Shame? What does it mean to let go of shame? And what’s that got to do with being a mother?
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“Shame has got everything to do with being a mother!” Brené Brown says. She’s spent years researching shame and vulnerability, and has worked out that our purpose in life is to have connection. And for mothers, that’s pretty much our focus: to have connection with our kids. If we don’t have connection, we can’t do our job of being a mother.
But Brené says in her ground-breaking TED Talk, that “shame is fear of disconnection.” And also, “The less you talk about it [shame], the more you have it.” So if you are courageous enough to let go of shame, you allow yourself to be seen as imperfect. And that means you can connect with others.
My Shame. And Tears.
Grade Six. Bossy girls and boyfriends. Power plays and pecking orders. Do you remember what that was like? For me, it was a disaster.
Most nights after school I went home depressed and ashamed, after hearing terrible taunts all day:
“You’re so stupid!”
“Haha. She muffed it again!”
Being bullied creates terrible self-doubt. And big doses of shame.
Why did they do that? Why did they say those things to me?
I could barely explain what was going on to myself. Let alone go home and talk about it.
I didn’t realize they were jealous. I am very tall, adolescence was already catching up with me, and I towered over them. They were also jealous I could shoot so well at netball. And especially jealous I was the teacher’s pet. I couldn’t do much about any of those things!
Well, except maybe not shoot goals. Which is exactly what they tried during the Grand Final. They were so awful they wouldn’t throw me the ball!
And of course, we lost the game.
Afterwards, the coach gave them some money to buy treats at the shop as a consolation prize. They came back with chocolate, ice creams, chips and more.
But for me? They bought me a packet of peanuts, worth 3 cents.
And I cracked it.
At that point I went home and spilled everything to my mother. The teasing, the taunts, the netball game, the peanuts. And when I revealed my shame to her, and stopped trying to act as if my world was okay, I suddenly had someone on my side. I was no longer alone. And I could face another day with her advice, love and hugs.
I don’t think we realize how much shame has an impact on our everyday living. And while it’s all very well to say, “Let go of shame to get past your issues”, how exactly is that possible? This is no easy thing.
You can be ashamed about so many things. And everyone feels it differently. Perhaps you are ashamed at the sort of childhood you had, or your parents. Maybe it’s about the house you live in, or the shape of your body. Possibly it’s that school you went to, or those past relationships. And then there’s abuse you suffered, and what about the marriage that failed?
Any one of these thoughts can open up shame like an insidious can of worms.
Of course, our automatic response is to cover up the shame. To leave the can of worms alone. “What good will it do to reveal all that?” we ask. It seems easier to hold it all in. To let go of shame is no picnic.
And we hide it away, not realizing that by covering it all up, and pretending to be perfect, we lose our connection with others. Sadly, the picnic is over before it has begun.
What Happens if you Let go of Shame?
It’s by doing “the counter-intuitive thing”, the thing that feels all wrong, that you break shame’s power over you. By being vulnerable, letting your imperfections be seen, and letting the worms out of that can, the following six things happen to you (with more thanks to Brené Brown):
- Letting go of shame, takes the pressure off | Oh the relief.
- Letting yourself be seen for who you really are, gives you freedom | I am loved as I am!
- You allow yourself to experience true joy | THIS makes me happy.
- It lets you practice gratitude | I’m so thankful I can get past this.
- You increase your ability to connect with others, especially family members. Because connection is what you are made for. | You have that problem too? Who knew?
- And you know that you are enough as you are. | Ohhh amazing! I don’t have to be perfect after all.
The thought of freedom from shame is a very powerful motivator. To leave that grief behind, those weights, that thought pattern, the negativity. Oh my goodness! Why do we hang on?
It’s All about Making a Decision
To let go of shame is as simple, and as difficult, as a choice. As an adult, I’ve discovered that if I write it down I become self-aware. And that, all by itself, is more than half the battle done and dusted.
The other part involves talking about your shame to others, which means allowing yourself to be vulnerable. By doing this, you create a connection. By talking about it you are being open and transparent. And you’re letting yourself be seen. Which is when the turning point came with me as I talked to my mother about those awful girls.
Of course, this takes courage. And determination. And a willingness to push into that space. I’ve found it is infinitely easier if you ask God to help you, to pray for help to let go of shame. Much better than getting to the point of being given peanuts, if you know what I mean.
Lord my God, I called to you for help,
and you healed me.
If you Hold onto Shame . . .
- You can survive only by numbing yourself to the pain. Most people do that by depending on “stuff”: food, alcohol, drugs, work, and a myriad of other addictions.
- Using this tactic of dulling the pain, you numb those negative emotions such as anger, fear and confusion.
- But unfortunately, you also numb positive emotions such as happiness, joy and contentment
The tendency to give in to addictions is another reason why it’s so important to let go of shame. But in addition to regaining those positive emotions, there are other rewards as well.
The Rewards if you Let Go of Shame . . .
Yes, it’s risky to let go of shame. Because you are letting the yucky part of yourself be seen. But it means you acknowledge YOU ARE ENOUGH as you are, even with all the bad stuff.
And by doing that, by being vulnerable, there are rewards:
- Closer connection with your loved ones. This may also include your children.
So for example, while it would be tempting to shamefully hide from my daughter that I failed a semester at University, the fact that I have told her means she knows I understand her when she is teetering on the disappointing edge failing herself. This creates a stronger connection between us.
- You get release from the “perfect” standard that, in truth, you are not capable of.
It’s so easy to compare yourself with those perfect Insta images. But those people you see are not perfect either! Just don’t go to comparisons!
- Also, it means it’s easier for others to connect with you, and for you to have close friendships.
Once you have let your guard down and let others see your imperfections, they see that you are not as perfect as they thought. And so they can more easily relate to you.
- You can also love others wholeheartedly, even when there is no guarantee of a response.
Because it doesn’t depend on you being perfect any more. And that means you can love your children with a whole heart, even if they shut you out, if they make things difficult for you, or if they write nasty notes and leave them under your pillow. (Yep, that’s happened to me!)
What to do now
You may find you need to talk some of your deeper issues through with a trusted friend, family member, counselor or pastor. But let me encourage you to take the plunge and do it. Because as Jesus said, “If the Son set you free, you are free indeed.” (John 8:36 NIV)
Have you ever had the experience of being released from shame? Care to tell me about it?