want to define a few things. In terms of the research, there is a difference between shame and guilt. Shame is linked to identity – it says, “I AM bad.” Guilt is not. It says, “I did something bad.” There’s an important distinction here.

“We feel guilty when we hold up something we’ve done or failed to do against our values and find they don’t match up. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, but one that’s helpful… [It] motivates meaningful change. Guilt[‘s] influence is positive, while shame’s is destructive… Shame is highly correlated with addiction, violence, aggression, depression, eating disorders, and bullying.” (p. 72, Daring Greatly)

This makes perfect sense to me. If I am living in shame, it is who I AM. You can’t change who you are so there is no way to change the things you do that you hate. If you can’t change the things you hate about yourself, what hope is there? It is not surprising to me that shame is correlated with so much destruction.

So there you have it: an explanation of shame. Tomorrow I’ll be taking on the argument that “a little shame is good”.

Source: Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York, New York: Gotham Books.

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My Story, Part 2 – How the research has helped me

So I watched Brene Brown’s TED Talk on “The Power of Vulnerability” and it blew my mind. I might have thought before her talk that “yeah, I’ve heard about shame…no big deal…” But she started to describe what it was: the fear of disconnection. She started talking about this idea of “not being good enough”. This grabbed me because I know all about feeling “not good enough.” She said there are people out there who seem to have a deep sense of worthiness (who are these people? I’m certainly not one of them!). And she talked about how vulnerability fit into all this.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it. What was Brene Brown really saying? It seemed that what she was talking about was at the core of our humanity. It’s what drives our actions. As I processed her talk, I began to see how most of our unhealthy, hurtful actions to others and ourselves, all come from this place of shame, of “not enough”. Why was I yelling at my daughter for having a meltdown? Because deep down I believed I wasn’t a good enough parent and her meltdown was a reflection of my inadequacy.

For me, Brown’s research on shame and vulnerability has given me a new set of eyes to understand myself and others. I understand more than I ever did before the deep, deep feelings and beliefs of “not enough” that drive me to do things that hurt others and hurt myself. I’m not looking at the symptoms anymore; I’m looking at the actual cause. And by going there and unraveling that my whole worldview and belief system is shifting and my life is so much more “whole”. I have more peace, more love, more patience… (hmm, that looks a lot like the fruit of the Spirit). It’s a wonderful, beautiful thing.

And I have so much more compassion for others and even myself. Many times when I see or experience something hurtful, I see it as driven by shame. I know what it is to be driven by shame. It’s a horrible place to live from, so I feel pity and compassion more than anything else.

The research has given me language for what I experience. It is helping to unravel the belief system I held that told me over and over again that I wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t until I dove into Brene Brown’s research that I started to understand what that belief system really was. But I can assure you, that what she’s found in the research is absolutely true. I’m so grateful she’s shared it with the rest of us. Truth, knowledge, understanding has a way of bringing incredible freedom and life if we are willing to allow ourselves to be changed.

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My Story, Part 1 – Why shame and vulnerability are such a big deal to me

So why do I want to talk about shame and vulnerability all the time? Because I know what it’s like to be ruled by shame. It is a terrible master. Learning about shame and what vulnerability means has brought new levels of freedom in my life. It has been transformational for me.

I grew up in a world where it seemed shame was the fuel we ran on. Of course, I didn’t realize that was what it was at the time. But feelings of never being good enough, no matter how hard I tried to be ‘perfect’, were my constant companion. Love always seemed to be offered on condition: if I behaved like a good little girl, then I would be loved; if I wasn’t ‘good’, I felt the sting of condemnation. I’m sure my parents never intended to communicate this message. But when messages of shame are passed down from generation to generation, that kind of stuff flows straight to the children.

This feeling and believing of “not good enough” resulted in a lot of fear. Constantly afraid of what people would think of me, wondering what I needed to do to feel accepted. I remember thinking to myself in high school that I could not imagine living one day without being afraid. I could not even imagine what that would be like, so ever-present was my fear.

I learned to hate myself and to hide my feelings. Actually, I learned to not feel at all. Although that’s not true: as much as I learned how to numb myself to emotion, those emotions went somewhere. They’ve been locked in a vault in my heart for decades.

I learned to become a chameleon. Just be who you think people are expecting you to be. Don’t dare be yourself…actually I had no idea who I was because “who I was” wasn’t good enough. I needed to be someone else. I believed that was the only way people would accept me. I wanted so desperately to feel accepted, to have connection, I would do anything to get even a small morsel of it.

Much of this belief system was running in the background; I wasn’t consciously aware this is what I believed but it definitely drove my actions. It wasn’t until I began learning about grace and experiencing it that I started crawling out from under my boulder of shame. Ironically, I didn’t start learning about grace when I became a Christian, or even when I was baptized. My life experience was my frame of reference for my Christian faith and because grace was foreign to my life, it was foreign to my Christian life as well.

Learning about grace has been a journey. There’s been a continuous process of unlearning the lies I believed. And as my beliefs shifted I became more open to hearing what grace actually is and I started to experience it through others who understand grace.

And then I saw Brene Brown’s TED Talk on “The Power of Vulnerability” and it blew my mind. More about that tomorrow.