Shame is such an interesting emotion. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I often find myself lost in it. It doesn’t necessarily matter what I am doing, it just happens out of nowhere that I have this intense feeling of not being enough for whatever I am doing in the moment.
I am not a good enough friend
I am not a good enough daughter
I am not a good enough therapist
I am not a good enough wife
Sometimes the words are different in my mind and I often feel like “if I could just do ____________ it would make everything better.” But that is not true. Not only do I not have control over most of the things around me (as much as I try to), nothing I do or say actually changes my value to make me “enough” or “not enough.” That is because I am enough, just as I am.
My favorite definition of shame comes from the fabulous Brene Brown. She says
“Shame is an intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.”
What gets me about this definition is the feeling that we are flawed (as we all are) and those flaws make us unworthy of love. If you have ever been in the middle of a shame spiral, you know what this feels like. In that moment, we believe that we are not deserving of any of the things we have or the people in our lives. We believe that we are unworthy of being connected to humans-which is a basic human need.
What is really hard about this particular emotion is that we have been guided by shame for our whole lives. It does not start right away, we generally do a much better job of affirming the little ones but as we grow older, shame becomes a go to as a means for sharing our disappointment in how people act and what we believe thy should do instead. And it is an interesting shift if you pay attention to it. Imagine a 5-year-old that just learned how to tie their shoes. How do we react to that? We practically throw them a party, right? We are so excited that they have met this major milestone but the reality is that instead of shouting “you are so smart!” or “you did a great job!” it would actually make sense for us to say “you did an incredibly normal thing at a totally average rate!” Not that learning how to tie a shoe is not a big milestone, but we definitely get really excited about it, don’t we? Now, fast forward a little. To when the kid is, say, 10. They bring home a C. They just didn’t really have a grasp on the scientific method on that test they took last week. We shake our heads and say to them “you are better than this” or “you should have studied harder” or, my personal least favorite, “you have so much more potential.” Really, what we are saying is “you did a normal thing at an average rate, but it is not good enough for me.” Again, not that I mean to insinuate that getting a C on a test is a good thing, but the way we approach it is to shame people into behaving in a particular way.
This is the way things have been for as long as I can remember. This is how my parents and teachers all regarded me when I needed to change a behavior and it was effective. But there is something a little different about this world we live in in 2019, isn’t there?
And, more specifically, social media.
The intention of social media was to keep us connected to each other and what it has done has given us more access than is necessary to the opportunity to compare ourselves to other people. So, now, we are taking in messages all day about how we are not as good as, as pretty as, as smart as, as ____________ as everyone on your friend’s list. When that is our baseline, the times where people in our life are trying to help us change our behavior so that we can improve in the long term becomes yet another message about how we are not good enough. And we believe those messages.
So, what do we do about this?
DON’T BELIEVE IT.
Talk to your loved ones about why these thoughts are not true. Keep this thought in mind when you are deciding how to approach things that you are intending to be helpful. And remember that you are enough. You are absolutely, positively, 100% enough. You are so enough it is ridiculous.