Unlearning Shame

By Hilary Kinavey, MS, LPC

I didn’t know that what I was feeling was shame. It was so old and familiar; seemingly rooted in the very foundation of my being.  I took shame’s presence to mean that I had perpetually had more “work to do”, more to fix (and hide while I was working on it) and improve. I lived in fear of being truly inadequate. I just kept doing more and more.

Shame is that really painful feeling you get when you are sure you are really wrong, flawed, and thus unworthy of love and belonging. We often feel it viscerally long before we recognize that it is running the show. People have different ways to describe how it feels in their body, but there are a few commonalities:

“It feels hot”

“It rises in me from my guts”

“I feel nauseous”

“I can’t speak.”

“I want to hide.”

“It feels tight, almost suffocating.”

Shame is woven into our lives. We have been taught to almost believe in it as evidence of our lesser value. We have learned to hustle for our worthiness. We cope with it by stacking on protective armor so no one sees the imperfect, slightly messy real self. We try so very hard (weight loss project, anyone?), but rarely give ourselves credit in our quest for always doing better. We develop endless and unsustainable self-improvement projects. We armor up some more. We aim to become shinier, more acceptable, more loveable, more palatable. In all of this, we lose connection with the truth of us.

The truth is that we have value simply because we breathe. We are irreplaceable and unique. If you find yourself questioning this statement, I would ask you to imagine looking at a picture of yourself as a baby or a toddler. We would probably agree that you came into this world as a pretty fascinating, wonderful being.

Many of us are so willing to see and experience other people’s wholeness, but aren’t really willing to bet on our own. We fall in love with others vulnerabilities, quirks, uniqueness and humanity, but we struggle to know that we are enough. Could there be a different set of rules for us than everyone else? Probably not. This comes up often at Be Nourished and in the body acceptance movement. People are often willing to accept all bodies except for their own. This is a phenomena; this is a thing. And it could be different. But we have to find a way to be kind to ourselves and be brave at the same time.

This culture is one that reinforces shame as a way of keeping us from changing the status quo. We inappropriately associate people’s behavior with who they are on a regular basis. We apply shame as punishment. We shame because of someone’s ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identification, education, financial status, health status, and size, habitually. It makes sense if you would rather hide much of the time. In fact, it may be that not meeting the ideals of the status quo means that you feel invisible much of the time.

Cultural shaming is the poison that we are fed. Shame has a way of starting as a conversation and ending as a monologue. Expressing ourselves in the face of all of this can feel impossible, daunting and often like the last thing we want to do.

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

Brené Brown

When I found Dr. Brené Brown’s TED talk and then her research, I was altered. The defining language that she uses in her work cultivates belonging. Knowing my own embodied, felt sense of shame and being able to respond to it as something that was not really mine helped so much. I became kinder to myself. I was able to let go of the reins on constant striving. It was such a relief! The guideposts to wholehearted living made sense. Oddly, I recognized what I had been striving for this whole time, but from a place of deficit instead of deserving or inclusion. It felt different than what I had been feeling.

This work is quintessential to my life and I love to share it with others. I am now offering The Daring Way™ at Be Nourished in powerful weekend intensive formats, one for the general public (all are welcome) and one for helping professionals. The Daring Way™ curriculum is based on the research of Brené Brown and the invitation is to Show Up, Be Seen, and Live Brave™. This is powerful, kind, welcoming work. The way you feel in the presence of shame can become very different.

You can see listings of other Daring Way™ workshops around the world here.

Source: The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

Click 2 tweet!Tweet: Unlearning Shame http://ctt.ec/p4O3X+ @BeNourished #bodytrust #daringway “Unlearning Shame http://ctt.ec/p4O3X+ @BeNourished #bodytrust #daringway” 

GGQIZ1H46n7nQveqQvQFNuABbRJs-2jBh98jdgeh2MI,N3K0UUWBtM3U9s6Re3XSlqLQ5_LlMLxSbH--Y_k188AHilary Kinavey, MS, LPC is a therapist and co-founder of Be Nourished. She encourages conscious and authentic living, with the courage to love yourself anyway.