Sunday, September 1, 2013

Shame is an epidemic

Too many of us were raised in a family or culture that encouraged shame. Not only that you should feel shame, but you should shame others. We are discouraged from expressing emotions. We are told: “Don’t be a baby.” “Big kids don’t cry.” Or “Man up.” So instead of developing skills to express our feeling, we internalize and develop shame.

“Shame is not guilt.
Shame is a focus on self,
Guilt is a focus on behavior.
Shame is “I am bad”
Guilt is “I did something bad”
~ Brene Brown ~


Brene Brown’s Ted Talk on shame really inspired me to take a long look at the shame culture that surrounded me. I personally have very little shame.  Without shame I find myself happier than I've ever been, but I still have friends that grapple with this issue on a daily basis.

Don't get me wrong, it's not that I've never felt shame.  It took years to shed the chains of shame surrounding my body and sex that were forced onto me by well meaning adults in my life. When I was finally able to get over them, I was able to have a happy and fulfilling relationship.

But after getting married and having kids I was surprised to find myself shackled with a whole new round of shame involving my parenting skills.

Becoming a mother should have been the most rewarding experience of my life, but again I found myself filled with self-doubt and shame over my abilities, over the fact I wasn't June Clever. Even worse OTHER moms heaped on loads of judgment and ridicule.  Trust me the playground is a brutal war ground. 

It wasn’t until I had a young mother show up on my doorstep unexpectedly, needing to talk. I invited her in, into my messy house (I like to joke my style is postmodern burglarized.) I apologized for the mess, filled with shame over my lack of a ‘company ready’ house. But it was after our talk (she’d been struggling with her mother-in-law and wanted some advice) when she thanked me, and told me how nice it was to see that other moms weren’t perfect all the time.

Never going to make the cover of Better Homes and Gardens
That’s when I realized I needed to ditch the shame. As long as my kids were happy and healthy, well adjusted (as well adjusted they can get with parents like us) I’m doing what my family needs and I didn’t need the guilt and shame.  Really aren't we all just trying to do our best?  Make other's feel bad won't make us feel any better.

Shame and gender.

Shame for women is something I’m well acquainted with. My early years, like so many women, were filled with shame. Shame about my body, shame about my intelligence, shame about my sexuality. Shame, for women, is a complex web woven with unobtainable, conflicting, and competing expectations about who we’re supposed to be.

And that’s the kicker. There’s no way to win. Be a sexual goddess, but demure. Be a loving, hands on mom, always there for you kids, but have a successful career. Do all this and have a house ready for a photo shot at all times.

It took me a long time, a wonderful marriage, and some really good friendships before I learned not to give a fuck about what society expects of me. So yes, I know what it’s like to feel shame as a woman.

The thing that struck me from Brown’s talk was when she spoke about how men feel shame. Brené tells of the man who inspired her to begin studying men, not just women. What he said shocked me:
“You say to reach out, tell your story, be vulnerable. . . but [my wife and three daughters] would rather me die on my white horse than watch me fall down. When we reach out to be vulnerable, we get the shit beat out of us, and don’t tell me it’s from the guys and the coaches and the dads, because the women in my life are harder on me than anybody else.”

That quote was like a kick in the gut. He’s right and wrong. So often we expect our men to be sensitive and open, but never stop being the strong providers and defenders. I think back to when I was a SAHM and how my husband told me how he felt like the weight of the world rested on his shoulders because he was our sole bread winner.

So my fellow women, we do not hold the market on Shame. I need to kiss my husband now.

“Me too.”

Secrecy, silence, and judgment are the breeding ground for shame, but Empathy is the antidote to shame. Working with breast cancer survivors has really taught me the best way to help someone get over shame is to share your own experience. Having someone else say, “Yes, that happened to me.”  

The best thing we can do is speak up and DON’T Judge.  By coming together, being empathetic, we can help put shame in its place.

Shame is “the swampland of the soul.” 
~Carl Jung.

Jung was on to something there. But the one thing we need to remember:

We don’t have to live there. DON'T get stuck there. Put on some galoshes and wade through that shit. Get to the other side. It's nice over here...and we have cookies (or was that the dark side?!?!) Hell we at least have liquor.  So, drop the shame and join me. :)


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