I recently read Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. I wrote about Brené–I should call her Dr. Brown because of her Ph.D. in social work–previously when I heard her speak at a conference. It’s no wonder her books have sold like hotcakes.
In this book, Brené discusses how we experience shame and how much difficulty people have talking about shameful experiences. Hence the silence around abuse as well as eating disorders, addictions, and other compulsive behaviours.
A friend noticed “shame” in the title of a chapter I was reading and questioned my choice of reading material. “You don’t have shame,” she said. Her comment was ironic in light of Brené’s assertion that everyone has shame, although so many of us are reluctant to acknowledge it or talk about it.
I have often written about shame in my blog, although I may not always have labelled it. For example, my protruding belly has more to do with the size of my spleen than my dessert consumption–sure, my dessert consumption probably isn’t helping–yet I often feel ashamed when someone asks me if I’m pregnant. I may make light of these incidents here, but inside I feel very self-conscious.
I also feel shame for times I’ve shamed others, those times I’ve said something insensitive or sarcastic or just plain mean. I know how crummy shame feels; the last thing I’d want to do is to make someone else feel that way, but I know I have. Haven’t we all, whether intentionally or not? No, you’re right, it’s probably just me.
People have said and done things to me that have been shaming as well, but I’ve shared only some of these incidents with you in my blog. If I knew you a bit better, maybe I’d disclose more, but many of you I don’t. I believe Brené would support my discretion here, since she has only two safe people she approaches when she is at her most vulnerable. Two sounds about right to me.
I am struck by people’s shame about things for which they are not responsible. Blaming the sexual abuse survivor–if only you hadn’t dressed like that, if only you’d kept your legs together–reinforces the shame that survivor already feels. To disclose the abuse and not to be believed only compounds that person’s shame.
That’s why, as much as sharing our shameful experiences with others is important and healing, we must choose carefully the people we share them with. As a psychologist, I have been entrusted with many such disclosures by clients over the years. At those moments, I try to allow the person to feel safe and heard and supported. If I’m successful, we can then work toward the survivor’s no longer blaming him- or herself for what happened.
I hope that all of you have a safe person to share the bad stuff with. You can always pay a therapist if you think that would help. It’s important that you let someone in, however scary it feels. Trying to keep those shameful feelings inside is too heavy a burden. Trust me, I know, and not just from my work.