You’re sitting at home drinking a cup of tea, relaxing, delighted that you finally have a moment to yourself. Suddenly it dawns on you. You were supposed to meet a friend for coffee twenty minute ago. To make matters worse, you scheduled this time with your friend because she’s going through a really difficult time and needs to talk. Oh, and the coffee shop you were going to meet in is nearly 30 minutes away.
Been there, done that. We all have. We all know the sudden tunnel vision, the knot in the stomach, the feeling of panic, the sudden urge to hide and the endless self-recrimination. In that moment we’re often doing more than telling ourselves that we screwed up. We’re telling ourselves that we ARE screw ups. We didn’t just make a mistake; we tell ourselves we are a mistake. We get caught in a whirlpool that pulls us under and drowns us in shame. And some of us can stay underwater for a good long time before coming up for air.
In her remarkable book entitled Daring Greatly researcher Brene Brown charts a pathway out of shame. It’s a pathway worth knowing because drowning in shame is miserable and self-destructive.
1. Recognize when you’re feeling shame. Guilt is feeling badly when you’ve failed. Shame is telling yourself you are a failure. Knowing the difference is the first step toward diminishing shame.
2. Listen critically to your story. At the heart of shame is usually a story that we’re telling ourselves. Often it’s a story of unrealistic expectations and harsh judgment. It’s a story that fails to distinguish between identity and behavior. Identify your self-narrative and give it a reality check. Is it true? Is it the same story a really good friend would tell you about yourself?
3. Share your story. This is the critical step, sharing your experience and your story with a trusted friend who will listen without judgment. According to Brown giving voice to our shame diminishes it, and the empathy of a trusted friend starts the healing. This step can feel risky, but it’s a lifeline.
Shame runs deep. Not only is it self-destructive but people who struggle with shame are almost always unduly critical of others, destroying relationships. Back in the Garden of Eden it was shame that caused Adam and Eve to hide from God and from one another.
You are not what you do. Long before you took your first breath God declared you good. From the cross Christ declared you loved. That’s your real story.
If you want to know more, check out Brene Brown’s TedTalk entitled “Listening to Shame”. You can watch it here.
How has shame marked you? What helps you keep from drowning in shame? Leave a comment.