Trying to please everyone.
Straining to be perfect.
Refusing to ask for help.
These are the cloaks that people wear as they try to avoid living an authentic, vulnerable life. We do whatever we can to cover up, conceal or hide the fact that we have feelings, needs, insecurities–simply because we don’t want to be seen as weak.
“I can’t stand up for what I believe in, because it contradicts what my spouse believes so I’ll just go along with what he says.”
“My marriage is falling apart, I have so much debt I’m afraid I’ll lose everything, but on the outside I’ll keep presenting myself as a perfect father, husband, and neighbor so I don’t get judged or let my wife and kids down.”
“I’m a single mother trying to work two jobs, care for my kids, volunteer for my church and be a caring friend and I’ve never felt so stressed or alone. I’ve got to keep going on my own, because this is who I am.”
The picture above is from one of my favorite authors, Brené Brown. She shared this image on her Facebook feed yesterday, along with a powerful sentence:
I constantly have to remind myself that running takes way more out of me than owning does.
Do you see the important word in Brené’s post?
Let me say that again…
No, it never feels good to admit to someone that you can’t handle everything that’s being thrown at you. No one gets a warm, fuzzy feeling from failing at a marriage or at a job and the LAST thing they want to do is publish their life-status change when it happens. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Right?!
In each of these examples, it is shame that gets in the way. Shame takes over in your mind, you feel less-than, and rather than own your part in this story, you stuff it down and cloak it and think it may crawl away quietly to the corner. Yeah, has that ever worked out for you? I think not!
My son and I were having a conversation last night about how he literally feels paralyzed sometimes when he feels like he’s fallen behind or missed a day or two of school. “I feel like when I go back, the teacher will be mad at me. I don’t know where I got that from, but that’s how I feel. So it’s easier to avoid it.” he said. I showed him the image above and we talked about what Brené said. I told him, “Think about it; running takes so damn much energy.” He understood and said, “The teachers are always cool, so I don’t know why I feel like that, but for some reason I just feel like they’re gonna hate me.” He’s been hiding and fearful and avoiding for some time and finally came clean about his fears. This was a huge step for him!
Shame gets in the way of growth, love, personal success and pure happiness. It always has and it always will.
If you are in a place where you’re always self-shaming, you can’t allow your heart to open up and feel the love of others. You aren’t capable of loving and giving as much as you could. You are truly robbing yourself and others of the wonder that is the authentic you. The same is true if you’re being hard, self-centered, and distant. You’re hiding your shame inside, and that shame eliminates any chance for you to connect.
Escaping this shame monster may be a difficult thing if you’ve grown used to seeing the shame shadow follow you around your house and to work every day. To make matters worse, you may find that you’re with someone who directly, or indirectly, is critical, manipulative or controlling. Shame sure loves people like that. Those people add an ocean’s worth of fuel to your shame fire, which makes escaping the monster nearly impossible.
You can run form your story, you can ignore it, you can even shove it deep down within you and pretend it isn’t there, but if you do that you’ll never move past it. As Brené said, owning your story and being brave enough to walk through the darkness will allow you to discover the infinite power of the light. (Boy, I love the infinite power part.) Everyone has darkness in their life. Learning to embrace it and be brave is how you manage through it.
Being brave saved me from a lifetime of unhappiness. Owning my story allowed me to move toxic people out of my life and open my heart to a new life where I wasn’t controlled or manipulated. I am brave when I admit that some days I feel week, and that’s okay. I see that owning my story has shown my children that their mother is strong, smart, funny and not perfect. Being brave has enabled me to write about my story and make connections with people from all over the world. Most importantly, being brave has brought me the happiness I had been searching for.
The first step is always the hardest. Don’t make that step about running away. The step should be towards yourself and towards owning your story.