You know shame. It is that all too familiar feeling of inadequacy and pain coupled with the the belief of, “I am not enough!” The topic of shame is one that is close to my heart. For most of my life I have lived out of a place of shame. I have felt as though something is wrong with me. “I am not enough” and “I don’t have what it takes” are the deeply rooted beliefs that have echoed in my mind, heart, and soul.
I have spent much time and energy trying to hide my shame. After all, if others knew the real me they would come to find out that I am deficient, or so I believed. So I hid my shame and put on the mask that all is well. I mean everyone else seemed okay. They seem to not struggle with shame. I must be the only one who feels this way is what I believed.
Some of us grew up in families where shame was a part of the family culture. It could have been used for behavior modification or simply as a way to make others feel bad. There are those of us who did not grow up in a shaming family per se, but yet shame is still present in our lives. What I have come to learn is that regardless of your experiences growing up we all experience shame. This has been confirmed through my experience working with people as a counselor and as a coach. Inevitably, shame will rear its ugly head in my sessions. It is universal.
My question is this: Since all of us experience shame, the feeling and belief that I am not enough, why do we hide? Why do we put on masks? The answer, I believe, is that we hide and put on masks to protect ourselves from the deepest of all human fears: abandonment and rejection. “If you knew the real me you would see my inadequacy and find me unlovable,” is the lie shame wants you to believe.
Shame wants you full of doubts and insecurity. It wants to hold you back from reaching your full potential and experiencing joy. Shame wants to deceive you into believing that you are ALL bad and you are the ONLY one who feels this way. It wants you to believe there is NOTHING good about you. Ultimately, shame wants you isolated and alone cut off from the very thing that can defeat it: vulnerability in relationships.
There is a wealth of research conducted by the likes of Brene Brown and others on the power of vulnerability to counter shame. Vulnerability is a scary proposition for all of us because of the inherent risk/reward component. The risk we all fear in being vulnerable is that of rejection and abandonment. However, the potential reward is one of being seen, accepted, and open to receiving grace and truth. In Curt Thompson’s book, Soul of Shame, he writes:
“Shame’s healing encompasses the counterintuitive act of turning toward what we are most terrified of. We fear the shame that we will feel when we speak of that very shame. In some circumstances we anticipate this vulnerable exposure to be so great that it will be almost life threatening. But it is in the movement toward another, toward connection with someone who is safe, that we come to know life and freedom from this prison.” (31)
Relational vulnerability is how we fight the devastating consequences of shame. Reaching out to a trusted and safe person with your shame, while scary, is like sucking all the oxygen away that shame needs to survive. Curt Thompson in Soul of Shame notes:
“To relationally confront our shame requires that we risk feeling it on the way to its healing. This is no easy task. This is the common undercurrent of virtually all of our relational brokenness. We sense, image, feel and think all sorts of things that we never say, because we’re far too frightened to be that honest, that vulnerable. But honest vulnerability is the key to both healing shame-and its inevitably anticipated hellish outcome of abandonment-and preventing it from taking further root in our relationships and culture.” (104-105)
You know shame. Will you continue to hide? Will you continue to wear the mask? Or will you embrace vulnerability by bringing your shame into the light by sharing it with safe people? Shame wants to keep you isolated and alone. It wants you to keep buying into the feelings and belief that you are not enough. Are you willing to take the risk of letting others in? I hope that you chose relational vulnerability over shame. I pray you let others speak truth and love into your life. This is how I am fighting shame. You’re invited to join me because I want you to know you are not the only one! You are not alone!