Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Let's Talk About Shame

A few years ago some internet friends and I participated in something called the "Summer of Harry" where we re-read all of the Harry Potter books in advance of the last movie coming out. We would get together on Twitter and talk about them.

I'll pause to let you absorb just how nerdy we all are.

I jokingly referred to this summer as "The Summer of Brene Brown" and within just a few weeks that ceased to be a joke. Months ago I picked up her latest book Daring Greatly and was completely enamored with it. If "enamored" can also mean "completely uncomfortable with the way she read my mind and probably large chunks of my journal without my permission." I decided that it might be to my benefit to look at her earlier works first and build up to Daring Greatly, so I put it back on the shelf, bought her first two books (I Thought It Was Just Me & The Gifts of Imperfection), and promptly did nothing.

I dove back into her first book last week and decided that in keeping with the vision of this blog I'd be semi-regularly sharing some observations and asking some questions prompted by her work.

Let's begin!

For those of you who don't know who Brene Brown is, click on her name and visit her website to learn more. Back? Great. Her first book is titled "I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't): Making the Journey from "What Will People Think?" to "I Am Enough." Brown is a researcher who has been studying shame for years. The first statement I underlined came in the first paragraph of the introduction, which is typically a good sign.
When people hear the word shame, they often have one of two responses: "I'm not sure what you mean by shame, but I know that I don't want to talk about it," or "Oh, shame. I know it well, but I don't want to talk about it." 
We all experience shame. It is an absolutely universal emotion. (xiii)
She mentions right from the start that even just talking about shame is enough to make us feel shame. It's somehow shaming to be ashamed. Which, if it is a universal emotion, is absolutely ridiculous. If every human being has felt, or will feel, shame at some point, why would it be shaming to talk about it?

I think my initial reaction to this book stemmed from something she hits on in the introduction (which, to be candid, is as far as we're getting today. It's that jam packed with goodness.): "We spend an extraordinary amount of time and energy tackling the surface issues, which rarely results in meaningful, lasting change. When we dig past the surface, we find that shame is often what drives us..." (xvii) This book is like having coffee with that friend who you know isn't going to let you get away with saying things are "fine" but is going to poke and prod until you "spit it out."

So let's just sit on one of the very first issues she addresses (in the title of the book, no less).
Shame forces us to put so much value on what other people think that we lose ourselves in the process of trying to meet everyone else's expectations. (xvii)

In other words - we need to move from "What will people think?" to "I am enough."

I know most of you haven't read this book, which is fine. You don't need to in order to chime in. Because I'm going to go out on a limb and say that each and every one of us at one point or another has felt overwhelmed by the weight of trying to be the person we think we're expected to be - and then experienced shame upon realizing we aren't, or can't, be that perfect model person. As she puts it, "Shame is the voice of perfectionism." (xxiii)

Chapter One talks about understanding shame, and we'll dive into that next week. Today, I'm curious about two things:

  1. How would you, personally, define shame? (no Webster's or Google invited)
  2. What's your reaction to the tidbits I quoted from this book? 

1 comment:

  1. shame very much is connected (in my mind) to letting others down, doing something I wouldn't want others to know about, failing to be who they want me to be. God included (although that'd be labeled "conviction")


Use your words.

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