I recently watched Brené Brown’s TedTalk “Listening to shame.” As she described some of the messages shame tells us, I got noticeably uncomfortable and started to feel like I might cry. I am very familiar with feeling “not good enough” and questioning, “Who do I think I am?”
To thrive, shame needs “secrecy, silence, and judgment.” It can be terrifying to call out and name shame, but it can also be freeing and empowering.
My entire childhood was defined by the shame that my father was either in jail or running from the law. I felt shame that, according to my father, my mother didn’t want me and tried to abort me twice. I’ve felt shame that I wasn’t white like many of my friends at school. I was the youngest and smallest in my class every year.
I often tear up when we have parent teacher conferences. That stems from my fear that I’m not a good mother. I’m ashamed that I’m overweight. I feel guilty that I’ve indulged too much, too often, and I’m ashamed of my lack of self-control. I feel ashamed about scraping up my skin.
I know that when I buy in to the things shame tells me, I’m harder on myself and everyone else. I hold unrealistic expectations and judge people ruthlessly, even my husband and children.
Brené Brown says that, “empathy is the antidote to shame,” and “the two most powerful words when we are in struggle [are], ‘Me too.'”
Intellectually, I’m aware that some of my friends also worry about being good mothers and aren’t happy with their weight (some over- and some under-), but I think I’ve still been buying in to shame’s contention that I’m the only one.
A friend recently told me that she’s stopped doing a negative behavior. She was uncertain at first whether to tell me about it, worrying what I might think of her, especially if she relapses. I told her how proud I was that she was taking care of herself. If at some point she relapses, I’d rather be there to support her than be left in the dark.
We all have shame, and we all have the capacity for empathy. When we feel bad about who we are, or who we aren’t that we wished we were, perhaps we could access the empathy we’d have for a friend or other loved one and remember that we are not alone, we are doing the best we can with what we know, and we are worthy of love, forgiveness, and compassion.
How do you stop shame from clouding your judgment or keeping you from being courageous?