We're talking a lot this month about improving communication - between you and your doctors, your family members, you and ... yourself! One of the topics that has been on my mind a lot lately has been that of shame. I think we all feel it but generally don't talk about shame nearly enough, or in some cases, at all.
I'm not exactly sure why, but it seems that we're all taught from a young age to hide shame when we feel it. As children, we cover it up, hide it under the rug, in the cabinet, in the depths of our bellies and chests, and more often than not it seems we carry those behaviors well into adulthood. I actually feel it in my chest when I've internalized or swallowed an action, memory, or emotion that I've labeled shameful. This happened recently with a mistake I made that hurt someone I loved. I stuffed it down deep, well out of the reaches of sunlight, and the shame ate away at me. The more I avoided it and the less I talked about it, the more I could feel it physically. Each day it felt like an old phone book was added to a growing stack on my chest.
I decided to do something against my norm in dealing with it. I started sharing with my friends and family the mistake and the shame I felt related to it. I didn’t suffer it alone – I told them the details and how much of an impact it was having on my life and the way I looked at myself. I was admittedly surprised at the outcome. It’s a cliché, but true nonetheless: there is a reason they say a weight is lifted when you talk about what ails you. Not only did I gain perspective on the mistake and my role in making it, but I learned that many, many other people experience similar emotions and burdens. It was both eye opening and incredibly sad to learn what a collective burden we all bear in this way. Talking about it, acknowledging that I’m forever human, listening to the stories of others – all of these things have lessened its power and that incredible weight.
Have you felt something like this? Has anything you’ve tried helped with feeling shame?