owning your shame
Shame is such a destructive and sneaky emotion. Most of us don't immediately recognise it as shame can take many forms. I remember thinking on my first reading of Brene Brown's 'The Power of Vulnerability' that I didn't resonate with the word 'shame' and yet on reflection, I found that it underpinned much of the pain I suffered during my depression.
Shame can manifest as...
Guilt and self-blame
This is when we incorrectly assume responsibility for something in the past not going as planned. This once really resonate with me as I used to suffer guilt at having violated the expected and acceptable social standards in respect of what it means to be 'successful'. I used to torture myself with thoughts of 'Why couldn't I just have been happy as a lawyer? You had such a promising career ahead of you? Imagine how much you could have achieved if you had just stayed and stuck it out? What have you really achieved in these years following your breakdown? What have you got to show for it?' These thoughts all stemmed from my conditioned definition of 'success' being the acquisition of money, tangible assets, and career kudos. I then judged myself for falling outside of this accepted definition. The error was my own. It was my fault that I didn't fit in.
Contempt is one of the most destructive and ugly of all the emotions. It is defined as feeling that a person or a thing is worthless, beneath our consideration, and unworthy of our respect. I remember reading about contempt in Malcolm Gladwell's 'Blink' and how, if detected in a marriage counselling session, was almost a sure fire way of predicting divorce. This comes as no surprise and yet what I do find surprising is that many of us live with contempt that we direct at ourselves.
Shame undermines our gifts and talents and disrespects our dreams and wellbeing by having us 'live' lives that don't resonate with who we are and what we really want. It tells us that we are unworthy of our dreaming our dreams and of wanting a better life. It has us hiding from view and from contributing to #conversation because what we have to say and share is beneath the consideration and concern of others. It convinces us that we are not worthy of the respect, admiration, and love of others. It has us living small.
This is experienced when we sense that we have failed at something in the past - we should have done X better, we should have said Y, or we should have done Z. Notice the word: 'should' -I dislike this word. Should comes from a lack of self-acceptance. The past is in the past. We can indeed learn from it but we cannot change it. Ruminating about what we 'should' have done is utterly pointless and a complete waste of our energy in the present moment. When regret tries to darken my spirit it has helped me in the past to think along the following lines: 'I am a hard-working, beautiful being with conscious values and a desire to be of service in the world. I have always been this person - sometimes she was just hidden beneath past-conditioning and a misunderstanding. All of my past actions and decisions (if if sometimes things got a little messy or on rare occasions quite frankly ugly) were guiding me back to living a conscious, connected, and resonant life full of joy and beauty.'
Shame can often manifest as embarrassment and humiliation. We may have shared our authentic self in the past and experienced rejection and so we harbour beliefs that we are flawed or inferior from others. If you have ever cried in public place you will most likely be fully acquainted with shame in this guise. So too will those of you who have laughed too loudly or shared too much. We become self-conscious and so we hide our Souls beneath our appearance, trends, small talk and #positivevibes (another term I dislike for it denies what it means to be fully human - it denies the darkness from which much personal growth originates and most of all because it results in a lack of authenticity - #positivevibesonly is a destructive farce centred on the superficial and fake - rant over!).
Unfortunately, feeling and embracing self-consciousness is to be expected on a journey towards living a more resonant life. Why? Because, you'll find that as you become more conscious, awake, and connected the more you realise how surrounded you are by others who are disconnected, unconscious, and sleep-walking through their lives. I have experienced many conversations and interactions with others where I decided to hide who I really am in order to fit in with the unconscious world around me. In the moment I felt shame and when I reflected on my behaviour as I lay in bed at the end of the day I felt angry at myself for having hidden my truth. Angry at my superficial behaviour. Angry at the frustrating world around me.
owning our shame
Whichever form shame takes we commonly try to hide it. We pretend to be someone we're not (hiding behind a persona we don't resonate with), we engage in small talk and avoid talking about stuff that really matters to us, and we avoid situations that make us feel uncomfortable which ultimately limits our personal growth. All of these reactions to our shame lead to suffering and disconnection from ourselves, from meaningful relationship with others, and from the world around us.
The best way to deal with shame is to embrace and reconnect with the power of our vulnerability. We need to own our shame and then replace it with other, more constructive, emotions. For me, this meant that I embraced being honest in conversation with others, I told them about my depression and my journey, I shared my opinions and dreams, and I started to embrace the unknown and share my gifts with others. I honour who I am and what I believe in - I no longer allow myself to hide it for fear of rejection or humiliation or the risk of making a mistake. I don't need the approval of another for I respect who I am.
Our journeys of personal growth (toward living more connected, resonant lives) involve embracing the 'highs and the lows'/the 'good and the bad'. It involves being curious about why we feel the way that we do, why we invest in the beliefs that we have, what values are important to us, and whether we our lives reflect these values? Now I am conscious of the ways that I had been manipulated by a society with values inconsistent with my own. The reason I could not 'fit in' and pursue the 'Western dream' was because it no longer resonated with who I was. The journey involved completely re-writing my definition of success and so with the benefit of hindsight those 'wasted' years recovering from depression were not wasted at all. They were some of the most productive years of my life because I began to wake up to who I really was, what I really wanted, and more importantly, how I could begin to reconnect with the world in a more meaningful way.
Is there a part of you that you deny and try to hide from others? If you shone a light on it what would you see?