Shame Resilience: The Antidote to Shame Is Vulnerability
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” ~ Brene Brown
We long to fit in, to belong, to be accepted. Yet this very longing can keep us from making the deep connections we crave, because we’re afraid to be seen, to show our true selves for fear we’ll be rejected. On a deep, very personal level we’ve judged ourselves as unworthy, so we’re ashamed that something about us isn’t acceptable, “normal” or perfect. This shame, this fear of disconnect, is powerful. But we can shine a healing light on it by cultivating vulnerability. Yes, we can build our shame resilience!
At the heart of vulnerability is letting others see you for who you really are. Not hiding behind what you think they want to see. Not hiding from yourself. As children, we had this openness and vulnerability without judgment. We didn’t care if people saw us at our worst. But now we need to become more mindful and self-aware to achieve balanced emotions.
How did shame get the best of us?
Over time, we start judging ourselves in relation to how others act or react to us. We started segmenting ourselves into Parts…”it’s okay for you to see this Part of me, but there’s a Part of me I will never allow you to see!” Layer after layer we built a protective wall around our most vulnerable parts.
Exposing the secret parts of us can be terrifying. To embrace vulnerability, a person must let themself be seen while being able to love without needing a guarantee. Vulnerability is not weakness. It takes strength!
The only way to embrace vulnerability is to embrace shame.
When you experience shame, what body sensations do you feel?
“I’m so embarrassed. I wish the floor would open up and swallow me down!” You feel flushed and hot. Eye contact is broken, head bends down, chest caves in. You cringe inwardly, feeling powerless, anxious. All these actions are meant for you to shrink, be small, disappear and not be seen. Yet you feel so exposed, extremely self-conscious, because it’s as if time slows down and you become hypersensitive.
Alternatively, shame can turn into a self-protective rage and aggression, desiring revenge, holding onto resentment, wanting to humiliate someone else so you can download your shame upon them. Either way, your brain is telling you that you’re in crisis and you need to protect yourself.
These feelings are triggered by a “perceived” break in your connectedness to others or to self. The goal of shame resilience is to help you, as you experience shame, to consciously choose supportive emotions instead — connection, empathy, worth, and power. Here’s a simple way to build the practice of mindfully experiencing shame. I call it “Ave Shame”!
AVE Shame – the acronym that builds shame resilience
In an earlier blog post, I shared how you can break the toxic shame pattern. Let’s be clear — shame is not a bad thing. It’s simply a piece of information your mind/body connection is trying to tell you. Shame can be your friend, when you learn to welcome and assess it in a healthy way. Perhaps the acronym AVE will help you (Ave, as in the aria Ave Maria, is latin for “hail” – an enthusiastic greeting meaning “be healthy”. And don’t we want our relationship with shame to be healthy?) For our purposes, this acronym — AVE Shame — holds a 3-part process for “greeting” shame in a way that’s healthy.
A is for Appreciation
Appreciate shame as an internal signal that’s telling you it’s time to be more mindful in this sensitive area of life. Recognizing, naming, and understanding your shame triggers is key to appreciating their message. It’s also helpful to identify external factors that lead to the existence of shame for you.
V is for Vulnerability
Vulnerability doesn’t happen in silence or isolation. I love how Stephen Russell, “Barefoot Doctor’s Guide to the Tao: A Spiritual Handbook for the Urban Warrior” puts it, “Vulnerability is the only authentic state. Being vulnerable means being open, for wounding, but also for pleasure. Being open to the wounds of life means also being open to the bounty and beauty. Don’t mask or deny your vulnerability: it is your greatest asset. Be vulnerable: quake and shake in your boots with it. the new goodness that is coming to you, in the form of people, situations, and things can only come to you when you are vulnerable, i.e. open.”
E is for Empathy
Empathy takes the focus off of self and puts it on others. (Shame is focused on self, what it’s doing to ME.) You may be embarrassed, but how is the other person feeling? Or when you see someone who is experiencing shame, can you be there for them and help them turn that moment into a time of connection, not isolation? In both cases, empathy builds connection.
The second benefit of empathy is that shame is lessened when your connection with others holds strong…you are accepted, you still belong, even if you did say or do something shameful. Giving and receiving empathy forges these strong connections.
Accepting and giving acceptance promotes belonging, which in turn promotes worthiness. This gives you the courage to be yourself, knowing that what makes you vulnerable is also what makes you uniquely beautiful.
Shame resilience takes a lot of intentional, inner work that requires connection and non-judgmental support. If there ever was a time for 1-on-1 coaching, this is it! If you’re ready to stop the Shame Game and greet shame in a healthy manner instead — A.V.E. Shame — please contact me and schedule a 30-minute complimentary consultation by phone or via Zoom, to see if we’re a good fit for each other.
Thanks for the photo Marissa Daeger.