SHAME... Say the world aloud a couple of times and check in compassionately with how you are feeling. What do you notice in your body? What sensations can you identify? What about your thoughts- do any memories, images, or words come up for you? Isn't it remarkable how simply saying a word aloud can create such a visceral and immediate reaction in ourselves? This reality speaks to the unrelenting power of our universally shared fear of disconnection, of our worry that we are flawed and fallible and therefore unworthy of love, belonging, and connection. Yes, shame inevitably enters into our lives early on and it tends to settle into our bones undeterred and often tragically unexplored.
This process comes with the territory of being human. It happens to everyone, and yet not surprisingly, we don't tend to talk about it. To be sure, shame loves this reality because, as Dr. Brené Brown reports, shame requires secrecy, silence, and judgment in order to survive and to spread. The breeding ground for shame in our competition-driven and scarcity based culture are ripe as we are bombarded with consistent messages that we are "not enough" at every turn. Just taking a look at our advertising world and how it both creates and reinforces personal insecurities, we also see how shame exists as a social epidemic affecting the masses. As a collective, we fall into a constant comparison trap that renders us feeling "less than" given the unrealistic and unattainable ideals of perfection and of our fantastical ideas of how great other people (who are not like us) have it. In the end, we do not measure up and we are at risk of being plagued with an irrefutable sense that we are unlovable and we don't belong. We then slip into living outside of our values, which quickly leads to life feeling pretty miserable, if not empty or completely unmanageable.
It then should come as no surprise that, as Dr. Brown reports, "we are the most obese, medicated, addicted, and in-debt Americans EVER." This is startling news. Moreover, suicide rates have been rising, divorce rates continue to linger around 50%, and nearly 1 in 5 Americans suffers from mental illness each year. Respecting that shame strips us of our courage and fosters disengagement and further disconnection, we have an imperative to act and to provide safe opportunities for people to begin learning more about how shame exists and operates in our lives. To be sure, developing a resiliency to shame affords us all the opportunity to reconnect to our sense of worthiness and of "being enough" as we are. From this space, relationships improve, vitality is restored, and joy becomes possible as connection engenders greater intimacy, courage, vulnerability, and authenticity among people.
Thankfully, there is good news! Dr. Brené Brown, who is a research professor here in our backyard at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, has spent the past 14 years studying shame and connection and her valuable work is now available to us. Dr. Brown is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (2012), the New York Times bestseller The Gifts of Imperfection (2010), and I Thought it Was Just Me (2007).
You can also learn more about Dr. Brown by visiting www.brenebrown.com or www.thedaringway.com.
In the meantime, be well,
Lynn Kamara, LCSW - The Tarnow Center