“The opposite of “never enough”…is what I call Wholeheartedness.”
Whenever we tell ourselves, “I’m never good enough,” “I’m never smart enough,” “I’m never powerful enough,” “I’m never thin enough,” “I’m never enough,” these scripts are a reflection of internalized beliefs shaped by a culture of scarcity. We are all susceptible to being influenced by this culture of scarcity. The cure to ending our allegiance to the scarcity messages rampant in our culture is developing shame resilience.
In her book, Daring Greatly, Brené Brown quotes a passage from Lynn Twist’s book The Soul of Money in which Twist writes, “We spend most of the hours and days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of….Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, lacking something…. This internal condition of scarcity, this mind-set of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, and our arguments with life…. (43-45) According to Brown, “Scarcity is the “never enough” problem.”
Brené Brown writes, “Scarcity thrives in a culture where everyone is hypersensitive of lack. Our collective hypersensitivity to lack is driving a culture of scarcity and the stories we tell ourselves of “not being enough.” We only have to think about the shift that began to happen in our culture as a result of 911, multiple wars, the recession and numerous natural disasters and random shootings to recognize that the realities of our world is changing who we are, who we are becoming and what we believe to be possible in life. Unless we start to consistently make choices that challenge the dominant messages of scarcity in our culture: fear and suffering will escalate and continue to infect more of us. Engaging life with vulnerability and a healthy sense of worthiness increases our capacity to live wholeheartedly and develop shame resilience.
Debunking the #1 Vulnerability Myth
When we feel vulnerable it provokes anxiety within most of us. After asking research participants, how does vulnerability feel? Brown received the following responses,
· Vulnerability feels like taking off a social mask and hoping that others accept who you truly are,
· Going out on a limb
· Feeling scared and terrified as you take steps toward uncharted territory
· Going over the edge of a roller coaster and taking a plunge
· Free-falling and letting go of control.
· Feeling naked
Can you relate to a time when you felt similar emotions? Contrary to a common held belief, vulnerability is not weakness. Vulnerability is a reflection of your willingness to take risks, face life’s uncertainties with faith and share yourself emotionally with those who have earned your trust and support your efforts toward improving your well-being.
For instance, think about someone you love. You have to be vulnerable to love someone. There is no guarantee that the love you feel will be reciprocated at the measure in which you give it, right? Yet, you can’t imagine not loving those you love, even with the risks involved. Each time you’ve pursued a dream, you didn’t have a 100% guarantee that you would accomplish it, and, yet, with faith, a compelling vision of a new possibility and the willingness to do what it takes to achieve it, you pursued it anyway. Risks and uncertainty are a part of life. When you strive to be your best self and live you best life, you have to accept that they are a part of the equation and learn how to relate to them in a positive and empowering way so that they don’t prevent you from going after what you desire to experience in life.
I understand this can be difficult for most of us from time to time, however, recognizing how shame could be thwarting our efforts toward manifesting new possibilities in our lives equip us with awareness and knowledge we can use to navigate a path that lessens our anxiety as we build up our shame resilience muscles.
The first step in debunking the #1 myth about vulnerability and developing shame resilience according to Brown is, “our willingness to own our vulnerabilities and our ability to engage with the world from a place of worthiness.”
3 Brave Questions about Vulnerability
In order for us to move forward and experience quantum leaps in our level of connection with one another and maintain a commitment to realizing compelling visions of our present and future, we have to make choices that challenge the common notion of scarcity. This starts with an awareness of how willing we are to be vulnerable.
Brown shares in Daring Greatly how many people told her, “I don’t do vulnerability.” Most of these responses were based on the notion that vulnerability is weakness. From that perspective, who would admit that they are weak? She challenges us to bravely ask ourselves the following questions so that we recognize that even if we believe we don’t do vulnerability, it does us.
Q1: “What do I do when I feel emotionally exposed?”
Q2: “How do I behave when I’m feeling very uncomfortable and uncertain?”
Q3: “How willing am I to take emotional risks?”
Brown asserts, “When we pretend that we can avoid vulnerability we engage in behaviors that are often inconsistent with who we want to be. Experiencing vulnerability isn’t a choice – the only choice we have is how we’re going to respond when we are confronted with uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.”
When we are willing to stand up and admit our failings, acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers, be willing to ask for help, take more risks and show up at home and at work wholeheartedly, these and similar acts of vulnerability are perceived by others as courageous, not weakness.
Defining Shame as It Relates to Being Brave
As a result of the data from her research, Brown defines shame as: the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.
When we believe the erroneous assumption that we are not worthy of genuine love and care and a sense of belonging we will do everything we can to armor up and protect ourselves from being perceived as vulnerable. As human beings, we are hard-wired for connection, love and belonging. When we feel unworthy, we begin to engage life from the perspective, “I’m not good enough or I’m not worthy.” This disempowering mind-set often cause us to strive for perfection as a way of proving to others we are worthy of connection, love and belonging. We find ourselves constantly judging and criticizing ourselves and others. Too often, we can get so caught up in the people pleasing, performing and perfecting rat race that we lose sense of our unique strength and talents which results in us defining ourselves based on external factors. When our identity and self-worth is defined by anything beyond our control we have abdicated too much power to a person or thing.
The information that you gain as a result of engaging the Dare to Be Brave blog series is intended to empower you to become your bravest self by loving who you are right now. This is despite any area of your life which you might feel you need to work on. Yes, you are worthy of connection, love and belonging. It begins with the manner in which you relate to yourself. As you express love and connection towards yourself, you will embody it in your everyday life.
Read the first article in this series: Dare to Be Brave: Practice Radical Self-love. In it I share proven techniques for cultivating a healthy sense of self-love towards yourself.
Wholehearted living is defined by courage, compassion and connection. The people who are willing to show up in the arena and be seen are able to do so because they simply believe they are worthy of love and belonging. They don’t have perfect lives. They are confronted with similar challenges as you and I. But in the midst of their struggles they have developed practices that reinforce the belief that they are worthy of love and belonging. Brown argues, “A strong belief in our worthiness doesn’t just happen-it’s cultivated….”
Developing shame resilience enables us to cultivate positive beliefs about our sense of worthiness. Our belief that we are worthy of healthy love and connection inspires courage in our heart to show up and be seen. Although these acts of courage may cause us to feel vulnerable, they are actually helping us to be braver.
Defining and Developing Shame Resilience
Shame is real pain. According to a 2011 study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, researchers found that, as far as the brain is concerned, physical pain and intense experiences of social rejection hurt in the same way. Neuroscience has confirmed that emotions can hurt and cause pain.
According to Brown, “When most of us think about shame we use terms embarrassment guilt, humiliation and shame interchangeably. The words we use when referring to shame is more than semantics.” Because how we experience any painful shame experience comes down to our self-talk i.e. the meaning we attach to an experience. You can read more about transforming your self-talk in my book, Get Unstuck Now.
According to Brown, “The majority of shame researchers and clinicians agree that the difference between shame and guilt is best understood as the difference between these statements, “I am bad” and “I did something bad.”
When we feel guilty, we strive to make amends or change our behavior. We recognize and own up to the fact that a particular behavior is not aligned with our highest values and beliefs about ourselves. This psychological discomfort or cognitive dissonance motivates us to make meaningful change. Guilt can be a positive motivator.
Whereas when shame is the driving force behind our actions, we protect ourselves, rationalize our behavior and offer disingenuous apologies. We blame external factors for our lapse of judgment and self-discipline. We attack and shame others. Brown states, “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we can change and do better.”
Brené Brown defines shame resilience as “The ability to practice authenticity when we experience shame, to move through experiences without sacrificing our values, and to come out on the other side of the shame experience with more courage, compassion and connection than we had going into it. Shame resilience is about moving from shame to empathy – the real antidote to shame.” She points out, “Self-compassion is key because when we’re able to be gentle with ourselves in the midst of shame, we’re more likely to reach out, connect and experience empathy.” Read about the Return to Self-Love Guide that I shared in the first article of this series.
How Shame Differs in Women and Men
Before I go any further, it’s important that I share the difference between how women and men define shame based on Brown’s research.
Here are some of the comments Brown received when she asked women to define shame:
· Look perfect. Do perfect. Be perfect. Anything less is shaming.
· Being judged by mothers.
· No matter what I achieve or how far I’ve come, where I come from and what I’ve survived will always keep me from feeling like I’m good enough.
· Even though everyone knows that there’s no way to do it all, everyone still expects it. Shame is when you can’t pull off looking like it’s under control.
· Never enough at home. Never enough at work. Never enough in bed. Never enough with my parents. Shame is never enough.
Here are some of the comments Brown received when she asked men to define shame:
· Shame is failure. At work. On the football field. In your marriage. In bed. With money. With your children. It doesn’t matter – shame is failure.
· Shame is being wrong. Not doing wrong, but being wrong.
· Shame happens when people think you’re soft. It’s degrading and shaming to be seen as anything but tough.
· Showing fear is shameful. You can’t show fear. You can’t be afraid no matter what.
· Our worst fear is being criticized or ridiculed- either one of these is extremely shaming.
Based on the information in Brown’s book, it would seem that women are under pressure to be everything to everyone while men are under pressure to never be perceived as weak.
Perhaps you don’t relate to these comments but there are some other messages that dominate your self-talk when you feel shame. The reason for sharing these comments from Brown’s work is to help everyone reading this article be aware that shame is an emotion experienced by women and men. It’s not gender specific.
Here are the four steps that Brown shares in Daring Greatly that will ultimately lead us to empathy and healing while building our shame resilience:
1. Recognize Shame and Understanding Its Triggers. Shame is biology and biography. Can you physically recognize when you’re in the grips of shame, feel your way through it and figure out what messages and expectations triggered it?
2. Practicing Critical Awareness. Can you reality-check the messages and expectations that are driving your shame? Are they realistic? Attainable? Are they what you want to be or what you think others need/want from you?
3. Reaching Out. Are you owning and sharing your story? We can’t experience empathy if we’re not connecting.
4. Speaking Shame. Are you talking about how you feel and asking or what you need when you feel shame?
Shame often reflects unspoken hurt. And it is this unspoken hurt of feeling that we’re not worthy of being loved and feeling connected to others diminishes our courage to be vulnerable, authentic and brave. Shame cannot be addressed with emotional armor that prevents us from connecting to one another. Addressing our shame and developing shame resilience requires that each of us be brave enough to be vulnerable and begin the hard conversations that lead to empathy and healing.
Although you might not completely understand how shame is running roughshod in your life, if you feel that there are conversations you need to have with people you love or those you work with to gain a deeper understanding of how to improve relationships, do it. You don’t have to understand every aspect of shame before reaching out and connecting to those that matter most to you.
When we have an experience that triggers thoughts of unworthiness and disconnection we need to show ourselves compassion and have the courage to reach out and connect with those we know have shown sincere concern for our well-being. Shame cannot be overcome in a vacuum. It has to aired out whether that is by talking to someone or via expressive writing to heal our soul wounds of past traumatic experiences. Be sure that the person(s) you share your shame experience is someone who has consistently shown you sincere concern and support, and he or she has earned the right to hear your heartfelt concerns.
We need to be and feel empathetic towards ourselves to have it within ourselves to exhibit towards others. We are only as hard on others as we are on ourselves. Tweet Empathy ushers us into demonstrating compassion toward ourselves and others. It is the emotional balm that softens the armor we clothed our hearts with to ensure we never get hurt again. As Brown states, “Empathy is connection; it’s a ladder out of the shame hole.”
The following loving-kindness affirmation by Jack Kornfield can help soften your heart towards yourself and others:
“May I love myself just as I am.
May I have a sense of worthiness and well-being.
May I trust the world. May I hold myself in compassion.
May I meet the suffering and ignorance of others with compassion.”
Accepting and allowing what you feel without judgment is a powerful demonstration of empathy towards yourself.
Demonstrate empathy towards yourself on those mornings when you wake up and before your feet hit the floor your thoughts are about what you don’t have enough of.
Show yourself some tender loving compassion when you feel vulnerable, yet, you choose to love and take steps toward uncharted territory.
Trust in your ability to manage uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure with a brave heart. You are so much stronger than you think.
As you develop a strong belief in your worthiness to feel love, connection and belonging, you will show up in the world and own your story and authentic power.
Transforming limiting and negative beliefs about your sense of worthiness begins with challenging the stories you are telling yourself. It’s time for you to end your allegiance to any distorted “love messages” that would have you believe that you are not worthy of love, connection and belonging.
You don’t have to continue to tolerate treatment from anyone who through their words or deeds would have you believe you are not worthy of love, connection and belonging. The cost to your soul’s well-being is too much of a price to pay.
Having an understanding of shame and shame resilience empowers you to develop authentic connections with others. Self-awareness is always the beginning of change. Finding the courage to become your bravest self is a process that involves taking action on a consistent basis to build up your courage muscles.
The courage you desire is already within you. Your mission is to begin to believe this to be true and take what you’re learning in this blog series and apply it in your everyday life. As you do, you will discover that your spirit is brave beyond measure.
1. What is it that you believe, that keeps you from being fully yourself? Ponder away…
2. If you were to FULLY express the courage in you, what is the FIRST change you would start to make?
3. In a pickle, how would someone you respect and admire handle making the first change you would start to make?
What value did you gain from this article? I’d love to hear you thoughts. Share them in the comments below.
Who do you know will benefit from this article? Share it with them and make their day.
Be Your Bravest Self
Brown, Brené. Daring Greatly. USA. Penguin Group. 2012.
Kornfield, Jack. A Wise Heart. USA. Bantam Dell. 2009.