This post is part of a series on Vulnerability. If you are new here you may want to start with this post.
Does the idea of sharing your deepest fears and darkest secrets–or even your personality quirks–make you want to throw up?
Do you believe (or worry) the people you love are more interested in what you do for them than for who you are?
Are you afraid if you quit earning your keep, even for a moment, you’ll be “voted off the island?”
All of these feelings come from the same place: a deep seeded fear that at our core we are unlovable–and that if anyone finds out, we will be cast out. Brené Brown explains it best.
Because shame works by making us feel alone, it’s very hard to talk about it–even to the people who love us most– for fear that if they knew what we were really like they would leave. Ironically, it is that very act of secrecy that allows shame to maintain its hold on us.
Therefore, talking about shame experiences as soon as they happen with a trusted friend is healthy, beneficial and much easier said than done.
Luckily there are some half-measures that can make taking that leap a little bit easier.
Connect with the Secrets of Others
The most powerful part of sharing your “shame stories” with a friend is the moment when she says “me too.” All of the sudden you realize that you are not the only one. Listening compassionately to other people’s stories can have a similar effect. That feeling of catharsis is part of why Post Secret is so popular. (The other reason is peeking into the lives of strangers is compelling, but that has little or nothing to do with this post.)
Share A Secret with Yourself
If you can’t think of a secret you’ve never told anyone, you might be a paragon of whole-hearted living. It’s also possible that you cope with feelings of shame by hiding them from yourself as well as the rest of the world.
If stuffing these feelings actually made them go away, this would be a pretty effective strategy. Unfortunately just like food rotting in the back of your refrigerator, unexamined feelings of shame come back to haunt you. Luckily, there are ways to mitigate the damage, even before you are ready to share with a loved one (or even a stranger).
For me, that place is my journal. For you it might be a painting or an anonymous blog. It might be a tape recorder in the woods, or a walk in a quiet place where you can talk to yourself. As long as you feel safe to be brutally honest, and are able to review your story after you tell it, what ever method you choose will work.
Don’t be Nice
I was brought up to believe “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” so this one was hard for me. It would probably still be hard except that I discovered a secret: the less nice I am in my journal, the more genuinely compassionate, calm, and helpful I am able to be with people in real life. For me, that’s a worthwhile trade.
I use my journal to “say” whatever I need to say in the moment. It’s the one place where I don’t worry about being diplomatic, kind, rational, or calm. In my journal I rant about petty injustices and the people who have let me down, I cry about my failings, I spend pages worrying that I will never write again, (and that maybe its for the best because I was never such a great writer anyway. . .) When I write in my journal I don’t worry about what is true, or how I will feel about it tomorrow, I just capture what comes out in the moment knowing that the thoughts that are on the page no longer have the power to poison the rest of my day.
Do be Curious
Just getting your feelings of shame onto paper is helpful because every bit of direct attention payed to shame helps to weaken it. If you want to diminish it even further, try poking at it. Go back through your writing and look for the assumptions that underlay your story. Do you think you are really the only person to have made the mistake you wrote about? Does the evidence support that you have nothing valuable to contribute and that your loved ones are only pretending to like you? Is it possible you made the best decision you could have made with the information you had at the moment? Did the experience you wrote about help you in some way? Are you able to be more compassionate because of your weakness? Can you find examples of ways the “failing” you describe actually makes you more qualified to do your work?
Then, treat yourself as you would treat your loved ones. If a beloved friend told you the story you just read, what would you say to her? What would happen if you were as kind to yourself as you would be to her?
How do you cope with feelings of shame? Please share your ideas in the comments.