A funny thing happened a few days ago. I was listening to a report on the news about the flu and precautions the authorities suggested taking to prevent the spread of the virus. One of the most important tips was to not send children to school if they had symptoms. That makes sense but when I heard the report, I become a bit cynical.
I told my husband, "Yeah. they say that but I just hate the judgmental tone I get when I call in to the school to tell them my kid is sick and is staying home. They sound like they don't really that he's sick and that I'm a pushover for letting him stay home. They make me feel like I'm a bad parent."
That's when he said something that I had never really thought of. He said, "You know, I don't think they are thinking that at all. I think those thoughts are coming from somewhere else." Somewhere else? What does that even mean? Does that mean it's coming from myself? That's when it hit me that I was living out a perfect example of the shame scenario I have been reading about.
In my last post, I shared the teachings of Brene Brown on shame and vulnerability. In her book, I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't), Brown describes shame as "the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging." When we have these feeling wash over us, we feel it both emotionally and physically and react by withdrawing, ramping up the people pleasing efforts, or we lash out and use shame to fight shame.
Brown points out that we will forever be subject to the feelings of shame due to expectations we place on ourselves and others that lead to struggles with perfectionism, inadequacy and power struggles. However, in her extensive research, she has found common traits that those who are less prone to shame all share.
Our goal is to not try to rid ourselves of these feelings but to develop shame resilience. In order to be able to develop the 4 elements she found at work in those who are more resilient, we need to find those who will help partner with us. The strongest antidote for shame is empathy, or the ability to understand a situation from the other's perspective. If we can connect with someone who will understand, not be judgmental and who we can honestly share our struggles with, we will be that much better off. It's a tall order, but if we can in turn offer this to them, we have found connection.
First Element: Recognizing shame.
We first need to recognize the feelings shame brings. The most common categories of shame for women were appearance and body image, motherhood, family, parenting, money and work, mental and physical health, sex, aging, religion, being stereotyped and labeled, speaking out and surviving trauma. Interestingly, the main shame area reported by men is being perceived as weak, which encompassed every area of their lives.
Brown points out that men and women both experience the same feelings of shame, but women feel caught in a web with expectations coming from a tangled mess of sources. Men feel more like they are stuck in a box with one expectation: to be strong at all cost and to show no signs of weakness.
Being able to discover what triggers you have that cause shameful feelings is crucial. Brown suggests making a list of 3-5 ideal identities ("I want to be perceived as...") and a list of 3-5 unwanted identities ("I do not want to be perceived as...") to help identify the areas where you feel most vulnerable.
In my scenario, once challenged on the idea that the secretary at the school was not actually judging my parental ability, I was able to see that for some reason, having a sick child pricked a tender area. For 22 years of having children in public school, I have felt half-sick myself and like a total failure as a mom while making those calls. I had never even considered that these feelings were unfounded.
Second Element: Practicing Critical Awareness
Another trait that shame resilient people have is that they are able to pull themselves back from their feelings and deep emotional reactions enough to analyze the truth of their own perceptions.
In my scenario, I needed to figure out where my feelings were coming from. I realized that while growing up with a single mom, being sick was not convenient and brought frustration. There was an unspoken message given about illness; it showed weakness. Even though I try to be nurturing when my kids are sick (It's not natural but I really do try!), I feel unsettled with the tension between honestly being sick and not being able to power through it like I had learned to do. I interpret the problem not as my kids' weakness but in my weakness as a parent. When I have to make that dreaded call, I am exposed and embarrassed by it.
Simply looking at the problem through the new lens of awareness helps to see the misinterpretation and helps to manage the shame that comes.
Third Element: Reaching Out
Brene Brown says, "Regardless of who we are, how we were raised or what we believe, all of us fight hidden, silent battles against not being good enough, not having enough and not belonging enough. When we find the courage to share our experiences and the compassion to hear others tell their stories, we force shame out of hiding and end the silence."
Sharing this one example of a shaming incident in my life helps me and hopefully sheds light for others.
Fourth Element: Speaking Shame
It's great to learn about our triggers, practice critical awareness and reach out to others, but we need communication skills. We need to identify and then communicate what we are feeling and why. Most of us are not used to putting words to the feelings we have-especially shame which is a word that scares people anyway.
Being able to use descriptive words to describe how you are feeling and then being able to ask specifically for what you need from another person is crucial. In my example, I felt like I had failed in my attempt to be strong and in charge by giving into my child's illness. It doesn't make rational sense but it was what was happening. I needed understanding that sometimes people get sick and we are permitted to take time to get better. It also helped to realize that the only judgement I was experiencing was coming from myself.
Hopefully this will be helpful for you. It sure has been for me! Blessings...
For more information about this topic check out brenebrown.com