Shame is such a hard emotion to get through and let go of. When it comes up, it is like a shock to my system. I freeze. My face turns red. And I say some really stupid things. But I am getting better at letting go of shame! Here is how.
Lately, I have been working through Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. (Shout out to a fellow social worker!) One of the topics in the book is shame, specifically as it relates to vulnerability. It is a great section, if you ask me! (Really, the whole book is pretty great.) But I digress.
The chapter on shame talks about how it interacts with vulnerability. Vulnerability can be described as sharing the more hidden parts of one’s self to another individual, or group of individuals. Shame is a response that prevents this sharing. I would even go so far as to say that shame is a learned response. We are taught through experience what is “okay” to share and “not okay” to share, and shame is the resulting feeling of sharing something deemed as “not okay.”
Now, remember my New Year’s Resolution? I want to stand in confidence and share who I am as well as my beliefs, no matter who I am talking to, because I have felt scared and anxious at the thought of doing so. Not just that, but scared to share my creativity, my work.
Why do you think I would be scared to share these things? Because someone taught me to feel ashamed of my beliefs, my spirit, and the things I create from those two centers. I don’t feel shame by nature of what they are, but because someone told me I should. They told me I was a bad person, that I was going to hell, and made action to exclude me based on those things. (It wasn’t even the faux nice way of saying going to hell, “You are going to hell, but I love and accept you anyway.”)
So not only did someone teach me to feel shameful of my beliefs and who I am, but it resulted in me hiding away those things, those parts of myself. Because who wants to be made fun of? Or demeaned? Hiding them away means it takes more vulnerability for me to share them now. (As it probably would for anyone.) And, to further protect myself, a shame-tape was created inside my head. A shame-tape are the things we tell ourselves about why we shouldn’t be vulnerable and share, and why we are a bad person. It plays over, and over, and over. Funny enough, it creates feelings of shame to protect against the greater pain of shame from others in vulnerable moments. Brene Brown also calls the same-tape “gremlins.” What are the gremlins saying?
“What will people think?” (As if what they think is worse than what they say or do.) My gremlins don’t even have to go further than that anymore, because everything else is already assumed: “They will think you are weird.” (Because weird has been equated with bad.) “They won’t want to be friends or even acquaintances any more.” “You’ll have to deal with people trying to convert you, change you.” (With the understanding that I am bad as I am now but will be good and okay once I change who I am and what I believe.)
So who do we deal with these gremlins and subsequent shame? Well, here are 5 things I am doing:
- Name your shame-tape something ridiculous. Something that makes you want to listen to it less. Something to de-credit it. Gremlins is one name that can be used. Now, I haven’t seen the movie, but when they change, they look like little annoying creatures that just want to poke at you until you explode or give up. Poke, poke, poke.
- Reframe. I am sure I have mentioned this before. But when you hear “What will people think?” and the resulting thoughts tend to be “horrible,” “weird,” “bad,” the question really is “What negative things will people think?” So flip it! Reframe it! “What positive things will people think?”
- Validity Testing. And if the next thought after “What positive things will people think?” is that there is no way people will think positive things, look back. Was there a time when someone did react positively? (It is harder to know if they thought positively, because those are things they could keep in their head, but in my case the thoughts are linked to the actions. “What will people think?” brings the next thoughts of what they will do “change me” or “won’t want to be friends anymore.”)
- Affirmations. I love love love affirmations. They are wonderful reminders and can help reprogram those thoughts. A gremlin trying to sneak into your thoughts? Use some affirmations! “I am strong.” “I am confident.” “I greet my vulnerability with love.”
- Enlist others to help you. My husband is an easy person to incorporate into helping me. When I start feeling shame, I talk with him. He is always great for a pep talk! I also see a counselor who helps to keep me accountable. They are a nonjudgmental observer who can help to use the therapy skills I already have.
And there are more ways out there to fight those gremlins and smash through shame! What do you do? Share it in the comments below!