Brene Brown said it best, “guilt is I did something bad, shame is I am bad”.
I’ve had a recent influx of clients recently who are struggling with feelings of shame. It’s a huge emotion, it’s big and bad and can really do a lot of damage to our sense of self. Shame also tends to create it’s own gravity field, pulling in events and thoughts from across our life span to feed into this concept that we are horrible people. Right on the heels of this is the idea that we are unworthy of caring, maybe even unloveable.
All of the sudden, this one event starts feeling like the sum total of who we are. All the good stuff we’ve done; the kindness, the generosity, the selfless acts, all of it gets tossed out because it doesn’t fit with this new and supremely powerful idea that we are now a “bad person”.
What’s the road back from this? How do we find a crack in gloom?
If we’re lucky, we have a kind human or two who refuses to buy into this shame-driven concept of self. Someone who can hold our hand and look us in the eye and tell us that we ARE good, we ARE worthy, and they will carry that truth for us until we can pick it back up again. Those are your true friends, the keepers. The ones who save us from our dark delusions.
What if there is no one like that? Then hopefully you have a good therapist who can help you to poke holes in this theory that you’re fundamentally flawed. Sometimes the harsh light of introspection can lead to a softening of the shameful beast.
Working our way out of shame doesn’t mean that we discount or minimize our actions that may have caused hurt and harm. It’s about letting that shroud of shame fall away so we can accurately assess the damage, both to ourselves and others. We can hold in one hand the deed that caused harm, while we hold in the other the truth that we are not just this one thing, we are all of it, and generally most of what makes us up is good and kind and generous.
We stumble, we fall and sometimes we need to lie in the dirt for a little while. But at some point we need to have enough compassion for ourselves to stop heaping hurt upon hurt. We need to allow the love others have for us to seep in and soothe our cuts and bruises. We need to accept on faith that in this moment they see us more clearly than we are able to see ourselves.