Shame is a funny thing. We’re so scared of it that we tend to keep it locked away. We don’t even like to admit that we have any. (Seriously, if that’s you, don’t delete this email just yet…)
But if we all knew that it only has power when it’s locked away, I imagine we’d be doing a whole lot more letting it out into the light.
(In case you haven’t stumbled upon it yet, I’ve started to share more of my personal story on Instagram, to show the beauty in owning even the darkest parts of myself. You can find all my shame located there if you’d like to borrow some liberation. 🙂
At any rate, the other day I was writing about a period of my life in which I thought I was a terrible mother. I couldn’t figure out why my kid wouldn’t listen to me and why everything about parenting felt so hard. I just thought I was doing it wrong – especially when I looked all around me and saw parents kicking back drinking wine and their kids being kind and compliant.
Two things happen when you keep shame buried.
One: In order to keep your shame safe, you have to build a wall between yourself and others, especially intimate partners. I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to let someone all the way into your heart and keep your secrets safe.
Two. Once the wall is up because you’re protecting yourself, the shame gets bigger because the stakes get higher if your secret gets out, and you find yourself reinforcing that you deserve to hold the shame. The stories that you make up about your shame and the relationship it has with the person you’re with get more extreme to prove to yourself that you were right to keep the secret.
For example, when I was carrying shame about being a terrible mom, I would never have confessed that to someone I was dating. As a result, I hid away what it was like to be a mom, or what my life with my son was like. This kept all of my relationships at arm’s length – and I was often dissatisfied, but couldn’t put my finger on why.
Keeping it hid away also helped me reinforce that story because then when I’d bring up something about mothering with someone I was dating, out of the blue, they didn’t usually give it as much care or attention as I needed them to because it wasn’t part of me they were used to seeing. This resulted in me believing they didn’t want to hear about it.
One day, I couldn’t hold it anymore.
I remember the night I cracked and told my closest girlfriends that I thought I was a terrible mom.
They saw something I couldn’t see. They had a different lens to look at it through. And what they could see was not that I was a terrible mom, but that I had a child who exhibited some very challenging behaviors.
And in hearing me talk about how difficult it was for me to parent him, I got so much love. They knew how challenging parenting was in general, and they had so much love for how hard I was trying to do it well. They understood that the stakes were high for sucking at this job.
They showered love on a part of my heart that had been dark. And in those moments, I knew that it was true. I wasn’t a terrible mom. But I would have held that secret for a long time (and would be in an entirely different place) if not for sharing the thing that I felt shame about.
What happens when you bring your shame up and out?
When you share about something you have shame about, you have the opportunity to see it differently, through the lens of others. A dark part of you can receive the love that others have for it.
You come to understand that you are loved and valued, no matter what.
You create connection. Often our shame is not all that original. Many of the things I’ve held shame about over the years are the things I hear from other women all the time.
The more we share, the more we realize we are not alone. And finding each other makes the healing process possible. Sometimes borrowing the love that other people have for the shameful parts of ourselves helps us to find that love for it within ourselves.
If you can find that love for your own darkness, that is what eventually clears the shame. At some point, enough of your own light and love has been shed on it, that even if the fact of the shame remains true, it no longer feels shameful.
Make a list of the things that you keep to yourself that you think would push people away if they knew about it.
If you feel ready, click on over here and send me a message about it. We’ll see if we can bring some light to it together.