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.