The Power of Shame

Long time readers of this (and all the other blogs I have had) know that I’ve done a lot of work on shame the last couple of years. Shame is extremely powerful and I had no idea the impact it was having on my life until relatively recently. Given the way I grew up I should have known all along that it was destructive but nope…that particular emotion never occurred to me. I mean seriously, all my neuroses and not once did I think to pinpoint shame as one of the culprits? What the what? I mean, it’s not shame’s fault that I am where I am in my head/life, but it IS a reflection of how I grew up. Be careful what you say to your kids people…this old poem hung in all of my children’s rooms when they were little to remind me.

Dorothy Law Nolte
If a child lives with criticism,
he learns to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility,
he learns to fight.
If a child lives with fear,
he learns to be apprehensive.

If a child lives with pity,
he learns to feel sorry for himself.

If a child lives with ridicule,
he learns to be shy.
If a child lives with jealousy,
he learns what envy is.

If a child lives with shame,
he learns to feel guilty.

If a child lives with encouragement,
he learns to be confident.
If a child lives with tolerance,
he learns to be patient.

If a child lives with praise,
he learns to be appreciative.

If a child lives with acceptance,
he learns to love.

If a child lives with approval,
he learns to like himself.

If a child lives with recognition,
he learns that it is good to have a goal.

If a child lives with sharing,
he learns about generosity.

If a child lives with honesty and fairness,
he learns what truth and justice are.

If a child lives with security,
he learns to have faith in himself and in those about him.

If a child lives with friendliness,
he learns that the world is a nice place in which to live.

If you live with serenity,
your child will live with peace of mind.
With what is your child living?

What that should say is that if a child lives with shame they will feel “less than”, but that’s another post entirely.

My niece is going through something similar right now and I’m trying to coach her through it. She is dating a new man and mentioned in passing that she hasn’t told him about her mother yet because she is ashamed. (FACEPALM) Of course I explained that she had absolutely nothing of which to be ashamed. She was a child and the actions she witnessed were those of her mother and not her; but as we all know it’s easy to hear but not so easy to believe. Even at my advanced age, something as simple as a smell or a passing comment can make me feel ashamed. The memories come rushing back and I’m in that spot all over again, face hot, tears stinging the corners of my eyes, shame filling every portion of my being. Feeling less than.

I sent her a copy of Brene’ Brown’s book, “The Gifts of Imperfection” which honestly CHANGED MY LIFE (along with a year of therapy) and made her promise to read it. In the book, Brene’ says…

“Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.” ~ Brené Brown

Lately, due to some shake ups and changes at work (which btw is normal in my industry) I’m feeling insecure and vulnerable. I hate feeling vulnerable. When I start feeling this way, THAT’s when the shame memories and feelings begin to creep in. I’m sitting here this morning preparing for a new assignment and having a moment of personal panic when BAM! one of those memories pops into my head and for no reason at all I want to hide. I’ve learned not to hide. I’ve learned to invite them in and serve them tea. To sit with them and feel whatever I feel. Not to rush them but rather, let them sip the tea slowly and then, when finished, I can show them to the door. (It’s an exercise I learned in therapy and it really, REALLY works for me.) Instead of fighting something that is so much a part of me I embrace it like I would my children. I let it be whatever it is. In this way I’m able to find a little peace.

Sometimes however, the shame is stubborn and doesn’t want to leave. Sometimes it insists on hanging out and pecking at me like the vulture that it is. Brene’ says that the only sure way to get rid of shame is to shine a light on it and send it running like cockroaches when you turn on the kitchen light (that last part was me…she’s got much more class). To share it with someone empathetic and realize that I won’t die once it’s out of my head. People will not go running into the streets screaming. The town folk will not show up at the door with pitchforks in the dead of night to drive me away. More often than not, after sharing something that is shameful I hear two of the most beautiful words in the English language. Me too.

“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” ~ Brené Brown
I would love to be that person for my niece but I’m her “mom” so whatever I say falls on deaf ears. She dismisses my comments with a, “But you have to say that because you love me”. So I suggested she start a blog. I suggested she start reading blogs (she has no idea I have one). I told her that the blogging community is one of the most empathetic, embracing and loving communities she will ever find. There’s no shame. There’s no need to hide. There is acceptance. I don’t know if she’ll do it or not (or attend Al-Anon which I also suggested) but I can at least try and guide her in the right direction. Perhaps she’ll find some healing before she’s the ripe old age of 55.



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