Live Without Limits column: How to lose the shame without hurting yourself
June 28, 2013
Recently, with the honest feedback of my family and their generous way of sharing all the ways that I annoy them, I realized that I spend way more time offering them advice and guidance than they need from me.
It's a habit I learned when my children were small, and it spilled over into other parts of my life (my spouse concurs). Yet, if the rolling of the eyes is any indication (not to mention the outright complaints), they'd be delighted if I never offered insights, lessons learned or tips for survival. Ever again.
So much for proactive parenting.
And I thought I was doing a good job. And maybe I was, but they've outgrown me, for which I should be thankful, but it hurts to not be needed in that way as a parent. In fact, I've been downright ashamed that I didn't see it earlier. Maybe I did and I was ignoring it, denying that they've outgrown me and that my need to be needed was driving me.
And there it is. I didn't want to admit that my actions were causing discomfort for me and my family because I had shame about it.
When you have aspects of your life or personality that are uncomfortable enough to deny, because it causes shame or grief, it only causes the problem to grow more roots. Shame is a barrier to human love and compassion. As Brene Brown notes in "I Thought it was Just Me," "shame is the voice of perfection." Especially in our culture, we have this fear of being perceived as flawed and unworthy, of not being good enough.
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Shame silences us and keeps us separate from others.
The alienation you create by covering up parts of yourself only compounds the stress or trauma that is created by the situation. As Dr. Brown notes, it's the "small, quiet traumas that trigger some brain-survival reaction," which is why you have such painful bodily sensations when you feel criticized, ridiculed, rejected and shamed.
And no matter what issue you're trying to cover up, the defensive layer you create to hide your imperfections keeps you from working through it. Or from resolving the discomfort it creates for you and those who surround you.
If you protect yourself by denying the problem, you deepen your attachment to it.
As Pema Chodron notes in "Comfortable with Uncertainty," as you learn to be curious about the quality — asking "Do I really do that? When and how often?" — you become more aware of it. The awareness by itself allows you to look at it as if it was "outside" of you, which lets you develop compassion and acceptance for your imperfection.
You can only begin to heal a difficult part of your life when you bathe yourself and your imperfections in mercy and compassion. Recognition, awareness and acceptance shine a light on the aspect of yourself, promoting self-love and ultimately a kindness toward yourself.
Pema Chodron recommends using "on-the-spot-compassion." So, like a stain remover you might use to get a spot out of your dirty laundry, apply self-love and compassion liberally when you recognize some imperfection that's limiting your life. That "spot cleaner" will cause you be free of the overwhelming stress caused by shame, but also help you be free of the need for perfection.
I humbly acknowledge that I've overstayed my welcome as a purveyor of wisdom to my children (and spouse) who are quite capable of learning their own lessons. In recognizing this fault, I can practice a different way and creating a new dynamic in my family. And, I would bet, the love will flow a little easier between us.
If you're ready to uncover parts of you that hide your true self, so you can be rid of shame and the overwhelming stress that causes, download the free report "Calm Your Body & Mind, Reduce Your Stress: 10 Easy Ways to Counteract Life's Rollercoaster" at http://www.hollywoodscoaching.com/free-stuff and find simple ideas for reducing your stress.
Holly Woods, Ph.D., helps adults who want to find hope for a life without limits. She works with people in-person, by Skype or phone. She can be reached at 970-331-1639 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To sign-up for a complimentary phone session, visit http://www.hollywoodscoaching.com/contact-holly.