Feeling Shame and (Actually) Talking About It
There's a feeling that no one talks about.
And not talking about it only makes the feeling grow.
I'll give you a hint: Brene Brown talks about this feeling a LOT.
The feeling I'm referring to is shame.
For me, it has to be one of the worst feelings to experience.
But it was through my darkest periods of shame that I learned a profound truth about the human experience.
Feeling Shame - My Sudden Encounter
I had my first real experience with shame right after my heart surgery in 2012.
People told me the physical recovery from heart surgery would be rough, but it was the emotional recovery that was far more difficult.
The heart is linked to the brain, and trauma to the heart can trigger depression and shameful feelings.
That's what happened to me.
From out of nowhere, hidden thoughts punched their way to the surface.
"I'm the worst person. How can anyone like me?"
"I can't believe I did those things when I was younger. How can anyone forgive me? How can I forgive myself?"
"I don't deserve to be here."
It doesn't matter what "those things" were (They weren't illegal, I'll give you that)--but shame made me feel like all my past indiscretions in college and beyond were the result of my shameful character and that I was a person no longer worthy of any love.
Shame does this.
It wraps you in a wet blanket, leaving you dripping and shivering uncontrollably.
It tries to tell you that you are too despicable for anyone to care enough to approach you, let alone help you out.
And it is by not talking about it that shame festers and continues to grow.
Left unchecked, it can take over your life, as it seemed to be doing to mine.
Talking About Shame / Processing Shameful Feelings
So what got me out? What helped me move past my shame?
I wish I could tell you it was easy.
I wish I could say that it didn't take years to process my shame--but it did.
And it's because I didn't have easy access to the resources I needed.
I had to stumble around until I figured out what helped the most.
But once I got them, I was on the path to healing.
These 3 steps are what helped me the most in dealing with my shame
1 - Opening up to someone I could trust
First it was my girlfriend, who is now my wife. Then I found a therapist who helped me process my shame. Talking with them let the air in. I started to see that my beliefs were unfounded.
2- Watching videos and reading about shame
It was the therapist who introduced me to Brene Brown and her TED Talk about shame. Consuming helpful content connected me with others' experiences and helped me feel less alone.
3 - Writing down what I was feeling
This was most powerful for me. Writing comes naturally to me, and I truly believe that getting words on paper released them from the holding tank that was my head.
Those are the big three, and I think it's no coincidence that they happen to span the communication spectrum.
By talking with a therapist and with my girlfriend-now-wife, I found the words and created safe spaces that I could step into and grow over time.
By watching videos and reading books, I came to understand how universal the feeling of shame truly is--and how manageable it can be with the proper tools and perspective.
And by writing down what I was feeling, I gained space--and perspective--from my shame.
If you're dealing with shame--or if you've ever dealt with it--I encourage you to use these three strategies as a template.
Once you open up about what's ailing you, the world starts to change.
You start to realize that the things you kept inside never should have been there in the first place.
They are not who you are.
They were never your burden to carry.