Sitting here on a Sunday afternoon watching and listening to a storm come over my house, glad to be inside and safe. I find myself reflecting on my experience of listening to many clients and hearing their stories and how vastly different but still somehow similar these stories are. It is such a brave thing, to go and tell your story and reach out for help. This takes courage, apparently the word courage came from the word cor which means heart. In its original definition, courage is defined as “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart”.

In this world where everyone is striving for perfection, where we have to have the best job, the best marriage, fantastically well adjusted kids, a beautiful home, a perfect body, the list goes on…………. It is really hard to admit that you don’t “have it all together”.

I have observed that one of the main things that gets in the way of healing, is shame. The feelings of I am not worthy of this, I am not good enough. It is so common to see the belief that I will be worthy when I fit into that size 10 dress or when I get married or when I have this or that job. I will go and join in on life when I am perfect, until then I will stay on the sidelines and not take any risks!

Well guess what? You will never be perfect, I will never be perfect – this “outside” perfection that we are seeking does not exist. This is not a dress rehearsal – this is your life! You are worthy of love and connection now, regardless of what you have or haven’t done. Worthiness has NO pre-requisites.

When you feel shame, you think you are not worthy and tend to spend time pleasing, perfecting and performing which often means saying yes when you mean no, this is so exhausting that you also end up saying no when you want to say yes and missing out on the things in life that you want to do. This also leads to feeling resentful and angry towards the people around you.

I have recently discovered the work of Brené Brown who has studied the emotions that get in the way of leading a fuller life. In her studies she has found that the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging and connection in their lives believe they are worthy of it.

These are not people who are perfect or people who make no mistakes, these people are connected  as a result of being willing to let go of who they thought they should or who the world thought they should be in order to be who they are. These people are willing to share themselves; they fully embrace vulnerability and believe that what makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful.

When you go to take a forward step in your life towards healing, towards doing something new, shame is the gremlin that says, “no, you can’t do this you are not good enough”. Shame drives two trains of thought: never good enough and who do you think you are? Brené explains that shame is not guilt; shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behaviour. Shame is “I am bad”, guilt is “I did something bad”.

Shame, not surprisingly, is highly correlated with addiction, depression, violence, aggression, bullying, suicide, eating disorders and much more.

Brené explains the differences in men and women. Shame feels the same for men and women but is organised differently. Women aim to do it all do it perfectly and never let them see you sweat, this is controlled by a  web of unobtainable competing conflicting expectations of what we should be. In men the main aim is to not ever be perceived as weak. The underlying fear is if we are “found out” we will lose connection.

Shame is supported by secrecy, silence and judgement. The antidote to shame is empathy, the two most powerful words are “me too”. Yes the thing we all have in common is that we all experience fear and shame.

Although often perceived as weak, vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.

Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage. To be vulnerable to let ourselves be seen to be honest. Vulnerability is out path back to each other as human beings.

I have learned from Brené that:

Men and women with high levels of resilience have these things in common:

  1. Physical Awareness:  they recognise a physical awareness that they are feeling shame and what triggered it.
  2. Critical Awareness: they question how realistic are the expectations and messages that others put on us or we put on ourselves.
  3. Reach out: they are willing to breathe through it and talk about it.
  4. Speak shame: shame cannot hold on when you name it (using the word and talking about the emotion). The opposite of experiencing shame is experiencing empathy. Shame cannot survive empathy.

Show some empathy for yourselves and others, embrace your imperfections and tell the story of who you are with your whole heart to someone who deserves to hear it. Shameful silence is what gets in the way of healing. Knowing that we are all flawed, and we all experience these emotions is what brings us together and what brings us healing.

I highly recommend you read Brené Brown’s books The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly and Rising Strong. Her lecture The Power of Vulnerability is life changing (it is available at audible.com.au or itunes). I also recommend that you watch these short online talks:

Brené Brown, The Power of Vulnerability, TED Talk

Brené Brown, Listening to Shame, TED Talk

Brené Brown at The UP Experience 2009