Don't Be Ashamed of Shame

Have you seen Dr. Brene’ Brown’s TED talk on shame? Dr. Brown gained notoriety last year by talking publicly about the power of vulnerability at a TED conference. She talks about vulnerability as one of the keys to living a wholehearted life. Even she was blown away by the reaction to her talk; over 5 million people have watched it on YouTube. Dr. Brown started the ball rolling with that talk, and then she opened up about the thing nobody wants to talk about: shame.


It just so happens that I’ve been working with shame for my entire life. Now, that’s not really all that special: shame affects every single one of us. Professionally, I’ve been working with how shame affects people for over a decade. I didn’t call it shame; I’ve been calling it “shadow work.” But it’s essentially the same thing: the shadow is the part of the subconscious mind where all the traits we think are bad (read: shameful) live. When you don’t acknowledge the shadow, it wreaks havoc on your life. Unacknowledged shame keeps you disempowered in love, work, parenting, and in health and body image. None of us are immune from the debilitating effects of shame.


I’ve learned a few things about shame over the years that I’d like to share with you. My hope is that in understanding how shame tries to keep you small, you’ll be able to counteract its impact and stretch outside of your comfort zone. All the best things in life happen just beyond the edge of your comfort zone. In my experience, it’s well worth the risk.


1. Shame keeps you in the core wound. Whatever flavor your core wound is-- whether it’s that you feel unworthy, unlovable, nobody understands you, or you don’t matter, shame and fear are the chains that bind you to your wound. Every time you try to heal the core wound, your Inner Critic throws shame daggers at you. It tells you stories about how nobody will love you if they knew what you are really like; better to protect yourself by not letting anyone get too close. It’s not true, but we’re too cowed by shame to look around and recognize the lies.


2. Perfectionism is the biggest lie shame uses to keep you from even trying to break free of your core wound. If you can’t be perfect, don’t even bother trying. You’ll never be any good, shame tells you. Don’t believe it. Instead, try this mantra, “Done is better than perfect.” I’ve been using it myself all year, and my business is having its best year on record. Yes, I cringe sometimes at putting out an imperfect product or blog, but then I say, “Done is better than perfect.”


3. Forgiveness is the key to releasing the shame. Forgiveness frees you. It’s not an easy process, but it is incredibly powerful. I’ve learned to keep putting aside judgmental thoughts by saying to my Inner Critic, “Thanks for your opinion, but I’m not on trial right now. I’m just trying to understand this pattern.” I know that everything we do makes sense from the perspective of the part of our subconscious mind that wants us to do/not do the things we do. For example, an Inner Child who’s afraid of getting hurt again (like in 2nd grade when her best friend turned on her) is not likely to let anyone get close to her. The root of pushing people away is shame that she’s not worthy of true friendship. Of course you can forgive the pattern when you see the underlying cause. When you forgive the pattern, you forgive yourself and free yourself from shame.


Changing a long standing pattern requires a commitment to creating a new pattern. You have to consciously choose to change, and you have to allow yourself to be truly seen by those close to you. It will make you feel terribly vulnerable. And there is a tremendous power in vulnerability, as Dr. Brown reminds us. Is it scary to be this vulnerable? You betcha. But it’s authentic, and I choose authentic and scary over shame and “safety.” Will you join me?


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