I chose I Thought It Was Just Me: Making The Journey From What Will People Think To I Am Enough by Brené Brown for my April Reading Challenge selection which was to be simply a Non-Fiction book.
Originally I didn’t catch that the book was mostly based on shame and the culture surrounding shame and women. I had thought that the premise had much more to do about overall feelings of imperfection and acceptance of ourselves, therefore when I first started reading, I began to feel somewhat defensive. “Oh. this isn’t for me” and “I don’t have issues with shame, Anxiety? YES! Concerned what others think of me? Definitely! The incessant need to be perfect? ALWAYS! But no, not shame, not me.”
Brown describes shame as:
“Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.”
I admit I was hesitant to accept this as a definition of shame. I felt that shame was… something different, but couldn’t have told you WHAT that was. Most likely it was more of guilt or embarrassment, to which Brown poignantly addresses the differences between shame and guilt, embarrassment, humiliation, and low self-esteem.
“There are times when our feelings, thoughts and actions relate directly to our past or current struggles. But there are certainly times when they don’t. The problem arises because, at some point, most of us begin to believe the expectations about who we’re supposed to be, what we’re supposed to look like, what we’re supposed to do, how much we’re supposed to be and how little we’re supposed to be. We also develop a fear of rejecting those expectations. We constantly see evidence that if we do reject these expectations, we will experience very painful disconnections and rejection. So we internalize these expectations and they become an emotional prison. Shame stands guard.”
It was through the connection she built using a wide variety of stories and interviews from herself and other women including those who have been abused, to those being ashamed of their social or economic status and others that struggle with balancing themselves with family or work that I realized when you boil it down to the root problem, it came back to the seed of shame. All of these self-doubts, worries of what others think, the need for perfection, some of my anxiety all stems from shame. Shame and insecurities go hand in hand as part of an entangled web of layered, conflicting and competing social-community expectations.
In a very practical, loving, and inspiring way, Brown created an environment and exercises to help identify triggers, sources, how to recognize and overcome the strong emotions associated with shame and then most importantly, how to develop “shame resilience”. I highly recommend doing the exercises as you read along in the book. Take the time to really meditate on them and write out your answers before moving along. I found this to be a very powerful tool to internalize the concepts and start identifying and practicing my shame resilience.
I see shame and shaming everywhere now – especially over the internet but also in person. It really does pervade everything and I also began to see not only my own shame experiences but how I contribute to supporting and perpetrating shame. As embarrassed as I am over the fact that I have and do use shaming techniques, I also feel empowered that I can now identify and stop the cycle – to be one that will be able to cultivate a culture of authenticity, compassion & connection instead and maybe, just maybe, make things a little better for myself and those around me.