Stepping out of Shame

If you didn’t read Vulnerability yesterday, read it first.
Alright, shame. Bring it on.
So Brene Brown says shame is, “I am wrong,” whereas guilt is, “I did something wrong.” The guilt is a healthy signal that says, “Hey! Time to clean up a mess you made!” Healthy people feel guilt on the regular. They don’t wallow, but they take to time to right the wrong as a result of the guilt.
Shame, on the other hand, encompasses the whole self. Just like vulnerability, everyone experiences shame in their own ways. How does shame relate to vulnerability? Because shame is the feeling we feel when we aren’t vulnerable. And shame goes SO deep that you often don’t even know it’s shame you’re feeling. For example, most women look at themselves in the mirror and say, “I need to lose that 10 pounds of fat around my middle before I’m going close to the bathingsuit section.” The response to the 10 pounds of fat around your middle is not about the 10 pounds of fat. It’s about the whole self. If you can’t look at your exterior and be fine the way you are, then you’ve got some shame buried in there. (Sorry, it’s cliche, it’s no fun to admit it, but it’s the truth.)
Good news: we’ve all got shame.
Better news: we can all practice vulnerability and self-love and shame diminishes.
Bad news: shame doesn’t completely disintegrate overnight. It takes ages to recover from.
Where does shame originate? Mostly from perfectionism, a need to be accepted/loved. Everyone needs to be loved and accepted, it’s part of our biology. But our culture does an especially good job of using shame to convince us to assimilate to someone else’s idea of “lovable” and “acceptable”. According to research at Boston College, the accepted societal norms for women are to be:
Use all available resources on her appearance.
Men are supposed to:
Be in emotional control.
Put work first.
Pursue status.
Be violent.
That stuff is floating around in our DNA right now because of how deeply it’s been ingrained in our culture for generations. Fall outside of these norms and what do you get? SHAME! Shame is what hangs out in the between who we are and who we’re told to be.
It takes great courage* and great vulnerability to rid yourself of shame. Here, I’ll start: I feel great shame when my husband comes home and starts doing dishes that are in the sink. I want to be the wife that gives her husband a quiet, clean home to inhabit after he works so hard to pay for it. I get defensive, almost angry when he starts doing dishes. “Leave them alone,” I say, “I’ll just do it later, you don’t have to worry about it.” Of course, he’s thinking, “I’m helping my wife, I’m doing something nice for her.” But my shame inhibits me from being grateful (remember how you can’t selectively numb emotions?!). It throws up my anti-vulnerability wall and makes me mad. Stupid shame. If I can get past the shame of my husband doing the dishes for me, I might open a door for connection. A heart-felt thank you, my husband feeling proud he could help me, a wife feeling blessed her husband wants to help. We can have that if I’m able to step out of the shame.
*Brene Brown says: The root of the word courage is cor — the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage had a very different definition than it does today. Courage originally meant to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart. And if that’s not the definition of vulnerability, I don’t know what is…Vulnerability is not weakness. It is courage!


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