I want to talk about shame.
I feel a bit awkward publishing this as the rest of the blog world is promoting warm, lighthearted 2013 recaps and 2014 wishes. Because, while I’m going to try and keep this from becoming longwinded, the subject is heavy. And I need to set it down. There is relief in letting go of weight, but there is also an ache. I hope my high school teacher Mama Hood is pleased to know that I often repeat Carl Jung’s quote in various situations in my life. And to no surprise whatsoever, I find myself saying it now:
“There is no coming to consciousness without pain.”
I recently bought a book (Daring Greatly by Brene Brown) at the suggestion of Naptime Diaries. And then I bought a second one by the same author at the suggestion of Amazon: I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough”. My purchase sat in the virtual shopping cart for quite some time as I mulled. The reviews were overwhelmingly positive but the title rang a little too self-helpy for my tastes. And by “tastes” I mean my closely held belief that I am OBVIOUSLY way too cool and mentally stable for that nonsense. Eventually, I caved and applauded myself for buying new books instead of rereading Harry Potter again. When the package arrived I set aside Daring Greatly in favor of the other. Brene Brown opens with an introduction describing why & how she came to be a researcher of shame (more specifically, shame and its effect on women) and how that choice has been received so far. I thought some points she made were interesting – especially the outlining of embarrassment, guilt, humiliation, and shame as four distinct and separate experiences. The difference between guilt (“I did something bad.”) and shame (“I am a bad person.”) struck me. Overall though, I found myself thinking that I didn’t have a whole lot of shame in my life. I felt for the women who shared their specific shame situations, but no personal recollections sprang to mind. And with that, I set the book down (all of twenty pages in) and went to bed.
I woke up this morning and immediately felt the weight. It was heavy in my heart and in my mind and I pushed through morning yoga (new year’s resolution: check!) with the grace and poise of an elephant seal.
The echo of calm waves gently lapping through the speakers became water filling my lungs and the shame was salt in my eyes. I was handing a check to a friend, asking them to wait until Friday and hearing their reply, “Well maybe you shouldn’t live paycheck to paycheck, huh?”. I was placing clothing with tags into a donation bin because it didn’t fit anymore just two weeks after purchase. I was still in bed at 11:55am, yet to have showered or walked the dogs though I had promised to Andrew a homecooked meal for his short break from work in five minutes. I was standing in the bathroom washing away fresh makeup because it might be seen as silly or ridiculous. I was biting my nails and scratching at my skin after publishing a bikini-clad photo to instagram in hopes of showing that eating disordered bodies don’t always look like eating disordered bodies.
I was/am overwhelmed with the fact that I do have shame. A lot of shame. Almost every day I feel shame. There’s so much shame I didn’t even realize it deserved a name outside of Rachel’s Life. I don’t know what to do with all this weight except to set it down. And there is relief and there is an ache. Relief that I no longer have to define myself by those terms. Ache from the pressure that was painful but familiar.
Brene Brown defines shame and its relationship with women:
“Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging. Women often experience shame when they are entangled in a web of layered, conflicting, and competing social-community expectations. Shame leaves women feeling trapped, powerless and isolated.”
As a Christian, I equate shame with Satan attacking my heart, faith, and psyche. My mom refers to it as “the story you tell yourself”. I don’t want to tell that story anymore. To myself or to other people. For New Years, I am fond of choosing a word, phrase, or maybe a verse to place in my heart and take with me for the next three hundred and sixty-five days. This year is “be brave & be kind”. Be brave enough to tell your truth without letting the fear of judgment hold you back. Be kind to others and do not use shame as a motivator, way of communication, or as a method of processing your own feelings and reactions. Courage and compassion.
I have only read twenty pages of this book and I have quite a few left to go. So, I am hardly an expert on the subject or even on my own shame for that matter. But, it’s a read that I encourage you to take on. And when you do, please let me know so we can be a soundboard for one another!
Be brave & be kind.