I never realized the role shame played in my life until I took a deep dive into emotional healing. My healer encouraged me to read Brené Brown, and her book, Rising Strong, cracked open the veil. It was with amazement, sadness, and a touch of horror that I realized how much of my life experience had been colored by a deep and pervasive sense of shame.
Shame showed up in my life in different ways. For one, I was a workaholic. I worked my ass off so no one would ever find out that I really was worthless, no good, or below average in any way.
This worked epically well in two ways: It provided a sense of purpose (my work typically was creative and stimulating) and it didn’t leave much room or time to feel that deep sense of inadequacy.
That “not good enough” feeling drove me to do and be my best – to always strive for perfection – but it ultimately drove me into the ground with adrenal burnout.
Shame also showed up as a terrific need for approval from others, which partly explains why I’m a great student. This unhealthy desire set the stage for self-destructive behavior, accompanied by a consistent lack of personal boundaries and safe emotional (and sometimes physical) space for myself. It even contributed to my consistently undervaluing myself and therefore never charging appropriately for my work.
For me, shame was also intrinsically linked to incessant negative self-talk (also spurred on by low serotonin levels). These “voices in my head” reminded me constantly that I was going to fail, or that I was fat, ugly, super weird, unlovable, and generally worthless. This was part of a depression that varied in severity but plagued me for much of my life.
I hid behind a mask of humor, sarcasm, and self-deprecation that somehow conveyed an aura of personal confidence to others.
No one knew how much I hated myself or how much I feared being found out. I was in a pit of despair that encompassed my body, my mind, and my spirit. I was very much alone in that pit.
Disconnection from others is a hallmark of the shame experience.
Through the work of Brené Brown and my own inquiry processes, I began to understand how shame operated in my life and what my triggers were. Once I was able to observe it, there were even ways to be thankful for shame’s constant nipping at my heels: it drove me to always push myself to excel, and to show up as the best version of myself (on the outside, anyway).
Without shame, I never would have undertaken the Voices of Tracy project – a yearlong exploration of the effects of the ’08 housing market crash on the small city of Tracy, CA. I wouldn’t have made a feature length art documentary film. I probably wouldn’t have even graduated from art school.
It’s funny, but I can’t remember now how I came to learn about amino acid therapy, but finding someone trained in the Julia Ross protocols, plus the healing modalities of Emotion Code and PSYCH-K® pretty much saved my life by creating the path out of that pit. Amino acid therapy turned down the volume on those voices and all the combined healing modalities (including nutrition) contributed to a restoration of my physical body that allowed for a deeper healing of my spirit, which in turn precipitated increased healing of all kinds.
It was that healing of the spirit that allowed me to see myself as deeply connected to others. I also learned to give myself permission to be my real, authentic self. It wasn’t easy for this people pleaser to step out of the shadow identities of my past and let go into the unknown of whom I was “becoming” (or had always been at my core).
What I found is that shame resiliency grows when we learn to connect with our authentic selves, as well as nurture our relationships with others. In action, it is a conscious decision to move towards empathy and connection (towards love!) and away from shame and blame (and away from fear!) when we are “in the arena” and experiencing shame.
Now through the lens of healing and a bit of learned shame resilience, I am able to look upon my past with compassion. All along, I was secretly yearning to feel more than adequate, and to feel a sense of belonging. To feel valued. To be included in something big and powerful and life changing, even. Now, I can even feel gratitude to shame for my accomplishments, as I probably wouldn’t have pushed myself out of my comfort zone in quite the same ways.
However, I am even more grateful to have learned to make that shift from fear to love. When I occasionally feel those old feelings creep in, I notice them, and remind them that there’s a new plan now, a new way forward. From now on, it is from a place of love, compassion, and acceptance that I want to create, collaborate, and BE.
What about you?
How does shame show up in your work, your relationships, or play into your body image? What triggers your shame?
Where do you feel shame in your body?
Can you taste it, smell, it, touch it?
Who would you be without it?
If you are someone who is secretly stuck in your own private shame pit of despair, know that you are not alone. There’s a way out, or rather, a way through, and it is so worth slogging through the fire swamp to get to the other side.