Ain't That a Shame

I've been a bit prickly lately. Negative internal chatter. Knee-jerk emotional responses. What's going on? Ah yes, one of those old issues which I had totally resolved (right!?!) was rearing its head again. It's the return of ye olde perfectionist streak. It goes deeper than just avoiding mistakes. It’s more of a feeling that I am personally wrong, that I'm not enough. I notice anxiety emerge whenever I sense that I might make a mistake or even be perceived as wrong.

I remembered a TED talk from a few years ago by Brené Brown, a researcher on shame and vulnerability. Her work focuses on the difference between guilt and shame. Guilt says, "I made a mistake." Shame says, "I am a mistake." Guilt apologizes for errors, learns from them and moves forward. Shame paralyzes with judgment and blame and is highly correlated with addiction and self-destructive behavior.

All of us have "shame triggers", those identities that we try to avoid at all costs but which persist beneath a thin veneer. To identify your shame trigger, complete the following sentence: "Above all, I don't want to be perceived as..."

Shame thrives in secrecy, silence and judgment. It withers in openness, compassion and empathy. When we bravely tell our stories, shame dissipates. "You're not good enough" and "Who do you think you are?" loose their oomph. We might even have a Stuart Smalley moment: "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggonit, people like me!" I think my version is, "Yes, I'm imperfect dammit. I make mistakes and often don't know what I'm doing. Thank heavens I'm enough, loved as I am and have nothing to prove."

Brené Brown's followup TED talk explores how creative innovation arises from the willingness to be vulnerable. We'll never shine unless we risk failure and imperfection. Here's the link to her latest TED talk:

Welcoming our failures and imperfections with an open door airs out our humanity. No longer expending energy on pretense, we are free to live wholeheartedly as a whole person. We lose concern for who might be watching and how they might perceive us. Playful enthusiasm bubbles to the surface. Even old Scrooge couldn't help giggling and dancing a jig after he faced his ghosts. The final words of Dickens' classic tale says of Scrooge that:

"Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them...His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him."

P.S. Please join us the first three Monday nights in June for Mindful Photography: The Art of Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes.