The difference between guilt and shame is as simple as “I did something bad” versus “I am something bad.” Now here’s the interesting part: those individuals who have a sense of worthiness, of love, and of belonging, versus those who are always wondering if they’re good enough, are not those who have things like beauty, social status, wealth, rank in corporate hierarchy, or are living in the most beautiful cities in the world, in fact, what separates those who have a strong sense of love and belonging and the people who really struggle for it is that the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they are worthy of it. That’s it. They believe they are worthy. And what contributes to them feeling worthy is feeling deeply and genuinely connected to, and really seen by a few individuals in their lives. And what allows us to be deeply and authentically connected to another? Vulnerability. Using our courage to show others who we are.
Now here’s the conundrum…. What keeps us from being vulnerable? Shame. That nasty little voice that tells us: “I am not good enough. I am something bad so I dare not show you the real me because you are likely to reject me.” And this is where it gets tricky. Shame is what makes us fearful of being vulnerable, of being connected, of being loved. BUT the most potent and effective antidote to shame is vulnerability. Using our courage to be vulnerable. Embracing vulnerability. Seeing vulnerability as beautiful. So, in a nut shell, shame makes us afraid to be vulnerable, but the a truly effective way to overcome our shame is to reveal ourselves as vulnerable… talk about the chicken or the egg.
Some how, some way we need to find and use our courage to be imperfect. To let go of fighting to be who we think we should be and just be who we are. It can be risky, and it’s definitely not always easy or comfortable, but it is absolutely necessary, and surprisingly, quite liberating and actually… quite beautiful.
Contrary to popular belief, vulnerability is not, nor is it a sign of, weakness. If we think about it, most of us would agree that it takes a whole lot of courage to be vulnerable, so it could be said that courage and weakness are actually near opposites. Being vulnerable is a risk. It means being exposed and being honest, and the outcome is often uncertain. However, vulnerability is the birthplace of change. It’s really hard to explore ourselves and experience growth within ourselves and within our relationships with others if we’re not willing to be honest and thus vulnerable. An interesting question to ponder is whether it’s more challenging and takes more courage to be honest with others or to be honest with ourselves. I mean really honest – that means no far reaching justifications (which, if we are really being honest we know are just excuses to avoid feeling guilty for the things we know are not good for us), and no putting the responsibility for our problems solely on others.
Buyer beware, there are risks to being vulnerable: when we are real with ourselves and others we will be exposed to potential judgement. We can mitigate this risk to a certain extent by choosing judiciously who we are vulnerable with, but there is always a certain degree of risk involved. If we are courageous enough to take that risk, there is great potential for significant growth in so many ways– not to mention the fact that by using our courage with others we inadvertently also give them the permission and safety to be honest and vulnerable themselves.
There is a really great Ted Talks YouTube video on Vulnerability and Shame given by Brene Brown. I recommend having a watch.
Anger is quite a powerful little 5 letter word that means very different things to different people. For some it is an emotion that is rejected or avoided at all cost and understood as evil, bad, or unacceptable. For others it is all too present and readily available to use to hurt, damage, or destroy – sometimes irreparably so.
Anger, like most emotions, is not a bad or shameful emotion in and of itself. It can even be very appropriate and useful at times. Without anger as a motivator for action we might feel less compelled to fight against injustice, oppression, and discrimination with the same degree of will and determination.
Anger can also give us a very clear sign that something is wrong. Anger feelings directed toward another provide us with a clear indication that someone has done something to threaten or injure something vulnerable inside of us. Further to this, anger is often referred to as a secondary emotion – an overt reaction serving to protect something internal. So what does all this mean Julia? Anger can be an absolutely invaluable resource if we learn how to use it to our advantage. When we notice ourselves getting angry at someone, we can stop and take a second to check in and ask ourselves “What is this anger protecting? If I take a closer look, what am I feeling beneath the anger?” and this will give us some insight into what’s really going on. More often than not the anger is going to be protecting feelings of hurt, or sadness, or fear. By choosing not to react and assault our (often unaware) perpetrator with the anger, (which will likely not only injure the relationship but will also leave us to deal with the aftermath of our own guilt and shame) we give ourselves the opportunity to take a step back, do a check in, figure out what’s really going on and decide if we can express ourselves immediately in a non-aggressive way, or if we need some time to cool off before we can communicate that vulnerable primary emotion. Often, in my experience, the latter works much better.
Easy to say, difficult to do, but like most things worth anything it takes patience, practice, and persistence.