I freaking love writing this blog.
It gives me a marginally legitimate excuse to lock myself in the library and hide from my kids. (Don’t get me wrong… I adore my children. It’s just – I didn’t expect to have so many of them, so my coping skills are
nonexistent a little lacking) Not only that, but blog writing really appeals to the instant gratification part of my nature – which, let’s face it, is pretty much my ENTIRE nature.
But, by far, the best part of blogging is connecting with people, most of whom are not even required by law or blood to talk to me. I get giddy about the emails and comments that show up in my inbox. It’s like the post-show meet-and-greets I enjoyed back in my folksinger days, minus the scary, ” How should I respond to that question in the next .04 seconds? Can they smell my sweat? Crap, have I met this person before?”
People write about all kinds of things, commenting on all sorts of posts. But, far and away, the thing I hear from folks the most has to do with shame. People feel ashamed of how messy their house is, of how much money they spend at the grocery store, of how they parent their kids, of what medications they need in order to stay sane… you name it, there are people feeling ashamed of it. Lots of times, I’m right there with them.
If you’ve been here a while, you’ve probably gathered that I don’t believe in The Devil. I don’t think there’s some red-horned demon out there trying to trick me into doing bad stuff – I seem to manage all that well enough on my own. Maybe I’m wrong; time will tell. Of course, when it does I won’t be any position to write about it.
In any case, I think that this figurative personification of evil can be useful. I do think there are forces that divide us from each other, that separate us from our best selves, that separate us from God or good (same thing), and cause us to live in a virtual hell – alone, abandoned, and afraid. And at the top of my list? You got it.
Satan, thy name is Shame.
Now, Shame is different than guilt. Many of us (at least I hope I’m not the only one) in a moment of anger, have said to our children, something like, “You should be ashamed of yourself!”
What we meant to say, though we lacked the precise language, is, “You should feel guilty for that!”
Guilt says, “You did a bad thing.” Shame says, “You are a bad person.” Guilt can be helpful; it makes us want to do better. Shame is damaging; it makes us feel hopeless.
Most healthy adults accept that we all make mistakes. We’re willing to admit that we missed the exit, or burned the dinner, or forgot the birthday. Small missteps. Embarrassing gaffs.
But Shame… oh Shame, that trickster – Shame hides in the bigger issues – the debt, the depression, the affair, the addiction, the rage, the remorse… Shame tells us that whatever we’ve gotten ourselves into, we deserve to be there, and we deserve to be there ALONE. Shame says we’re not worthy of company or compassion. Shame says we’re not worthy, period. And, as such, Shame keeps us STUCK. Because this living thing we’re all muddling through – this is a community affair. I mean, why the hell else are we all stuck here together? Like it or not, we need each other. Humans are a social species. In fact, Shame itself is a societal construct. Brene Brown nails it when she says:
Our culture teaches us about shame – it dictates what is acceptable and what is not. We weren’t born craving perfect bodies. We weren’t born afraid to tell our stories. We weren’t born with a fear of getting too old to feel valuable. We weren’t born with a Pottery Barn catalog in one hand and heartbreaking debt in the other. Shame comes from outside of us – from the messages and expectations of our culture. What comes from the inside of us is a very human need to belong, to relate.”
I know, right? Damn, she’s good. She’s a shame researcher (yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as
Santa that) who has written several fabulous books. My favorite is Daring Greatly. I dare you to read it and not be inspired to take on Shame as public enemy #1.
Shame is a bastard that wants us all spinning around in our own little dark heads, obsessed with all the ways in which we are not okay enough, so that, god forbid, we don’t wander out into the light, connect with each other, and realize how alike we all are, how very much like bits of one whole we are, how freaking huge and powerful we can be. Why? Why does Shame work for these things? I don’t know. And that’s why I call Shame the Devil. Because I grew up in the South and that’s the word I was taught for a force that consistently works against the greater good.
What I do know is this: Shame lives in the dark, in the secrets, in the silence. It’s a gremlin that can’t stand light. Shame is ridiculously simple to eradicate. Simple, but not easy. Drag it out of the corner, into the middle of the room, point at it – stare it down and say to your friends, “There. That. This is what I am ashamed of,” and it dissolves, just sinks into the floor like the Wicked Witch of the West. It’s true that there may still be a problem you need to fix, or a problem you’ll have to learn to live with – after all, even the witch left her hat behind – but all the Big Bad Scary is gone. It’s just a hat, after all. And a hat is nothing against a room full of friends. Shame cannot survive the din of connection or the warmth of empathy.
So, Tell Your Stories. It’s is the grown up version of “Be Yourself.”
Tell your stories, own your truth, and recognize that far from being self-aggrandizing, truth-telling is like handing a flashlight to those around you – a flashlight that they can use to burn down their own shame gremlins. This flashlight is special. The more it’s used the stronger it becomes. As it’s passed from person to person and back again, it’s charge is bigger, it’s light is brighter. Together, we can be a Shame Fighting Machine.
I’ll leave you with another Brene quote and a lovely graphic by writer/illustrator Joanna Bradshaw.