Do you know where you were or what you were doing when you first heard the phrase “Own Your Shame?” If you are child of the 80s like me, it was more than likely on an episode of Oprah or the like. And fellow children of the 80s, do you remember your reaction upon hearing that phrase?
I don’t recall my actual reaction, but more than likely ten year-old me would have thought of my mother exasperatingly asking ‘why you don’t have any shame?’ This refrain usually followed the completion of some disgusting or grossly un-ladylike act. Yes, I was a bad kid. Ten year-old me would have thought, yes I have shame. I have shame because without it I will not be a good girl. I needed shame in order to be a good girl.
Literally after I wrote the above sentence, I stared at it for a minute ingesting its implications. Wow, until this exact moment I wasn’t aware of that connection. Did I internalize the need for shame just to be categorized as a good girl/person? Because being good means having shame. Bad girls didn’t have shame, and I wanted to be a good girl. Oh stupid ten year-old me, you ruined our life. So I, and probably you, owned shame. We lived with shame as our unwitting imaginary friend. We consulted shame when we wanted to dare to do anything. Wait, no? Bad idea? Sorry life, shame said it was a bad idea. I’m going to stay inside and age instead. We let shame’s opinion of ourselves change who we could have otherwise have been. EEEEKKKK
My shame was/is my weight (no surprise, if you have been reading this blog). My weight shame held me back from a lot of things, most of them chances I will never get back. Some of them so inconsequential that I have forgotten about them, but some are huge and I am just now trying to deal with them. There better not be other shames lying dormant waiting to spring on me when I am least suspecting. We’ve covered this before, I get in my own way, and this weight-shame was usually the reason 8/10 times. This is the hard part of #Adulting. Regardless, it is something I lived with, as you live with your personal shame. It was a part of me. But it was a part of me that I wanted to get rid of. I internalized that I needed shame to be a good girl, but I didn’t want this particular shame. How do I get rid of this shame? Oh I know! Lose the weight, duh! So I spent a lot of time trying to transform my physical self. And as we’ve covered, that transformation was not the immediate harbinger of instant happiness that I thought it was going to be. Noooo! Why won’t this shame go away? Why won’t it let me live my LIFE????
I’m totally into visual exercises and metaphors lately, so let’s use one to beat this epiphany into our (my) heads:
You are hosting a chic cocktail party. You are standing in a room that is bedecked in white carpet and glittery opulent finery. You are happy, you didn’t realize shame tagged along with you. Shame plopped down into your glass of red wine, so it could stay close. During the party, wine-shame wanted to remind you of her presence. She spilled herself all over that plush, heretofore unblemished white carpet. You know wine-shame becomes an indelible part of this party the longer it soaks into this pure white carpet. Then the panic sets in as your thoughts become ‘wine-shame will be difficult to get out of the carpet; You are going to have to live with wine-shame in this room forever. Now whenever someone comes into this room, expecting to see something pristine and unblemished, they won’t be able to. Wine-shame will be the first and only thing anyone notices and they will see it as the thing that ruined the white carpet.’ The wine-shame ruins the room.
In the above metaphor shame was played by wine-shame and your self-worth/image was played by the white carpet. About the only thing that is universally true is that wine-shame ruins the room; the extent of the ruin depends on your reaction to your shame spilling out. You, the host of this party, has only one option to deal with wine-shame, try to get it out of the white carpet. The owning your shame part comes in the aftermath of this metaphor/visualization. Stick with me, we are almost there. Wine-shame either comes out of the carpet or it doesn’t.
How are you going to deal with it if it doesn’t?
The option I will admit is my go-to is to try fighting the stain; Try to cover it, hide it, continue to fight it, meltdown that it won’t go away, eventually only to start trying all over again. You keep trying to eradicate wine-shame until the carpet has a hole in it. And then the wine-shame turns into hole-shame. And so on and so forth until you start destroying larger and larger pieces of the white carpet (remember carpet = your self-worth).
But what about the other option?
What about acknowledging and accepting that your tried hard, but the wine-shame is just going to be there, possibly forever. But now every time you see the wine-shame you think ‘wow that was terrible, I tried my best, but it is what it is. This shame is there, and no one really cares about it. It does remind me of that night/that party/that part of myself.’ I don’t have time to worry about the wine-shame in that one tiny corner of this gorgeous carpet. This carpet that just wants me to love it and enjoy myself, let me get comfortable on the non-wine-shame stained parts of it.
And that brings us to today. Twenty some odd years after first hearing it, I understand what ‘owning your shame’ means. It means I have to own the shame I felt when I felt fat and ugly. AND I have to own the shame I felt when I remembered how badly I treated myself (i.e., calling myself fat and ugly). Owning your shame makes it a part of you. But instead of fighting to get rid of it, accepting it allows you to put it down and move past it. #Breakthrough. Do you see how sometimes continuing to fight your shame can lead to it stealing your joy? By focusing on the wine-shame only, we denied ourselves all the potential joy that white carpeted room could provide. And the wine-shame ruins the room in the worst way if we let it steal from us all the joys the rest of the room has to offer. WHY are we doing this? I mean please do this if your “wine-shame” is that you like to harm others in any way. Please continue to focus on that shame and don’t accept it as part of yourself, I believe in you! But for the rest of us, what is the block to owning the shame so we can move on? It comes back to self-acceptance doesn’t it? Acknowledging our shame as a part of us means we own it as part of us. And I don’t know about you, but I tend to like taking good care of the material things I own, I want it to last longer. So why wouldn’t I want to take care of my most important possession, my well-being? Here is to owning our shame, accepting it, and moving on!
I think somewhere I hear Brene Brown and Elizabeth Gilbert cheering.
Things Keeping Me Sane This Week: Well clearly, something kept me sane enough to work through the above breakthrough. What was it? How ironic, I don’t know what it was. I just recall walking along, trying to check my self-consciousness and this thought floated into my head: “Shame Steals Joy.” And that thing happens when your life flashes before your eyes. Except this time, it was all very curated and pointed vignettes about all the times shame was the culprit for some sort of unhappiness or desolation. So shout out to random thoughts that hit you like a ton of bricks.