Over the past few weeks I have had the privilege of leading two transformational weekend workshops. I am always in awe of what an honor it is to be invited into people’s lives and have them share so openly about their past as well as the honest and raw feelings they have about themselves and their lives. Of course, we are also seeing so much of this in today’s culture – people, especially women, coming forward and sharing about the assaults, attacks, abuse, and secrets that they have not wanted, been able, or felt ready to share.
Although I am always very mindful of never assuming I know or can even comprehend what someone else feels, since I never want to diminish someone else’s pain by comparing or making sweeping assumptions or generalizations, I think it is fair to say that most of us have endured situations that felt off, wrong, or were just downright soul-crushing. And, in order to deal with or manage the pain or to just do what we have needed to do to get by and function, we learned to manage it, push it down, remain silent, numb ourselves, or stay busy and try to forget about it.
Although all of our stories are personal and unique, whether it comes from what we are seeing in the news, the #MeToo movement, or the people I have the privilege of working with, I am always so present to the insidiousness of the shame we all carry.
In The Integrity Advantage, I write,
Shame is one of the most painful emotions that there is. Our shame, which is generally birthed from some childhood event, teaches us to hide who we truly are because we fear that who we are is fundamentally flawed. Our shame leads us to believe that people won't like us if they know who we truly are at our core. Our shame is what creates our external persona and robs us of authenticity.
Believing that we are our shame, fundamentally flawed, need fixing, are not to be trusted, and must hide, we dull down our desires and don't strive for amazing. Why? Because we don't believe we deserve amazing or can achieve amazing. Above all, we don't want to feel the pain of our shame if we risk something and fail. The time bomb of our shame is ticking loudly and keeps us stuck and playing small. It leaves us paralyzed, fearing rejection, expecting disappointment, hiding who we are. It keeps us from reaching for the life we dream of and know we are meant to live.
We all have things we wish we did not do, things we wish didn’t happen to us, or things we feel anywhere from traumatized to embarrassed about. We have secrets of our own and often secrets of others, especially those of our family, that we carry around and that weigh us down. We have feelings of being less than, not good enough, the outsider, or bad, defective, unworthy, and unlovable. Shame is the tyrannical manager that sucks the life out of our dreams and desires and robs us of being authentic and having the intimacy we crave. It keeps our past dramas alive and prohibits us from being fully alive and expressed in the present. Our shame drives us to step over our truth and silence our voice. But here is the thing…
Fearing that we are our shame and that others will reject us if they know our “horrid truths,” most people try to hide or run away from their shame. They get busy in other areas of their life, trying to distance themselves from their shame. However, as is true with anything we fear or try to get away from, it is when we resist something that it holds on tighter.
The most potent antidote for toxic shame is sharing our secrets with others. It is when we speak our truth and share our shameful stories that a weight is lifted and an incredible amount of energy is unleashed. Suddenly there’s space for compassion and forgiveness. This is why after every workshop I lead, people are amazed that they feel lighter, are walking taller, and feel an inner radiance emanating from within…it is because they have released themselves from the shackles of shame.
This week I invite you to find someone you trust completely - whether it be a friend, family member, coach, or mental health professional - and share a piece of your own shame. Begin with whatever feels comfortable. Baby steps are welcome. The point is to give yourself the opportunity for deep connection and the support of another.
We all can rewrite our stories of shame. We can create new interpretations for the things that happened in our past and choose to view that which we have shame around as something that happened to us instead of the totality of who we are.
Transformational Action Steps
(1) Become present to the shame you are carrying. Start seeing each story of shame as a ball and chain that you are lugging around.
(2) Begin looking at what you made those situations means about you and the shame that was birthed.
(3) Next, allow yourself to see how those meanings and your shame has impacted your life.
(4) Find someone you trust and share one of the secrets you have been carrying around that has been weighing you down. Take time to feel the impact of sharing this piece of you and what opens up as a result.