Talk Amongst Yourselves–About Shame

We had our first TV interview this week to help launch the book. And although I (Cami) had a good time on the set, and although I’m as proud a parent as can be of Beyond Belief, I was surprised to notice, as Susan and I walked out to the parking lot in Seattle, the appearance of Shame. Are people going to like it? Did I say anything stupid? Is it okay to have told my own story? How many times did “um” come out of my mouth? Shame, uninvited, dove straight down my throat and settled comfortably, like it had its own key, in my chest.

ShameAh, good old Shame—the emotion that insists we are inadequate, not enough, not supposed to show up and be our whole messy, emerging, imperfect selves. Nothing like being on television to bring it on.

Fortunately, everyone I know, it seems, is reading Brené Brown right now. Brown is a psychologist and “shame researcher” (can you imagine spending all day everyday with Shame?). So, because I had three of her books in my house which I had purchased at some point but never read, I picked one up and flipped it open. Here’s what she says about Shame:

Brown says that Shame is triggered when we are identified by others (or when we think we are identified by others) in unwanted ways. She cites a common unwanted identity surfacing when we have “difficulty navigating all the messages and stereotypes that discourage [women] from taking an unpopular stand on an issue or sharing opinions that might make others feel uncomfortable.”

The moment I read that statement, a light bulb went off in my head. Just the very possibility (which only exists in my mind at this point, by the way) that Beyond Belief or something I might say about it could make some people uncomfortable pulled me right back into something I lived with for 20 years in my faith: The belief that to step outside of “the lines” is to challenge something bigger than me—and that’s bad (which means I’m bad).

No doubt about it, to say what is true for you instead of what is true for the masses or for your religion or your parents or… whoever, is to face your Shame. Shame tells you that you’re small and should stay small, should be quiet. Many of the women in our anthology have faced this message; and now they’re talking.

Today I say to Shame, “Listen up! We all get to talk about whatever we want to talk about. That’s all. Thank you for coming. Good night.”

The writers in Beyond Belief (Oh right, I’m one of them!) have set a powerful example of telling their own stories as they experienced them. I’m so grateful for that example and I aim to follow it.

What about you, reader? How did/has shame snuck up on you in your life? Or how has it been fostered by others? What did you say back to it? How did you wiggle free from its grip?

*For another reflection on Shame, read Pam Helberg’s recent blog post too. Pam is one of our wonderful contributors; her story, “Body Language” appears in the second section of Beyond Belief.

2 thoughts on “Talk Amongst Yourselves–About Shame

  1. I’m glad you were able to wrestle Shame to the ground before it got the better of you, Cami. In my experience, Shame likes to ride on the wings of Self-Doubt which is The Anti-Cupid. Instead of a plump body and a sweet, cherub face, it is massive and hairy and has fangs. And it has no mercy when piercing me with toxic darts. Once I’m riddled with self-doubt and convinced that I’m unworthy slime, Shame ensues causing me to believe that everybody else must feel the same way about me as I feel about me.

    In the last several years, I’ve finally been able to neutralize the darts with reality. Most people aren’t thinking a whole lot about me. They’re more interested in their own concerns than in scrutinizing me. I am the one scrutinizing me. And if someone is judging me harshly, well, I suppose it says more about them than it does me.

    I think recognizing that we’re not immune to Shame or Self-Doubt is probably key. We’re all vulnerable to the arrows but we’ve got an inner arsenal to combat them.

    I’m sure you did great Cami. Is it on Youtube and if so is there a link?

  2. As a contributer to Beyond Belief, I too felt those barbs on the arrows of self-doubt. But as my fingers hesitated on my keyboard I recalled the antics of my once fellow believers and realized that they were the ones that should feel shame. Their black-hearted, festering shenanigans should be called out to save the uninitiated.

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