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Teri Goetz MS, LAC, ACC

Name Your Shame

Is shame the covert director of your life?

“Vulnerability is the core of fear, but also the birthplace of love and belonging.” Brene Brown

It is human nature to want to experience a strong sense of love and belonging in your life. What Brene Brown found in her groundbreaking studies on shame and vulnerability is that there is ONE thing that separates those who feel shame and struggle for this sense of true connection, and those who are able to experience love and belonging in their lives:

A feeling of worthiness.

In other words, in order to experience love and connection, we must believe we are worthy of it!

So many of us run a false story (often just below the surface of awareness) that we are not worthy, and live in fear of being rejected, abandoned, hurt, unloved, or discovered a fraud. This is often based on childhood (or even young adult) experiences that felt so terrifying that we think by staying on guard we will protect ourselves from what can sometimes feel like virtual annihilation. We avoid vulnerability and don’t talk about it. Then, we hide behind our shame by numbing ourselves out or pushing it below our conscious awareness.

The short explanation is that feeling unworthy is not based on reality but on being exposed to words or experiences at a crucial time in our childhood (predominantly) but certainly at some impactful point in our lives. We then translated those experiences into feeling not good enough. We feel abandoned, confused about our instincts or unlovable. Some examples of these childhood experiences would be feeling pressured to get all A’s (so you become a perfectionist), parents telling you that you’ll never make money at art (so you abandon your dream), or, having a parent leave, either literally or emotionally, (so you grow up feeling unlovable).

There’s also a fair amount of shame wrapped around each of these experiences and the truth is that unless we name that shame, we will never let it go – and it will continue to be the covert director of our lives. Shame will stop us from taking any risk that we think threatens exposure of our shame -- risks in relationships, in pursuing our real dreams or in allowing ourselves to be vulnerable.

So what do you do? Start by allowing yourself to be vulnerable enough to get hurt – and know you will not only survive, but will be relieved and then thrive. Being hurt does not kill us, but we think it will. Remember, we always have a choice about how we feel – as long as we are conscious. Yes, you’ll sometimes get hurt. But what you do with that hurt is up to you.

Look at where the shame lives. Identify the shame. It’s not always obvious, but shame can exist in secret hiding places like: “I’m unattractive and therefore unlovable,” or “I made such stupid mistakes when I was younger that if anyone finds out, they’ll think I’m horrible.”

Ignoring the fact that we do feel vulnerable causes us to be even more afraid. Our fear causes us to numb out and not face our fears. Brown’s work is important because she makes it okay to be imperfect and vulnerable. By realizing we are imperfect and vulnerable, we realize we are all born worthy of love and connection.

Shame and vulnerability are universal! Everyone feels these things on different levels. When they are not talked about or acknowledged, they damage us by making us feel unworthy.

Here are some ways to work with this awareness:

  • Acknowledge that we are all perfectly imperfect. Each and every one of us.
  • Stop blaming others in order to numb the pain and instead, acknowledge where you are.
  • As Brown says, “Let yourself be seen. Vulnerably seen.”
  • Notice when and how you numb yourself out. Are you eating/drinking/sleeping/not sleeping/using sex or other behaviors in an unhealthy way? What’s behind that?
  • Lose the drama. Life is full of craziness, hurt, confusion and mistakes. When you acknowledge what is good, the drama should take second place. (Aka, be grateful as much as you possibly can!)
  • Be gentler with yourself.
  • Be gentler with others (especially when you think you’re blaming them for your own stuff).
  • Listen. To others. To yourself. To your heart.
  • Lose the judgment, too. It’s a snare the “I’m not good enough” monster uses to stop you from taking any sort of steps forward.
  • Stay vulnerable. Allow yourself to feel everything — the good, bad and the ugly.
  • Name your shame — and speak about it to someone you trust. It’s enormously freeing.
  • Be authentically you — not the you you inherited or who others think you should be.
  • Embrace your uniqueness. No one is the same. That is the beauty of this life.
  • Know you are enough.
  • You – and everyone else on this planet – are worthy of love.

Brown says to feel vulnerable means you’re alive. Embrace that.

About the Author

Teri Goetz, MS, LAC, ACC, is a doctor of Chinese medicine, transformational coach, speaker, group facilitator, and author.