Saturday, March 17, 2012

Inspiration: We've all felt shame. Now, how to move through it.

"It is not the critic who counts; 
not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles,
or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena,
whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;
who strives valiantly; 
who errs, who comes short again and again,
because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;
but who does actually strive to do the deeds;
who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions;
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement,
and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly,
so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls
who neither know victory nor defeat."

The first time that I watched Brene Brown speak at TED Talks was via her speech on vulnerability, a beautiful presentation about her research into what leads to a full experience of living. But, what caught me even more was her recent talk about shame and how the emotions behind those five letters can be utterly debilitating, causing us to live in a solitary environment where no light shines through.

In general, I find TED Talks to be so invigoratingly inspiring, because they demonstrate how one human being can truly change the world. It stirs a belief in my soul that I too can strive to be amazing and that just by living my life as genuinely as possible, in many ways, I already am.

"Everyone who speaks at TED has a failure complex," Brene begins. "They are actually not afraid to fail. Yet, everyone who speaks at TED has indeed failed." And, it is through through their willingness to dare to enter the arena that Roosevelt speaks of above that ultimately leads to their success. They are not the naysayers, they are the doers marred by dust and sweat and blood.

"Shame is highly highly correlated with addiction, depression, violence, aggression, bullying, suicide, eating disorders," Brene asserts. The good news is that our ability to hold onto something we've done or something we want to do in contrast to who we want to be is adaptive, albeit uncomfortable. The lessons in life we grow from the most are the times when we've been pushed to move past our comfort zones, beyond the boundaries within which we believe that we can hold it all together.

Shame drives two big tapes, repeating on a circular loop, one feeding into the other. It's as though we inhale the belief, "You're not good enough," and attempt to exhale the question, "Who do you think you are?" Yet, if we turned down the volume and looked at who recorded these messages in the first place? 99% of the time, it's us.

Shame needs secrecysilence, and judgement to survive, which means that the way to walk out of this darkness is through empathy. The two most powerful words to counteract shame are: "Me, too."

One of the greatest challenges I've experienced in my latest relationship is the feeling of not being fully connected in vulnerability. While I share various concerns, insecurities, wounds still raw with everyone in my life, he does not do the same with me. I've learned that because I have allowed myself to be open, honest, and real — albeit not always vulnerable — I've been able to connect in such indelible ways with people of all backgrounds around the world. 

By showing them my humanity, they in turn have felt safe to do the same. 

With my beau, however, that's not the case. I rarely hear him say, "Me, too," which is why I found it surprisingly accurate when Brene brought up the role of gender in shame. While shame feels the same for both women and men, it's defined differently:

For women, we believe we need to do it all, do it perfectly, and never let you see us sweat. 
For men, they believe that shame is being perceived as weak. 

In fact, Brene shares how a gentleman came up to her after her talk on vulnerability and noted how convenient it was that she hadn't studied it in men: "The women in my life would rather see me die on my white horse than watch me fall down. When we reach out and be vulnerable, we get the shit beat out of us. The women in my life are harder on me than anyone else."

By sharing with another soul that you know how hard things can be, since you've been there too, or that you know what heartbreak feels like, because yours has been shattered as well, or that you know what it's like to make mistakes, because you've also misstepped along the way? Well, it levels the playing field, so we can all start from a higher level of being with ourselves and around one another.

What I loved the most is the palpable feeling in her talk that everyone has been there, everyone got it in a very visceral way. And, that we all have this misconception we need to be bulletproof and perfect to go into that arena and kick some ass, but being like that never happens. And, even if it did, what connects us all as human beings is wanting to know that everyone else feels the same things we do and that despite — or even because of it — we go ahead and try anyway.

I'll see you in the arena.

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