This week three clients shared some things with me that had been causing them shame. It took a lot of courage and vulnerability (which are always connected, but that’s for another post). By opening up in the ways they did we became more intimate and honest. I was able to help them more. They felt freer, calmer and actually better about themselves.
The vulnerabilities shared ranged from “I haven’t been doing the assignment you gave me” to “There’s this thing I’ve never told anyone before…”
When we feel ashamed about something we did or didn’t do, or something we are or are not, our tendency is to hide it away in the dark. We are afraid to disappoint or disgust people, that we’ll be ostracized and abandoned. We don’t want to be alone.
So we hide parts of ourselves, believing that will keep us safe. But they grow like monsters in the closet of your childhood room. Kept in the dark, these become the secrets you must guard. You build walls around them, not realizing you are building walls around yourself. These walls separate you from others, making you feel even more alone and ashamed.
Shame makes you feel that you are not like others.
You believe there is something wrong with you that makes you unworthy. It’s different from knowing you made a mistake. Shame makes you feel that you are wrong. These feelings make you push the shame deeper and deeper into the the darkness, where it grows.
Although your fear may be telling you to keep your shame deep in the blackness of your closet, you’ll actually be free yourself of the monster by bringing it into the light, in the company of someone you trust, who loves you no matter what.
Who you share this with is a critical aspect. I’m not advocating that you share your shame with just anyone. Share it with someone who will listen wholeheartedly, allow space for your emotions, not judge you for anything you’ve done or thought, and may even share a similar experience they’ve had that made them feel the way you do now. A good therapist is an excellent choice.
I’ll bet this is one of the reasons why AA meetings and other 12 step programs work so well. Sharing shame with those who won’t judge you is liberating and empowering. You discover that we are all more similar than we are different. You feel worthy once again.
Think of your shameful secret as a frightened child. You want to lovingly take it by the hand and walk it out of the dark closet into daylight.
Who do you trust to hold that scared child’s other hand and walk with you?