Do you have shame? Apparently, we all do according to Brene Brown. Here’s what I learned after reading Brown’s chapter about shame and how to combat those nasty gremlins talkin’ nonsense inside your head. Sharing in case it helps one of you, too.
Do I have shame? “Well, I don’t know,” was my first thought after reading the question. On the surface level, I’m not ashamed of who I am, how I got here or where I want to go. There’s a chip on my shoulder I’m a bit proud of and have a deep inner strength that propels me to keep pushing forward–no matter what. All characteristics I’m proud to own.
Shannon in a nutshell; moved out at a young age and paid all her own bills without EVER having to ask for help, got herself through college and graduated with a Bachelor’s despite having to take a year and a half off to deal with the joys of being a Navy wife. It took longer than everyone else, but I paid my way through junior college and figured out how to manage University with loans, internships and a solid year with no day off to get me in the position I am now.
Point blank, nobody thought I could do it and nobody paid my damn rent or filled my refrigerator with groceries, or gave me daily pep talks to counter-act all the other shit that life was flinging at me in those years.
I did it, and then me and my man did it, together. And I’m proud of those years, proud to say we did it alone. The flame that burned deep in the pit of my gut kept me pushing, climbing and propelling myself to the finish line, is what I’m truly proud of about myself because not everyone gets the guts and glory.
But wait, one simple question breaks all that internal strength and leaves me fumbling for words. So, where’s your family? Boom. Instant shame. Well, instant shame mixed with anger, let me explain.
When people find out I’m not from around here (or wherever I’m living at the time) they immediately want to know how I got to the patch of grass we’re now sharing, which is great because I’ve gotten extremely good at giving the watered down ‘me in a nutshell’ version to people.
I’ll get to the end and without fail, the first question is, “so, where’s your family.” Cue anger. “Wtf do they have anything to do with this conversation,” is what I want to say, instead it’s, “oh, we’re spread out. Some live back in New York while others have planted in Florida.”
People are curious, I get it. But can I just control the conversation and only talk about what I want to talk about? Of course not, and this is where I begin to understand shame.
My family couldn’t pay for my college tuition, or give me the movie ‘going away to college’ experience. No dorms. No sororities. No college keggers. I had to pick (what I say in my mind) lower end schools because I couldn’t afford the fancy four-year state universities my friends got to attend. I had to work, pay bills AND try to finish school.
It sounds silly to write down, but it’s true. The shame gremlins (what Brown calls the nasty voices in our heads) tell me I’m not smart or good enough because I didn’t go to a state university with a competitive football team, which leads to the circumstance of my parents not being able to provide that luxury.
On one hand I’m proud to have hoofed it myself, but on the other hand, I’m ashamed of why I had to hoof it. The reason I’m proud of myself for making it through is the same reason I’m ashamed, strange right?
I don’t want to be labeled, ‘less than’ because of circumstances out of my control i.e. finances. So when somebody asks me about my family after learning of my life’s journey, I assume it’s because they want to know where the hell my family has been through all of this and I instantly feel shame, not because I’m ashamed of them but because the person doing the asking is probably judging them for ‘not being around,’ and that makes me angry, too.
Brown says, “shame is universal and one of the most primitive human emotions we experience. The people who don’t have it lack the capacity for empathy and human connection. Here’s your choice: Fess up to experiencing shame or admit that you’re a sociopath. Quick note: This is the only time that shame seems like a good option.”
Okay, Okay, I admit it, I have shame.
According to her definition, shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging, and that there are 12 shame categories that’ve emerged from her research.
- Appearance and body image
- Money and work
- Mental and physical health
- Surviving trauma
- Being stereotyped or labeled
Sidebar: There’s a difference between shame and humiliation (yup, apparently they’re not the same thing even though they sound pretty mutually exclusive). Shame is thinking “I am bad” while humiliation or guilt is “I did something bad.”
Shame holds us back and keeps us from being our best self. My best guess is that because I think less of myself I limit myself to opportunities that seem “too grandiose,” and possibly in other ways I can’t even see because I’m still operating out of shame, fear, AND guilt. WOOF.
How do you combat shame? Talk about it. Give it a name. The more you talk about it the less control it has over your life.
Cheers to hoping that Texan Brene Brown is right, because my damn gremlins are telling me this whole post was a waste of time and it’s not helping anyone, and that I just want to bable about myself…