“You alone are enough. You have nothing to prove to anybody.” – Maya Angelou
If my younger self could have read these words, she might have saved loads of money on therapists. But she wouldn’t have really believed them to be true.
As a kid, I was bullied in school. My parents separated so my mom raised my sister and I on her own. Eventually I hit rock bottom because I felt abandoned by my father. I thought there must be something fundamentally wrong with me or else none of this shit would be happening. I felt shame for getting bullied and I felt shame that my dad didn’t want to be with me. But worst of all, this shame is still a part of me. Still inside of me. Hidden and silent.
Sometimes I’m ashamed of my feelings. Ashamed of feeling insecure, angry, afraid or not good enough. Ashamed of thoughts and emotions I think I shouldn’t have. And what really pisses me off is that society conditioned me to feel this way and to be silent about it. Parents don’t speak about the feeling of being overwhelmed with their kids and mothers aren’t supposed to say that sometimes they need a break. No, we don’t talk about these things because we are told that expressing our truth shows weakness and weakness is bad. We cannot show vulnerability because we fear being judged by society. We are told repeatedly: never show weakness, always be strong.
What bullshit. But, what can we do about it?
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GUILT AND SHAME
First, we have to understand the difference between guilt and shame. We can’t talk about shame without talking about guilt, according to the stunning work of Brené Brown, a research professor famous for a TED Talk about this subject. She has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. I love listening to her talks because she makes shame so easy to understand. I have found myself back in her stories over and over again. According to Brown, shame is the feeling of being bad — being a mistake. While the feeling of guilt shows up when we know we DID something wrong, shame feels like we ARE wrong. Brown says, “Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame is “I am bad.” Guilt is “I did something bad.” The side effect of shame is that we feel less worthy than others. We try to prove our value by pleasing other people before ourselves, never saying no, avoiding confrontations. Sometimes we put on a mask and try to be “perfect” by having a career our family and friends can be proud of, maybe earning loads of money doing something we don’t want just to please and impress those around us. We hold on to a picture we’ve created of ourselves, and we think if we fulfill this charade we are valuable enough to gain love and acceptance.
SO, WHAT THE FUCK CAN WE DO?
“If you are never scared, embarrassed, or hurt, it means you never take chances.” — Julia Soul
In a world full of Instagram Filters, how can we not compare ourselves to others? How can we show the real us when everyone around us seems so “perfect”? Go online and you will see some woman’s perfect bikini picture where you can’t see any little roll of fat, where she wears the perfect lipstick and spends time with her perfect looking boyfriend. Yeah, sure, it’s intimidating. And yeah, we might not all look like Beyoncé. But what I think is that sometimes being authentic and showing weakness is what makes us alive. Makes us connected to others. Makes us real. A perfect picture is not what allows us to have a good conversation or a freaking fun night. We should try to say yes to our whole selves. To all of our feelings, no matter if we think they are “good” or “bad.” Say yes to our imperfections and show them to the world.
According to Brown’s research, shame needs three things to survive: silence, secrecy, and judgment. So let’s talk about our feelings. Let’s share our story. When we open up to a friend, therapist or loved one, our shame finally gets a voice. And that’s so important. When I dared to tell my story to a good friend, I felt instant relief. It took me 20 fucking years. Do me a favor and don’t wait that long. If you don’t feel like talking, journaling is also a good way to release your feelings and even better — you get the chance to look at your past and see your life story in a different way.
Lori Deschene, the founder of tinybuddha.com, talks about reshaping your life story by finding the good things that have come from the negative and giving your pain another value. This means that if I was never bullied and never felt alone and excluded in school, I wouldn’t have gained the power of being empathetic and caring towards others. If I never felt helpless and overwhelmed as a kid, I wouldn’t have learned to look after myself and wouldn’t be as strong and independent as I am today. Maybe I never would have traveled the world. As an adult, I have a deep sense of justice and I want to connect people for good. Maybe I wouldn’t be this person if I had a different childhood. Deschene talks about recreating your life story by finding the positive from your painful past. By turning your experience into something good, you can actually empower yourself. And then maybe there was a reason for all that shit.
WHAT IS NORMAL
“Never be afraid to fall apart. It presents an opportunity to rebuild yourself the way you wish you had been all along” — Rae Smith.
I tried my entire life to prove something to the world, hoping to feel more worthy and accepted. Damn, did I try. I was fighting to find my path and to find the profession that fit me and impressed others. But the point is that I wasn’t looking inside myself. I didn’t have a fucking clue what I really wanted and needed in life. I was looking at the outside world for approval and acceptance. All I ever wanted was to be “normal” — or to have a normal life based on the standards that society gave me and that were formed by the way I was raised and how my surroundings influenced me. I wanted to fit in. When people I met on my travels asked, “Hey, are you a nomad?” I would get angry because I thought a nomadic life meant exactly the opposite of being normal. So I built up a picture of my future life. My future me. A life that seemed “normal” enough to be accepted by everyone. But afterwards I realized, I created this person to avoid my real feelings. Now instead of seeking approval, I see that this future me I had created is not who I want to be. That’s not what I want anymore.
However, it’s been hard to give up that dream and to stop doing things just to prove my value. I’m not fucking used to it. Who am I if I don’t have to fight for love and acceptance? Who am I if I am already worthy and can do everything I want to do? Well, I can tell you now that there’s a me that wants to show up to the world and say hi. The me that loves making art, writing, creating something new and changing for good. Traveling the world, against society’s expectations. A me that feels vulnerable sometimes, insecure, intimidated. But so what? I actually don’t care. When we stop assigning value to our feelings, we stop fighting them and reach the point of acceptance. The thing that we fear (the same thing we might have experienced as a child or teenager) is judgment and rejection not only from our environment, but also our selves. But what if we could change that? We need to take control of our adult lives and realize that our feelings are normal and okay. That we are actually okay.
Showing weakness and vulnerability connects us and makes us stronger. In my opinion, connection is the reason why we are here. If you struggle to open up to someone because you feel ashamed of your story, ashamed of yourself and are afraid of being judged, I’ve got a question: Would you like to have a friend who seems perfect all the time? Someone who seems strong on the outside, but who never shares feelings or thoughts unless they’re all about rainbows and unicorns? Or would you rather like to have a friend who is real, who tells you when he or she feels sad, angry or lost from time to time? And would you judge your friend for any of those feelings or would you be supportive, empathetic and admire their courage to feel it all and show you? When you’ve found your answer, think about it the other way around.
What if you could be that friend? What if you could gain acceptance, love and empathy for yourself?
Now, do me a favor and close your eyes. Open them and ask yourself:
Who do you see?
Photo by WILA // Follow her art on Instragram: wilaxmoment