Exposing Shame

One day I picked up Daring Greatly by Bene Brown and dove in. I found myself nodding yes while reading the section on shame.  I grew up in an era when shame was an accepted form of teaching our children expected behavior. Hiding shame, burying it deep inside so the world doesn't see our failings, the norm. Hence the idea -  if they really know who I am, they won't like (or love) me. It's time to take away shame's power.

Shame derives its power from being unspeakable.” - Bene Brown, Daring Greatly

Why has our society so willingly embraced shame as a tool for molding our children. Current science holds most people are able to remember events as early as ages of three and five years old. For me, it's the age of five. When I think back on my childhood, even at that young age, I remember having feelings of shame over something I did. Yes, my lessons in shame began very early.

I have to be honest, I was not an easy child to raise.  I didn't fit the role my parents imagined. Discipline and disappointment happened often. When very young, shame came more from a response to behaviors: having a tantrum, disobeying, not cooperating, not sitting still, talking back. As I became older, especially in my teens, that shifted to how I thought about the world: religion, politics, the draft, dating, premarital sex, marriage, interracial relations. It always began the same way, “Oh Marilyn....,” and ended with how I fell short. How can you be so selfish? How can you believe that?

Shame in my young years lead me to believe something was rotten inside. Shame as an adult led me to believe I was somehow broken. What I find saddest of all is I didn't begin to understand or start my journey to self-acceptance until after my kids were grown. The burdens we parents carry on our shoulders are unfortunately often passed on to our children. There are so many times I wished I could go back and have a do-over. As that is not possible, all I can do is be the best parent I can be from this point onward.

We live immersed in a ocean of negative waves crashing against us, trying to influence us and using shame as a weapon. The message is one of conformity. We are given an image of the ideal person living the ideal life. We are offered a body image for what we should look like, a lifestyle we should be reaching for, an income we should have, clubs we should be a part of and hobbies we must embrace. Note how often the word "should" appears. As I age, I particularly object to the ideals shown of what aging should look like. It is unattainable for most of us and includes brownie points for looking younger than you are.

Abusers use
shame to keep victims silent. Those in power use shame to control us. Then there is the social pressure to fit in. It influences how we think on politics, religion, family, vaccines, racism, feminism, and sexuality. There is a herd mentality to conform to. The idea that we can hold different truths is unthinkable. If everyone thinks like we do, then we must be right, and being right is important. This creates an us versus them mentality that can't help but lead to conflict. It drives us to limit our exposure others who are different and to stay immersed in a small group of like minded individuals. Stepping out of our group feels unsafe.

As I began to understand how much shame affected my life, and how the message was still running in my subconscious, I decided it was time to tale action. Time and hard work were required to break the shame habit and to begin to heal the wounds left behind, I but I was determined. First came shining a light into all the dark corners where shame was hiding. Bringing the devastating feelings of shame into the light helped break the emotional chains holding them inside. I allowed everything to bubble up. I let the tears flow freely without apology. And when the tsunami passed, I felt washed clean.

That's not to say that shame doesn't still affect me. While I have embraced who I am as I am, shame still hides in the shadows ready to bubble up if there is any sign of weakness. There moments are often triggered by family, friends, idle comments and what I see and hear in the world around me. It takes constant awareness of the voices whispering in the background to keep shame from burying in again.

Repetition has helped me the most. I have a strong set of go-to mantras I repeat when moments of self-doubt happen. I accept the need to occasionally ride waves of sadness and let the tears flow freely when I expose dark feelings to the light of day.  Each time I repeat the process, it gets easier.  It's important to remember these feelings are temporary. Hiding them only keeps them trapped inside. Allowing those dark feelings to flow through and out freely without judgement, helps me continue to let them go.  

Life is a
roller coaster of highs and lows. The highs fill our cups to overflowing, and let us celebrate ourselves as we are. The lows hold lessons we need to experience for our growth.  We need each in our life to continue move forward.