Two nights ago I got a text from a client of mine. (She has since given me permission to share this story). She wrote: "Monica, I am dealing with some shame tonight. Can you help me deal with this feeling?" I am so glad she did.
We can feel shame over the seemingly smallest of things. Yet, the feeling of shame can be, and often is, very powerful and all-consuming. But the one thing we can be certain of is that:
1. We all experience it 2. Nobody wants to talk about it 3. The less we talk about it the more we have it
One thing that is absolutely critical to the concept of shame is identity. How we want to be perceived. People that have high shame resiliency know their own triggers. Triggers are very personal; different things trigger different people.
Here is an example: Before I had children, I worked as a manager in the corporate world, traveled a lot internationally, spent way too much time at work. But I did have a great career. I felt accomplished and I was well compensated. It was challenging and I had lots of opportunity to grow. I really enjoyed my work.
When I got pregnant with my oldest child, my daughter, I was given six weeks maternity leave. It did not feel like an option to me to go back to work after such a short time so I resigned and stayed home with my daughter. Then my son arrived 2 years later. It was not an easy transition for me. As much as I loved being home with my kids, I also found it hard at times that my husband left for work and traveled. Understand me right, I made the decision because I wanted to, nobody forced me, but the transition was bumpy, for sure.
And my work identity, that had been so strong, disappeared. My identity was now as a mother and of course, I wanted to be perceived as a good one. My first-born is a spirited child and she did things her own way. She was out there, taking toys from other kids in the sandbox and she was definitely NOT listening to us all of that well. Boy, let me tell you how many snarky looks and comments I got during the sandbox years. And this went straight to my shame grill.
The people with high shame resiliency know how to answer two sets of questions:
1. How do I want to be perceived 2. How am I afraid to be perceived
Well, to go back to my example, I was afraid to be perceived as a bad mom. That was my only job and with some negative feedback from both family and some friends, I felt that was exactly how others perceived me. And I was REALLY afraid of being perceived that way. I cannot tell you how many times I felt shame. And it felt the same every time, that warm feeling swooping through my body. A bit of butterfly in my stomach and a bit of dry mouth. It could come over me by the smallest of comments. By a look. Or by right out hostility from fellow mothers.
At that time I had no clue it was shame I was feeling, or that any criticism of me as a mother was a BIG TIME shame trigger for me. I would get pissed, hurt, angry or sad and at times probably many of them at the same time. Not very productive and I did not talk all that much about it either.
Shame needs secrecy, silence and judgment to survive. And boy did it survive, for years. What shame does not do so well with is empathy. With empathy shame cannot grow.
So how do we build shame resilience?
1. Ask yourself what triggered it In my example it could be that I got a dirty look and made up a story of that person believing I did not do a good job as a mom 2. Ask yourself why you were in it In my example I was feeling shame because I was being afraid of being perceived as a bad mom 3. Reach out and share your story Speak to people you can trust and that will hold the space for you to show up just as you are 4. Speak shame Talk about shame. When it happens, how it happens and why it happens.
So what my client did was reach out. I got the opportunity to ask her about how she is afraid of being perceived a certain way, and what triggered the shame. This was done over email and the next day we spoke about it over the phone. She could clearly articulate the answers to these questions. She had reached out and shared her story while speaking shame. The shame could no longer grow.
The thing is that our worthiness lives inside our story. Either we own our story or we stand outside of it and hustle for our worthiness. Hustling is exhausting and moves us away from who we really are.