So what has shame to do with health? just Everything! Just think about it. How do you feel when you feel shameful, hurt and angry. Your body is tight, your shoulders are up around your ears, you have a knot in your stomach and a tightness around your chest, your breath is shallow, your thoughts are dark and maybe the big hammer is hammering away with messages like – “Gosh you are so stupid!” “Why did you do that?” “Will you ever learn!” “You are so fat!” “Why can’t you never do it right” …ad nauseam…
And how about “old” shame? Stories that have been in our families — maybe for generations? Addictions, sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect – shame we feel deep inside, shame that makes us feel different and inherently defective, flawed and bad. The feeling of shame we hide from the world, we want no one to see it, we keep it hidden in the darkest corner of our soul. We overwork not to feel it, we overeat and drink to numb it out, we sabotage ourselves, we criticize ourselves, the world, our children and our spouse. We pretend to be happy and hide our vulnerability.
It affects us deeply to feel shame, on a cellular level, it even affects our immune system. It affects the choices we make, it affects how we sleep, how we eat, how we show up in the world, how we love, how we parent. When we feel shame it is easy to chose to comfort ourselves with red wine and creme cake. Shame rubs us of health and happiness. It takes away our energy and focus on life. We are caught up in a web. All suppressed emotions – are not just suppressed, they actually build up in the body causing havoc inside – stress, depression, anxiety, addiction …….
In my life it was addiction and abuse that was my secret shame. I never talked to anyone about it, I hid it from the world and smiled while I desperately….desperately, tried to hold the shame down so no one could see it or find out that I was actually flawed, defective and not good enough.- But it was like a beach ball it kept coming back up.
Shame works like a really effective defense mechanism. While I was “busy” thinking it was me who was defective and flawed, focus was away on my true feelings. Feelings of anger and pain for having been abused and for having had an addicted mother who could not be there for me.
But shame can only live in the dark, shame thrives in the dark – as soon as we bring it out in to the light, talk about it to someone who will listen with empathy and without judgement, it dissolves! It is not about blaming or acting our feelings out! – It is about feeling those emotions connected to the experiences we have had, sharing them, going through them, having a benevolent witness to those feelings. When we do that, we feel like a ton of weight has been lifted from our shoulders, we forgive, we feel love and connection, we feel joy and we move on.
When we feel shame it’s like an alarm clock – it’s time to stop up and figure out what is going on. We are not born with shame – feeling shame is just telling us something is wrong – something needs our attention. We need to shine love on it, be gentle with it and reach out for help and connection.
Vulnerability is not a weakness, it’s a strength and it’s beautiful- it’s here we come from the most authentic place within us.
Dr. Brene Brown is a researcher in shame and vulnerability – she is such a great inspiration and I absolutely love her. I have devoured her 2 books ” I just thought it was me, but it isn’t “ and “The gifts of Imperfection”. I recommend her books wholeheartedly! Find them in Anne’s Favorite’s
Here is a Ted Talk she did – enjoy!