|Click here for a Q&A interview with Brene Brown|
I'm not going to try to paraphrase her message, but I can say without reservation that if you haven't read either of these books, you're missing out. They are transformative. (If' you've never seen her Houston TedX talk, go here to see it. I haven't been the same since I first heard her message).
I know many of you connect with my writing because of my vulnerability; my willingness to speak my truth even when it's ugly, or flawed. To show myself at my not-so-great moments. Already the gremlins (as Brene describes them) in my head are saying that's bragging; who do you think you are? That statement isn't guesswork, though; I know it's true because you write or email me and tell me it's true. You tell me that reading about my less-than-perfect moments, my trials and tribulations and how I'm muddling through them, bring you a sense of being "not the only one", of connection. Of course my ego loves this, but mostly it fills my soul with a sense of being connected, of being not-the-only-one - just like you.
But do you want to know one of the main reason I write about my vulnerability and shame? Because it helps. Giving voice to my shame, vulnerability and fear makes it smaller, takes some of its power away.
Crying Out Now is a good example of this - I'm not fixing anyone, I'm just giving them a platform to safely (and anonymously if that's the only way they can do it) give voice to pain, to feeling less-than, to the shame of addiction. Maggie and the incredible women over at Violence Unsilenced are doing this, too (that incredible site gave me the idea for Crying Out Now).
So I woke up this morning with an idea; I want to issue you a challenge. I want you to think of a moment, or period in your life (maybe it's still happening - even better) where you were feeling shame and vulnerability. There is a difference between shame and guilt - just to clarify - shame is feeling badly about who you are, guilt is feeling badly for something you've done. Vulnerability is that feeling we have when we've placed too much power in the opinions of others (oh, if they only knew how _______ I am) and shame and vulnerability feed off each other in very toxic ways.
Once you've identified a time when you have (or are) experiencing shame and vulnerability (almost always accompanied by their evil cousin fear) - I want you to write about it. If you don't have a blog, crack out pen and paper, or a word document, and just let it pour out. Try, if you, can, to write about it in narrative form. Close your eyes, picture yourself in that moment, or in that period of your life, and write it like a story. Tell the truth, every part of it, especially the little nuggets of shame, fear or guilt you've mentally edited out because thinking about them makes you feel small.
To illustrate what I mean, I'll go first.
Greta has a fear- no, a phobia - of missing the bus. Over the summer I forgot how toxic this phobia is to our mornings. It's always worse at the beginning of the school year, but this year it seems particularly bad. She has to be awake and hour and a half before she needs to be outside to catch the bus, and insists on being in the driveway at least twenty minutes before the bus arrives. All of this sounds diligent and responsible, I know, but trust me - it's phobic and it fills her with fear.
Our mornings go something like this:
"Momma! Wake up! The bus is almost here!"
I grumble and mumble and glance at the clock: 7:00am. I give the usual soothing words that we have plenty of time as I swing my feet to the floor.
"We DON'T! Finn isn't even up yet and he has to get dressed and eat breakfast and you have to pack lunches and backpacks and ohhhhhhhh...." she buries her head in her hands either in tears or near tears.
I jostle Finn awake and he dresses to the drumbeat of Greta's voice saying, in an increasingly high pitched voice: HURRY UP!!!
We stumble downstairs and I give Finn breakfast (she already ate at 6am, when she insists on getting up), pack lunches and backpacks. It is 7:45am.
Greta starts a kind of paranoid countdown: 'Momma! Only 14 more minutes! Do you have your coffee?' 'Momma! Only ten more minutes, did you pack Finn's backpack?' "MOMMA! (panicky now) Only three minutes WHERE ARE FINN'S SHOES!"
I am not exaggerating when I say this is what every morning is like.
My inner dialogue, at this point, goes something like this:
Why is she like this? Where did I go wrong? Did I plant this fear in her somehow? We've never missed the bus, am I enabling her? (Notice how it's all about me?)
I have tried everything I can think of to help. Soothing (it's going to be okay, honey, I promise), reasoning (what do you think is going to happen that is so awful if you miss the bus? We live half a mile from school - I'll just drive you!), empathy (remember how we talk about anxiety? Your brain is telling you missing the bus would be disastrous, but it's just your brain in overdrive. Take deep breaths, and tell yourself it will be okay, that it's just the anxiety talking) and boundaries (you can go out at 8am if you have to, but I'm not going out until 8:15am and not without my coffee). ALL of these are met with "MOM! You're making it so much WORSE!"
The other day I had had it. We're only on the first week of school, and I was envisioning a whole year of these panicky mornings. I got right up in her face and hissed, "STOP IT. What is WRONG with you?"
Her eyes got wide, brimming with tears. Somehow this was worse than hysterics. She silently turned and walked out to wait for the bus, her little key chain collection attached to her backpack jangling cheerfully, as if to emphasize my cruelty.
Now my inner dialogue went like this:
"You are a bad mother, a bad person. You know the worse thing to say to someone with anxiety is 'what is wrong with you'. If your friends could see you now they wouldn't be telling you what a great Mom you are. If your readers knew about this the supportive comments would stop."
Notice how my first thought wasn't "Oops. I made a mistake", but rather "I am a bad mother, a bad person". THAT is shame. I also went straight to 'what would other people think?' - fearing the opinion of others instead of going inside, where the truth lies in my gut: I know I'm a good Mom. I just made a mistake. Seeking validation or fearing judgement from the outside are shame's greatest co-conspirators.
I won't write about how Greta and I worked this out, because that's not the point of this exercise.
So, I'm hoping some of you will try this with me. Think of a moment, a phase in your life (even if it's still going on) where you felt shame and vulnerability. Where you thought "if only people knew about this they'd think I was _______". Try to write from a narrative perspective, like your living the moment now (and maybe you are). Talk about your inner shame dialogue; what did it tell you? How did it make you feel? Writing about it - seeing your words out there - will take a lot of the power out of what is, essentially, holding you hostage. I promise.
It doesn't have to be a big thing, either. Sometimes small moments that shame me dig under my skin, take root, and I don't realize how big they've gotten until they seem so large I couldn't possibly share them with anyone.
If you have a blog, do a post about it and send me the link so I can post it here and link back to you.
If you'd rather write it anonymously, type it on a word document and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell me how you'd like to be known: as anonymous, with a pseudonym or your first name (and if you want to link to a blog or twitter account). Change names or places if you have to, but don't change facts; especially those deep down nuggets of truth you mentally edit out because they make you feel small.
I want to give you the gift you all give me; seeing your vulnerabilities and fears out there in the world and getting resounding "ME TOOs!" and compassionate, understanding comments. To give you that 'I'm-not-alone' feeling. Shame and vulnerability hate the truth; they hate compassion.
Especially mothers - we spend so much time caught in the web of comparison and perfectionism and so much of this stems from fear of vulnerability, fear of judgement.
By sharing our not-so-pretty moments, by experiencing empathy and understanding, we are beating back shame and building a compassionate community, together.
If nobody participates, my shame voice (otherwise known as Ego) will whisper to me for a while: see? you're nobody. But I'll get over it, eventually. Either way, I'm out there swinging, you know?
But I hope at least some of you will. I'll post them once a week if there is a response. Maybe I'll call it "Thursday Truths").
Thanks for hanging in there with me through my vulnerability, shame and fear, and helping me build shame resilience. I want to help you do the same.
So - please - get writing.