About a week ago I had the great pleasure of having my second breakfast of the day with The Melbourne Centre of Healing's founders Mel and Ryan, and my beautiful Mum joined us too. As a recent graduate(??? )of TMCH's mental health program, and someone who doesn't live in Melbourne I'm pretty excited to spend time with them both in real life!
So while Mum was chatting away to Ryan about the latest fantastic conspiracy theory Dad had most recently hooked her in to watching; Mel and I got to chatting about how when I was a kid I had thought I would want to be a writer (when I grew up), so she threw me the challenge of writing something for their blog…. Gahhhhh no pressure!!!!
So of course I have procrastinated all week over what to write and questioned about whether or not anything I would write would be in any way shape or form good enough…
ohhhh yeah that old chestnut - "I'm not good enough"
I'm pretty sure at some point in every person's life they have thought this of themselves.
For some it's fleeting for others it can be crippling and can cause deep seeded shame. The irony was that utilising the skills I have learned from working with Mel in terms of actually connecting with myself and what my intuition felt for me to write was that topic: shame - so here goes!!
Wikipedia defines shame as:
"…a painful, social emotion that can be seen as resulting "...from comparison of the self's action with the self's standards..." but which may equally stem from comparison of the self's state of being with the ideal social context's standard. Thus, shame may stem from volitional action or simply self-regard; no action by the shamed being is required: simply existing is enough. Both the comparison and standards are enabled by socialization."
"Simply existing is enough"
Wowsers! Imagine simply existing causing that cavernous gaping black bottomless canyon splitting through the middle of your torso. How much relief might be felt by taking a look down there, not by any moves pitching a tent to move into but exploring what is there.
From my basic research (please find my resources at the end) it seems that the academics have found shame to be experienced differently between the sexes, they have found exploring shame to be essential in enabling vulnerability but most excitingly that it can be directly combatted with compassion.
Shame is the great divide between how we are behaving and how we wish we would behave - the space that occurs when we either don't live true to ourselves and our values or are so disconnected from both ourselves and our values we don't know what they even are.
When we feel shame we feel unworthy of love and unworthy of belonging, completely removed and isolated from our truth - that all we are is love, and therefore we will always belong.
Typically when women feel shame it's something that they introvert - shame is said to breed best when enabled by secrecy, silence and judgement (usually fro self).
As women we can find ourselves in this shame-shame feedback loop which pretty much means we feel ashamed about feeling ashamed, which you can imagine becomes a downward spiral were the shame just keeps on breeding more and more shame.
This really resonated with me - I remember when I was first slapped with the depressed diagnosis I was so ashamed, and not because of your standard mental health stigma fear, more because I have had such a good life - good schooling, good university degree, a good job, good physical health, my family is great, my parents still happily married - what kind of spoilt brat was I to be sitting around feeling so overwhelming lost and depressed - not to mention doing my level best to constantly pretend I was stoked with life and a huge success.
Brene Brown (shame and vulnerability researcher, author and public speaker) says that women experience shame as a result of the "web of unattainable conflicting and competing expectations of who we should be".
Shame can stem from comparisonitis; and whether this is from comparing yourself to how you think society dictates you should be, comparing yourself to your friends and acquaintances; or the plethora of seemingly perfect social media personalities, it's through these perceived gaps that shame creeps in - is there any wonder women feeling this start to withdraw and depression ensues.
Men on the other hand are thought to experience shame slightly differently; they respond in a more outward manner - shame for them leads to anger. They respond in shame-anger loops rather than shame-shame loops.
The shame-anger loops mean that the men get angry that they feel shame, and then ashamed that they are angry. The number one reason that men experience shame is from feeling or being made to feel weak , or emasculated. This shame-anger loop makes men more prone to act out aggressively, violently or other antisocial behaviours.
Shame can often be linked anecdotally with guilt but interestingly something that I hadn't realised is that the two can be separated.
Guilt is a focus on an undesirable behaviour - "I am sorry I did something bad" whereas shame is a focus on self "I am sorry I am bad".
The second when played on repeat can be quite soul destroying. They have found the emotion of shame to directly correlate with incidences of addiction, depression, violence, aggression, bullying, suicide, and eating disorders; whereas in contrast guilt has an inverse or opposite correlation with those things.
So how do we combat shame?
Shame as I mentioned above needs secrecy, silence and judgement to breed and fester - so as soon as we start to talk about what it is we are feeling ashamed about we break the secrecy, and the silence.
The judgement of self I found to be the hardest thing to kick, not one of my good friends ever judged me for the behaviours that I was ashamed of, generally not even a little bit - me on the other hand, I think judging myself became probs my favourite past time.
By asking for help, doing the work on myself, connecting to my values and actually dealing with my emotional issues rather than constantly fighting to keep them hidden (which by the way was not working, -surprising I know!); this was what started to shine light in the big dark scary canyon.
Such a simple concept in theory, but potentially much more difficult in practice but all that shame needs to be shrunk is to speak up - be vulnerable and ask for help. If someone is willing to be brave enough to be vulnerable with you then all you need to do is be compassionate, empathise with them. You don't have to fill the canyon in in one go but once the silence and the secrecy is broken, the judgements become weaker and that's when that canyon becomes much less scary, probably a fair bit smaller and more or less like one of those "big" landmarks we in Australia love to visit on family holidays - like the big banana - I don't know if you've been back as an adult - but it's definitely not as big as I remembered it as a kid!!
Teala Stephens - Coffee. Tunes. Friends. Laughs. Food. Sarcasm. My puppy Chewy. Dance floors.
Physiotherapist living and working in Wagga Wagga.