By Meg Chuhran
Ever since WINGS’ Blogger, Joel Moore, wrote his excellent post about gaining independence from shame, I haven’t been able to get the topic off my mind.
Shame is such a heavy, heavy emotion to carry and its one that doesn’t help us. Shame doesn’t help us grow, it doesn’t help us make better choices, it doesn’t improve our relationships with ourselves or with others. Shame makes us want to hide, to lie, to beat ourselves up with negative thoughts.
For the longest time, I thought shame was an emotion that we were supposed to feel as humans. I thought shame, that feeling/thought saying “I am bad, “I am wrong,” ” I am not a good, lovable, or worthy person,” would inspire me to make better choices, would help me understand all the things I did wrong and needed to fix about myself. But in reality, all shame does is increase my depression, make me anxious, and isolate me from people who love me.
I always thought that shame and guilt were the same thing, but they’re very different emotions. “While guilt is a painful feeling of regret and responsibility for one’s actions, shame is a painful feeling about oneself as a person” (Fossum & Mason, Facing Shame, 1989). It’s guilt that tells me that I’ve done something wrong and need to apologize or fix it if possible. It’s shame that tells me I am a horrible person for doing something wrong.
Just as Joel mentioned in his post, I’ve found that talking about the things I feel ashamed of is the best way for me to work through them. I’ve challenged myself over the last year to fight shame as soon as it appears. I’ve done this by calling a close friend whom I know won’t judge me. I call her and tell her whatever it is I’m ashamed of. Through the process of talking it out, I’m able to recognize the action I need to take responsibility for, and in doing so, I’m able to work through those beliefs about myself that arise because of shame telling me I am bad. When my friend listens to me without judgment, when she tells me something she’s done that’s similar, or tells me she loves regardless, that voice of shame shrinks.
In her presentation, Listening to Shame, vulnerability and shame researcher Brene Brown says: If we’re going to find our way back to each other, we have to understand and know empathy, because empathy’s the antidote to shame. If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive. The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too.
Me too, WINGS friends. Me too.
Her powerful speech is worth the watch!