It’s a word I’ve thrown around a couple of times. An overwhelming wave of emotion. Shockingly, however, while I can feel and name this emotion, I have really never thought to examine its underlying cause.
I mean, where does my shame come from? Why do I feel it so heavily and so readily?
I am working hard to get to the bottom of my perfectionism and much of what I am struggling with is the why. Why do I need to please and be perfect? In an effort to strip myself of this less than desirable trait, I recently read a really wonderful book by Brené Brown, called The Gifts of Imperfection. The author is amazing, and I could relate so much to her writing–BUT, as a shame researcher, she had quite a bit to say on the subject of shame.
After reading her book, I felt compelled to examine my own feelings of shame. We all have these feelings at times (at least, those of us who are capable of empathy and aren’t psychopaths), but some of us seem to have more shame than others, allowing it to shape who we become.
I don’t have Brené Brown’s book on shame, but I decided to do a little bit of my own research on its origins. After reading this article, suddenly, a lot of things made sense.
Let’s break it down…shame is a belief about oneself. Rather than feeling guilt and thinking, “I did something bad,” some of us internalize overt and covert messages and feel shame, thinking, “I am bad.” As I was reading the article by Dr. Margaret Paul, I came across this sentence,
“As a result of not feeling seen, loved, valued and understood, we developed the belief that we were not being loved because there was something wrong with us.”
Growing up, I most certainly felt all of these things–invisible, unloved, not valued, and definitely misunderstood. From a young age, my real dad flew the coop and made no effort to hide the fact that he couldn’t stand me, his “little bitch.” My mom, suffering from many of her own self-inflicted demons, lack of boundaries, and passive aggressiveness, made me feel like love was a double edged sword–I had to walk on eggshells to not mess up and I had to earn it. I learned early on, that when love has to be earned from those who should love you unconditionally, you can feel pretty small–pretty worthless–especially when you are different from what the person wants (if they even know what they want).
The article continues by pointing out that 2 things happen when people feel shame:
(1) Control–“As long as we believe that we are the cause of others rejecting behavior, then we can believe that there is something we can do about it.”
(2) Protection–“As bad as shame feels, many people prefer it to the feelings that shame may be covering up: loneliness, heartbreak, grief, sadness, sorrow or helplessness over others.”
That pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it? Here, I give a huge sigh……..my perfectionism, my pleasing, my performing, ME. It’s all about control–it is about believing that if I can change who I am–be better, more successful, less dramatic, whatever the problem of the day is–then I can make others love me, see me, want me.
The problem is, however, I have begun to shatter the sense of self protection that I’ve had up all of these years. Through therapy, I have begun to expose all of those deeply buried emotions I’ve never allowed myself to feel:
Loneliness, when I realize how isolating my behavior is, and that my shame has made me less willing to make meaningful friendships. In fact, I was pretty sure there was something wrong with me and that I was socially awkward. I was aching for connection, but not brave enough to just be me.
Heartbreak, when I realized that I will never have the kind of mom or dad that a child–grown or not–needs.
Grief, when I was able to cry for the little girl I was. No child should have to live through what I did. Yes, children have certainly lived through worse, but the things that happened to me–sexual abuse, verbal abuse, drug use, poverty, all of it–are unfair. And boy, does it hurt. 💔
Sadness and Sorrow, when I realized how deeply buried my secrets and my emotions were. When I realize how hard I am on myself.
Anger, when I finally felt the sense of injustice for what I had been put through, without the loving guidance of a mother who could help me.
…and many other emotions or variations of the same ones that I am still fleshing out.
It all comes down to SHAME.
The first step to getting rid of my shame is installing proper boundaries–these are definitely a work in progress, but I am getting better. By having the right boundaries I am starting to realize…slowly, but surely, that I cannot control other peoples’ feelings and behavior. It is not my fault–THEY control their own reactions, not me.
The second step has been harder–accepting and expressing all of my authentic feelings. Vulnerability is a scary, scary thing…but I am so ready to put it out there and just be me. Self compassion has been a harder, more arduous journey; but, again, I’m ready now to explore it and learn.
Someone important told me recently, “You are so brave and strong.” I read that message over and over again, with tears in my eyes, willing myself to believe it.
Finally, I think I am. ❤