How Shame Causes Disconnection
“I’m afraid I will be found out.” That was the explanation my client gave me last week for why she was unwilling to leave a marriage that by her account had been deeply unhappy for close to 20 years. With that said, she looked at me and said “What an odd thing to say. What does that even mean?” On my end, I’m not sure I have ever been so excited about a statement from a client because I knew that for her, life was about to get infinitely better. What she had actually stumbled upon with that one sentence, was the deep shame she carried inside that was keeping her from living the life she wanted to live, trapped in an unhappy marriage and completely disconnected from her family.
“I’m afraid I’m going to be found out” Found out that she’s not good enough as she is. Found out that she isn’t perfect. Found out that her life may not be as perfect as it appears. Found out that she may not have all the answers. Shame can be summarized as the fear of disconnection. It’s the belief that there is something about us, that if found out, we would not be worthy of love and connection. However, for us to be able to connect with another, we have to allow ourselves to be really seen. We cannot have deeply intimate relationships if we are wearing a mask of protection rather than showing up as the imperfect humans that we are.
Deep connection requires a tremendous amount of vulnerability. To show up fully and wholehearted in our lives we have to be willing to be vulnerable. To love with our whole heart even if the outcome is uncertain. To show who we are, even if we risk exposure. To feel all of our emotions, even the difficult ones. To be able to show up fully in your life, you have to have the courage to be imperfect. The ability to bring compassion to yourself, and a willingness to be authentic. But above all, you have to be vulnerable. You have to open yourself up to the full spectrum of human emotion. We cannot experience joy if we are unwilling to feel the pain. We cannot be courageous if we are afraid of being found out. Vulnerability is an act of courage and the only way to live a wholehearted life.
Why was I excited about my client's recognition of her fear? Because once identified, we could start working on healing her core shame. According to Brené Brown, shame researcher and author, the three essential steps in living a wholehearted life are:
1. Believing you are enough:
Your worthiness never has to be earned. To be human is to be worthy. It would not matter if you spent the rest of your days laying on the couch watching Netflix. You would be no less worthy than a neurosurgeon operating on a young child. Your worthiness was divinely imparted on you. It cannot be lost or taken away.
2. Practicing gratitude:
In moments when life feels like a struggle, when the outcome is uncertain and when fear wants to strike us down, the recognition of all that is good in our lives, will pull us through one more time. It reminds us that the universe is working in our favor and that we have pulled through difficulties before. Gratitude brings us courage.
3. Loving with your whole heart:
To open our heart in the absence of a guarantee is the most courageous act we can ever undertake. To live this life with an open heart means to love those who cause us pain, to forgive ourselves and others, and to bring compassion to ourselves first for us to be able to extend it to another.
Shame is such a pervasive factor in our lives that I dare say most people walk around in constant attempt to hide who they really are. Shame keeps us from seeing and fully connecting with each other. What the world needs more of is humans willing to be seen in their glorious imperfection.