Dec 2, 2014

What Good is Shame?

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I love the way Dr. Brene Brown talks about shame.  It’s not something reserved for trauma survivors or the very insecure. It’s something that impacts all of us. As long as we value love and belonging, we will experience fear that we can do (or not do) something that threatens our connection.

That fear is has a name. It’s shame. Shame is a basic human fear, one of the common threads that weave the human experience and connect us all.

Shame doesn't want to be seen. When we're in it's grip, we hide some part of ourselves.

Shame doesn’t want to be seen. When we’re in it’s grip, we hide some part of ourselves.

We hate to feel it. That’s another common human experience. No one wants to feel shame. Shame is one of the ickiest experiences. It can hijack our thoughts, emotions, and physical body. We feel hot and flushed or cold and frozen when we’re in shame. We think we’re not good enough. We blame and judge ourselves and others. We feel depressed, anxious, sad, angry and hopeless. We don’t want to be seen. Whatever your experience of shame, I can guarantee it’s unpleasant and painful.

We all have strategies to keep us out of shame. Distraction is our cultural favorite. We use constant activity to keep us from noticing our longing for connection and our fear that we’ll never really get it.

Yet avoiding shame is a double-edged sword. We may escape shame but we won’t feel connection either. When we avoid shame through distraction, we numb to our own heart’s longing. We have nagging feelings of discontent, failure, and not being enough.

We don’t like these feelings. We turn to more distraction, numbing, emotional armor, and shadow comforts to avoid them. This in turn leads to more disconnection, depression, anxiety, frustration, and a sense of purposelessness. Avoiding these requires more distraction, perfectionism, and foreboding joy.

Avoiding shame creates disconnection. Avoiding shame creates shame’s worst fear, reinforces shame, and proves that somehow we can do something that makes love and belonging impossible. More shame ensues. The wheel spins itself.

The way out of shame looks like paradox. Like explorers returning with treasures from an adventure, we go into the shame swamp, find the treasures therein, and return to our lives enriched. We want to avoid shame, yet to get out of its shadow we must dive in. That’s what a Year of Joys is about. It’s the journey into the shame swamp with a trusted guide and courageous fellow travelers. It’s an adventure. It’s a quest to find love, belonging, and connection.

Your fellow travelers in a Year of Joys

Your fellow travelers in a Year of Joys

When shame is unacknowledged and unknown it controls our behavior far more than shame which is welcomed and seen. Ignoring shame makes it more powerful. Learning about it, sharing our stories, using critical awareness on stereotypes about who and what we should be diffuses it.

We can even go a step farther. We can learn from shame. We can welcome in the parts of ourselves that are experiencing shame and hold them with compassion. We can share our stories and receive empathy from others. We can use shame to build trust and strengthen our experiences of love and belonging.

Shame – and its fellows scarcity, anxiety, depression, numbness, and hopeless longing – can pave the way to joy.

When we bring shame out of the shadows, powerful things happen. Freedom, power, and joy become bigger players in our lives. Fear, insecurity, trying to fit in, anxiety, depression, and isolation not only play a smaller role; they become guides on the journey to our purpose and full expression of ourselves.

Students from my classes, people who’ve worked with Brene Brown, and rogue adventurers alike all report back encouragement from their explorations into shame. No one says it’s easy, but then life isn’t easy. There is no easy path to being a fully alive human.

What brilliance is hidden behind your shame?

What brilliance is hidden behind your shame? Each part of you is like a color in the rainbow – an irreplaceable part of the whole.

The path of going into shame and scarcity is a good one. You’ll meet courageous, vulnerable, life-affirming people along the way. Fellow travelers to walk with and encourage you. It’s worth it. But don’t take my word for it, read a comment and leave a comment below. Share your insights with one another. Let’s notice we’re not alone on this human journey and that shame is part of the puzzle.