Shame is a small word. There are only 5 letters in this word. However, this small word sure can wreak havoc and cause HUGE emotional problems! Shame is what we feel about ourselves when we feel we have done something terrible and feel badly about ourselves. It can lead to self-loathing and a belief of not deserving forgiveness. Humiliation, isolation, depression can all follow from shame. And, according to Brené Brown, author of “Braving the Wilderness” and shame researcher, shame feeds on darkness. Shame is so powerful that it can make it difficult to share our shame story with others which leads to further isolation and darkness. It can be a never-ending spiral.
I recently had my own experience with shame not too long ago. I was the victim of a financial scam. I received a call from a Sheriff deputy informing me I had ignored a subpoena and failed to appear in court as an expert witness. As a result, I had a bench warrant out for my arrest. I needed to pay some fees and go to the sheriff department to verify my signature for the subpoena to clear up the situation. Now, I know many of you may be thinking how could I have been so gullible? I’m an educated woman. I have my own practice. How could I fall for this? My answer is that it is easy for us to judge others when we have distance from their situation. So, I ask for grace in understanding my experience.
I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say there were factors that led me to believe this situation was legitimate. And, I believed my license and professional reputation were stake. Naturally, I was upset. Unfortunately, my anxiety took over and my fight or flight response was activated. (How to manage anxiety better will be by next article!) I was in a high emotional state and did what I thought I needed to do to protect myself.
When I realized what had happened, I had so many different emotions. I felt shocked, embarrassed, angry, ashamed, stupid, sad. I kept telling myself I should have known better! I’m smarter than that! I experienced classic trauma symptoms the week that followed. I didn’t want to tell anyone what happened so I avoided talking to friends and family. I was convinced I would be judged and be told how dumb I was. I also kept remembering Brené Brown’s words that shame cannot survive in the dark and I really did not want to live in fear. So, I decided to test this theory and take a leap of faith. I began, slowly, to share what happened with others. To my surprise, everyone I talked to was nothing but supportive! And, I learned many of them had been through a similar experience themselves. How validating! Once I stopped hiding, I immediately started to feel better. The intensity of the emotions decreased significantly. I felt lighter and stopped avoiding people.
I share this story with you for several reasons. First, I believe as a professional, if I talk the talk, I have to walk the walk, so to speak. In other words, I have to live what I teach, which, sometimes is not easy! Second, I hope that by telling my shame story, it will give you the inspiration to share your story so you can come out of the dark as well. Let’s live in the light!