This article was posted on Susan Clarke’s blog on May 22, 2013. Go to susanbclarke.com to read more of Susan’s blog posts and subscribe.
I do not like it when I am flooded with shame. Having said that, those are some of the most profound and valuable choice points I have ever had to face.
Shame is a feeling – not a mental activity. It is that flood of heat that comes when I am exposed, standing naked in whatever it is I have done. Maybe I got caught in a lie or said something mean that clearly upset someone. Yes, I am someone who can tell a ‘white’ lie (see, already I want to spin lying into something less severe, not so bad). Yes, I am someone who blurts out defensively when upset not fully aware of the impact it might have. In that moment, when someone catches me or I catch myself, I feel shame. The raw rush of energy that erupts when I am faced with myself. That feeling is a wonderful opportunity to choose. I can either try to cover it up by saying, I am not the type of person who would do that, or I can be vulnerable and own up to what I have done. In the former, I step away from my vulnerability and hide in guilt or denial.
So for me shame is never the problem. The problem lies in the choice. Do I try to control myself and the outcome, or do I step into that moment of exposure? I want to be fair to all of the various articles, books and literature about shame. Actually, I love Brene Brown‘s work on vulnerability in Daring Greatly. However, I disagree with her definition, and what sounds like her dislike, and blame of shame. I have to admit, I feel a touch of shame just saying that, and I will still “step into the arena” as she encourages us all to do.
I don’t believe she is talking about a feeling at all when she talks of shame. No, I think she is talking about the mental pathway that can so easily be engaged once I recognize that I am someone who can do ….. (whatever that horrible thing is). That mental process is what I call “self-hate” or “shaming myself.” Now, that is one bad-ass challenge. Not to mention that we, as people in our efforts to look better, cover up, take control, have learned ways of ‘shaming others.’ Though again this has very little to do with the feeling of shame, much more to do with mental pathways that allow us to take down someone else so we feel okay.
Too many feelings get bad raps. Anger is another that gets all sorts of bad press. Mainly because people associate angry with violence – two very different things. Anger, the feeling, much like shame – is simply energy in motion. Anger can be an amazing opportunity to step into aliveness. Again, it offers a rich moment of choice. There are definitely things I am glad I get angry about, such as, sexual violence, people bullying other people, people hating someone simply because they are different – these are things that stir up anger in me. Now, if I lash out myself, well that simply isn’t the noble choice. (And honestly, I have done just that and felt some particularly painful shame about it.) But I don’t want to lose my anger. When I know it and embrace it, I can use my anger for good. I have energy that drives and motives choices in my life to stop violence, stop prejudice or whatever cause gets me angry.
It’s the same with shame. No one wants to say – I am a liar. But frankly, most of us are at some point – actually many times a day. That moment when we own all of who we are, the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful – well, we become whole, alive, real, authentic. It won’t last forever. We are human, not simply divine. We make make mistakes and shame is actually a wonderful reminder that we can self-correct. Stay in the shame as a feeling (meaning only seconds of a flood of energy) and say, “I am someone who lied, blew up at colleague, cheated on a spelling test in 3rd grade.” Yes, I am that person. I feel hot and a touch embarrassed writing this out on my blog; however, I also believe that as I become okay feeling my moments of shame – I am less likely to ‘shame’ someone else. I am also much more likely to realize that I make mistakes, and feeling guilty or beating myself up about those mistakes simply takes me out of the game, the present and opportunity to choice vulnerability and more on.
When I choose to be vulnerable and reveal who I am, I can, in that moment, do something different. I can ask for help. I can cry or say I regret what happened. I can be present and possibly shift the outcome because I’m not controlling, denying or hiding.
So next time you feel shame welling up – don’t run, don’t hide – don’t blame shame. Step into that feeling and find out who you really are, and then choose what you do next! It isn’t comfortable, but shame also isn’t the problem – it is just a feeling, energy and an opening for you. Step in, own and be vulnerable! It is amazing what can happen after that!