Have you ever had those words spoken your way? Or have you ever said them to another? Or thought “shame on them” about someone else and their behavior or situation?
The word shame wasn’t really part of my vernacular until I signed up to take a course by Brene Brown facilitated by life coach and friend, Jenn Peppers of Verge Coaching. I’ll be doing this through mid-March and will share some of my own journey here, as I dissect it. The course is called “Connections” but the topic is about shame, that we all have it, and how to move from being stunted, defined, or overcome by it, to a place of shame resilience. Basically the things or events in our lives which evoke emotions of shame are not things which define us. And for the record, there is a difference between shame and guilt, as well as embarrassment and humiliation, which I’ll share another time.
My earliest memory of shame was when I was maybe 4 or 5. I was at my grandparent’s house and had been playing in the backyard with the little boy who lived behind them. I had to go potty so we ran into the house for a break and I sat down to tinkle. My grandparents bathroom was luxurious in my memory…flamingo pink tile offset with maroon accent tiles. Pink furry carpet. Mirrors over the chrome legged pink sinks and secret trap doors in the walls next to each sink where, when you pushed in one side, it would spin around to reveal a cup and toothbrush holder. I used to watch my grandpa in his white tank top and towel tied around his waist, swirl his fancy shaving brush in the cream and artfully scrape through the foam and whiskers, revealing his handsome face. And if that wasn’t amazing enough, my grandma had a shell collection rivaled by few, part of which was beautifully out on display to enjoy while passing the time. Well, as I said, the boy, whose name I do not remember, and I ran into the house while I went potty. And he waited patiently, cluelessly…opposite me a good 4 feet, on the edge of the tub. And my grandma walked in, FREAKED, and boom, we were busted. (Wow, as I type this, maybe this is why I never went to the bathroom at elementary school after we moved cross-country…but that’s another story.) In my grandma’s adult mind, what we were doing was wrong and sexual. In my little kid mind, I didn’t know why I was being shamed, told I was naughty, or what we had done wrong. We weren’t even playing “Dr.” I was simply going tinkle and friend-boy was as clueless as other boys, sitting on the edge of the flamingo pink tub. Yet here I am, 38 years later telling this story, and I can still picture it, though now without shame. I know my mom had me apologize to my grandma. I followed up my apology with an, “I love you.” To which she replied something near the sentiment of, “We don’t use those words lightly around here.” Because, as a preschooler, I knew what throwing love around loosely looked like, ya know…today, however, I tell everyone I know I love them, because one, I do, and two, God does, and three, life is short and what if those are the last three words they hear from me? Another post for another day…
Dr. Brene Brown defines shame as this: “The intensely painful feeling (emotion) or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.” She says we all have it to varying degrees, but some have learned shame resilience, in other words, kind of a “tough shell” but really the ability to recognize, understand it, and to not mask it, but speak about shame, so as not to give it power over us.
Looking back at my tinkle story, I don’t have ill feelings toward my grandma as I know we did nothing wrong or sinful. I don’t pee in front of my husband, however, but that’s out of respect for both of us. I do wonder what may have happened in my grandma’s life to have caused her to react in such a way to a truly generic situation. I learned how I WON’T react when I walk in on my kid and the neighbor one day…
I know I have shame, and I can also see how over the years I’ve developed a healthy resilience to it in some areas. From reading Brown’s book and having open discussions in our group, I can also see some areas where I’m not so resilient and need to extend myself the Grace which is extended to me from a loving Heavenly Father. I shame myself a lot, and according to her definition, I do have a hang-up about worthiness and belonging….something I’ll have to dissect here more.
One truth from the course is: “As we recognize shame and verbalize it, it loses its power over us.” In my words, there is no such thing as a secret if there truly is a God. And since He is loving, if a “shameful secret” has kept us hiding, held back from how we were designed, He will lovingly bring it into the light so we are able to see His truth about us.
If you carry shame for anything in your life, I encourage you to follow these posts and step out onto the road of shame resilience with me!