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.
“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)
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?
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.