No More Room for Shame

My core beliefs about myself:

  • I am unloving, cold, stingy, withholding of emotion, a miser with my Self.
  • I can’t handle responsibility, I fold, I fail, I make bad decisions.
  • I’m a mess.
  • I am an outsider, I do not belong.
  • I am not worth listening to.
  • I am broken, corrupt, not worthy.

These are the things I really, truly, as a regular default, believe about myself.

If this surprises you at all, maybe it’s because I’ve become good at what researcher & author Brené Brown calls “hustling for my worthiness.” I do this, I do that, I do my song and dance. I collect recognitions and accolades and have difficulty forcing myself to feel the full weight and meaning of them because I’m so hungry to hustle to the next semblance of worthiness, of approval, of acceptance.

Brown says:

“When we spend a lifetime trying to distance ourselves from the parts of our lives that don’t fit with who we think we’re supposed to be, we stand outside of our story and hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving.” (p 23, The Gifts of Imperfection)

Brene Brown The Gifts of Imperfection

Performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving. I’ve been doing that my whole life.

And I’ve been standing outside of my story and hustling for my worthiness for a long, very long, time.

I always thought my feelings of unworthiness, my constant tape of negative self-talk, were symptoms of my depression, something I have struggled with since my teenage years and have taken medication for in the past.

After reading Brené Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection these past few days, I’m beginning to understand that my depression is a result of these feelings of unworthiness and negative self-talk.

And where do these feelings of unworthiness and negative self-thoughts come from?

Shame.

Brown explains that shame comes from several places outside of us – parents, teachers, peer groups, within organizations, as part of the media or as part of our culture at large. Shame is used to correct behavior, command control, compel one to conform. It’s used to get immediate, desired results. And sadly, it’s used to sell products or lifestyles, persuade opinions, garner votes.

In my case, I also feel as if shame has come from inside of me. Being prone to shame, with the groundwork already established that I am not worthy, I often generate and perpetuate shame with no outside help whatsoever.

I have many examples in my life of shame happening to me and happening inside of me. So much so that it really has become the default setting for my life.

It is never “I did something bad” (what Brown explains as “guilt”), but “I am bad” (how shame differentiates itself).

Everything in my everyday life seems to testify of it. The dishes on the counter = You’re so lazy you can’t even keep the kitchen clean. The phone call I didn’t return = You’re such a jerk you can’t even bother to call that person back. The form I forgot to sign = You’re such a mess you can’t keep anything straight.

It’s never just about the dishes or the phone call or the permission slip. My default turns everything back on me, confirming my basic shameful belief that I am broken, a mess, unworthy.

How do you combat shame?

Brown gives three clear, distinct strategies for developing what she calls “shame resiliance:”

  • courage – not heroic courage, but the “ordinary courage” to tell our stories, to live in our vulnerabilities, to be seen – deeply seen
  • compassion – to practice daily kindness with ourselves, to understand that “we are all made of strength and struggle”
  • connection – we must reach out to others, either in exposing our own shame or helping others to identify and combat their own

Brown presents all of her research and the guideposts for what she calls “wholehearted living” in a concise, unsentimental way. Despite discussing such powerful emotions, she never descends into the arena of warm, fuzzy, self-help psycho-babble. Hers is a dissection of the human condition, and real, qualitative ways for improving one’s life.

I mentioned to a friend online yesterday that I think Brene Brown’s research and books are saving my life. It may sound melodramatic, but it’s true.

I have been in a deep depression for several months, despite employing what I felt were useful tactics and strategies to deal with it, and despite the ever-present love and support of my family.

Still, it wasn’t until reading The Gifts of Imperfection – and consequently finding Brown’s blog, ordering her other book, finding interviews, podcasts, and videos of her online – that I was finally able to understand the anatomy and origin of my depression, and trace it back to shame. An emotion – though complex and longing to fester in silence – I have every hope and belief that I can fight.

For the first time in an interminably long time, I feel hopeful, I feel empowered.

I do not feel broken.

I feel worthy.

 

*Disclosure: Amazon affiliate links used.

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  • =))))   Excellent post & I applaud you for putting this so eloquently into words and sharing your struggle with others.  http://www.clickthegoodnews.com/2011/10/21/review-pathfinder-course/ 
    I took her online e-course a few months back called Ordinary Courage, which used the book & her DVD.  I really enjoyed her book & research- shame is something we so rarely talk about, think about, have the courage to work through.  Did you see this podcast & TED talk? http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.htmlhttp://howshereallydoesit.com/podcast/2011/03/brene-brown/Another online course that i adored and really helped me focus was Chookooloonks Pathfinder course- here is my review & google online for other reviews, it was awesomehttp://www.lightsandletters.com/writing/2011/9/19/path-finder-course-with-karen-walrond.html

    • Thanks, Amanda, for the links and resources! How cool that you took her e-course. She offers others that I hope to take before too long.

  • Ace1028

    Stacey, I know I don’t know you very well but I am so happy to see you writing this. Sharing this. It’s so important to let the words fly free and get yourself out of that place. I think you are an incredible person – having only really met you once – I knew it straight away. I’m sorry you don’t/didn’t see that, and I hope that these steps you are taking bring you to where you need to be. This book looks fantastic. I know I could use a reminder as I have those anxious and down days that seemingly take over my world, and they’re awful. We don’t deserve them, we just need to take the bull by the horns and remind ourselves of that! Again, thank you for sharing and much continued love and strength as you find your way out.

  • Stacey,
    Thank you, my friend, for putting this out here. Your words could have just as well told my story. I love Brene Brown and her words have deeply touched me in the past. Maybe it is time for me to pull out her book again, to dig a little deeper. I appreciate your openness and honesty and that is a big part of the healing.
    Hugs to you today!

    • I don’t love that you know how I feel (I don’t wish that on anyone), but I love that I’m in such good company with you. You’re a good friend. I’m sure you remember, but I actually won this book from you, and although I kept it closed on my desk for nearly a year, it was the perfect time for me to open and discover it. 🙂 Hugs to you, too!

  • this book has been putting itself in front of me for several months, I think it’s about time I buy it. funny (or not), I can accept others and have this belief that all perfectly imperfect humans are ‘worthy’ of love and respect but when it comes to myself, psaw, different rules.  it’s time to apply the same rules to myself. 

    • I *totally* understand what you mean about how you treat others vs. yourself. I would never in a million years think or say to other people the things I think and say to myself. My biggest challenge is going to be applying the self-kindness and compassion Brene Brown writes about. But it’s worth it! And even in the few days since I’ve really committed to it, it’s made a major change. 🙂 If you do get the book, I hope you enjoy it!

  • Jpatrickcomm

    I need this book! Thanks, Stacey!

  • I love what you wrote, I feel what you feel I’m (almost) ready to face how you face.

    {Thank you}

    • Oh, Galit, thank you for your comment. It *does* help to know that we’re not the only ones who struggle. I think shame, depression, anxiety, etc are all emotions that diminish us and make us want to stay alone, isolated, unseen. Simply communicating about it in this way can begin to help us step out of that! {hugs}